Writing on the Pages – O Captain Underpants! My Captain! A Tribute

The last Captain Underpants book came out about six months ago.

Yes, that’s three Georges and three Harolds on the side. This series got really complicated. (Source)

First off, for those of you who haven’t been following the series in recent years, let me, a guy two weeks away from being legally able to drink, assure you that this is indeed the twelfth book in the series. Crazy, right? This series may be a staple from the childhood of my generation, the kids born after the Cold War’s end and Kurt Cobain but before 9/11 and mp3s, but it can be easy to forget that this is a staple of the childhood of the generation since. Dav Pilkey’s been writing (riding?) this franchise since freaking 1997. In the time between the defeat of Dr. Diaper and The Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, kids have learned to walk, stumbled through puberty, and graduated.

And all that’s over now. After Pilkey said he’d always planned to write ten, after numerous jokes within the text that this one was the last when it actually wasn’t, it’s really the end. Pilkey confirms it on his website: in the page for The Tyrannical ReTaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000, he states that the one after (Sir Stinks-A-Lot) is “the LAST and FINAL Captain Underpants book (and I really mean it this time).”

(But underneath that he also writes on the subject, “You probably shouldn’t believe me. I wouldn’t.”)

I was introduced to the series in 2003 by a friend in my 3rd-grade classroom named Ben, and I was reluctant at first. The series was often featured in Scholastic book flyers – you know, those old leaflets you could use to learn about and buy kids’ books?

The best gift a book-devouring elementary-schooler can get, and it was a gift that kept on giving. Tell me they still do these! (Source)

Anyway, I’d seen these books in the Scholastic flyers … and thought they must be foolish. I distinctly remember telling my mom, “I mean, come on: a talking toilet?” No, I don’t know what was wrong with me.

But Ben suggested I give it a whirl, and he gave me a slightly battered copy of what was then the newest in the series: The Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman. I was hesitant to start out with the fifth epic novel, which is why I’ve always been grateful that every book opens with a handy-dandy comic summarizing the series up to that point. That’s how I knew that Mr. Krupp was a jerk to children, that’s how I knew he was hypnotized into being Captain Underpants, and that’s how I knew that the Waistband Warrior got superpowers from an alien juice. By the time it was over, I was a convert.

Some scattered memories I have of Captain Underpants:

  • This series inspired me to draw comics, which became a strong passion for several years after. It began with a superhero book of my own, detailing the adventure (alas, only one and not a series) of Dino Boy, and in tribute to George Beard’s fourth grade reading level I made the widely-questioned stylistic choice of including misspellings. It’s really not an excuse, I knew perfectly well how to spell the words I used in the story, but that’s how I chose to do it. In this and other comics I also employed the “Flip-O-Rama” animation technique, which I thought was really bold and original.
  • The series went on hiatus twice in a row: it took three years for Pilkey to follow up The Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers with The Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People, and then it was six whole years before we got the long-awaited Terrifying Re-Turn of Tippy Tinkletrousers (it’s only annoying to write out these long titles if you’re not a fan!). I held up well and gradually pushed the series to the side as I went through middle and high school. Then I learned that the author took so long because he was caring for his terminally ill father up until his death. Dang.
  • Getting old enough to realize that there was a lot of satire and commentary in these books – or maybe that really was mostly in the later books. Sir Stinks-A-Lot’s dastardly plot is an outright parable for how quick people are to diagnose kids with ADHD and overmedicate them for what could just as likely be normal child behavior (Pilkey himself has been diagnosed with it and gets really personal about the issue). An earlier book shows an empty school library, a reference to the banning of certain books in schools – to which Captain Underpants, about a grown man fighting toilets and booger monsters while running around in tighty-whiteys, is no stranger. Perhaps the most interesting is the newest one’s casual reveal that Harold Hutchins has a husband in the future. It’s just one scene-setting sentence and a few drawings of them standing/sitting with each other, but some Amazon reviewers still complain that they wish they had a warning.

They’re the happy family on the left. (Source)

Mostly, what I remember and admire most about Captain Underpants is that it was just so darn creative, and perhaps boldly so. It dared to push the boundaries of just what kids should/could be exposed to in children’s literature, and it turned out that elementary-schoolers are more willing to read books if some of them have pictures on every page, feature comics and flip animations, and base their stories on potty humor.

Better still, it turned out that these books could contain all these gimmicks while further installments developed increasingly and impressively complex storylines, including time travel paradoxes and carefully reusing plot details/devices from way earlier in the series. And even better still, all this can inspire children to not just read books, but to write some of their own. Just look at my example, with Dino Boy! Sadly, it seems this comic is lost, so you can’t actually look at it, but still!

In fact, when did I start reading these books? Third grade? Goodness, I just realized: this series may have been a bigger influence on me than I thought. Dav Pilkey got into children’s books because he would draw comics and share silly stories with his elementary classes all the time (to the chagrin of his uptight teachers). He created Captain Underpants in second grade. Maybe I thought if a kid can entertain other kids with great stories, then I could too. Maybe this was how I realized that I didn’t just have to read other people’s stories and could actually make up and share my own.

My desire to be a fiction author, my whole life path, may have been influenced (at least in small part) by a cartoon man in briefs.

Also featured here: characters named Super Diaper Baby and Ook and Gluk, the Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future. (Source)

 newest Captain Underpants is a great closer to the series, and I recommend reading it and any others you may have missed. It has all the goofy humor and surprisingly intricate plotting that the series is known and loved for, and it even has some touching moments. The end is understated and a bit melancholy, and it’s a bit sad to know that George and Harold won’t shout in panic, “Oh no! Here we go again!” but it really is quite nice.

And even if it really is the end of the series, every book is still around for us, and kids in the future, to reread and giggle at and enjoy. (Plus, the pair will return as a framing device for Pilkey’s next graphic novel, Dog Man)

So hang your underpants at half-mast today and don’t forget how much fun reading can be.

I meant from a flagpole!

I meant from a flagpole! (source)

Writing on the Pages – The Maze Runner #4: Chapters 10-11

#01: A Little Background
#02: Chapters 1-5
#03: Chapters 6-9

Hey, you! Finally back to this book. Yes, I’m still reading it, even though it’s been two years since I got it and if I weren’t doing this blog on it, I’d be able to polish it off in two, three days tops. Now let’s see, where was I?

CHAPTER 10

Moving as fast as he could, Thomas crashed through the heavy foliage, thin branches slapping at his face.

… All the while, his eyes stayed riveted on the beetle blade scuttling across the forest floor.

Oh yeah! At the end of Chapter 9, Thomas found a beetle blade – a buglike robot that, according to Alby, is used by whoever set up the Glade to spy on its residents – and decided to go after it. How long does his chase go on? It doesn’t even last to the end of the page.

He’d lost the sucker.

“Shuck it,” Thomas whispered, almost as a joke. Almost. As strange as it seemed, the word felt natural on his lips, like he was already morphing into a Glader.

I’d make yet another snide comment ridiculing the forced usage of this childish euphemism, but something’s changed. Since I started doing this blog and thinking in-depth about this book …

I’ve caught myself using the word.

Dear god, I’m going native! Quick, book, remind me that you’re silly!

A twig snapped somewhere to his right and he jerked his head in that direction. …

“Who’s there?” Thomas yelled out, a tingle of fear shooting across his shoulders. …

“Anybody there? … It’s me, Thomas. The new guy. Well, second-newest guy.”

There we go, thanks, dear! And before you say anything about me being too critical, even Thomas thinks he, and I quote, “sounded like a complete idiot.”

What’s going on now is that Thomas heard a few sudden sounds and started walking towards the point he believes they came from. Without meaning to, he finds himself at the graveyard.

Thomas is already aware of some of the possible dangers of his new existence, and now he is at the one place where this awful truth can be made truly clear. Our protagonist, the new Glader (well, second-newest), is walking over the graves of teenagers, the poor souls who died well before their time without ever learning the truth of the land that ultimately killed them! If handled right, this scene can be a chilling and emotional turning point. What’s Thomas’s next move?

He leaned closer to the first cross. It looked fresh and bore the name Stephen …

Stephen, Thomas thought, feeling an unexpected but detached sorrow. What’s your story? Chuck annoy you to death?

Have some goddamn respect! Guys, if you’re not reading this book, you don’t understand just how irritating this is. Dashner is actually really competent at description and build-up, and the way he described the graveyard itself before this garbage happened strongly evoked a mood of somberness, silence, and reverence. But when he brings his protagonist face-to-face with a reminder that he can die here – and the grave is fresh – he makes the lad crack a joke at the expense of another character.

Is this meant to be comedy relief? This is the precisely wrong moment for comedy! The kid’s in a cemetery made by other kids for other kids, and you, you just – why?!

So he checks out the other graves and sees one smaller than the rest. Taking a closer look, Thomas finds that it contains only the head-and-torso half of a corpse. Etched on the window is a marker …

Let this half-shank be a warning to all:
You can’t escape through the Box Hole.

Thomas felt the odd urge to snicker – it seemed tpo ridiculous to be true.

What did I just say what did I just say?! Is Thomas just devoid of empathy? Was he not raised with respect for the dead? That’s probably one of the most horrific events in the history of the Glade and he freaking has to resist from laughing – have some decency! “Odd urge” doesn’t begin to describe how out-of-place this is!

Okay, two strikes. I try to be patient and forgiving, and I’m not giving up on this reading session just yet!

… He had stepped aside to read more names of the dead when another twig broke, this time straight in front of him, right behind the trees on the other side of the graveyard.

Then another snap. Then another. Coming closer. And the darkness was thick.

There we go! What follows is an extremely one-sided fight between Thomas and an unknown attacker, brilliantly described as “a relentless jumble of skin and bones cavorting on top of him.” This ambusher even manages to really hurt Thomas, driving him into one of the grave markers and biting his shoulder like a freaking zombie! After all the strikes in this chapter, this is a single-base, maybe even double-base hit. And the attacker?

It’s Ben!

… You know, the screaming guy from the infirmary!

… The guy who’s really sick and stuff?

Well, even if you can’t remember him, it’s him!

CHAPTER 11

Thank goodness we’re done with that trainwreck of a chapter, and this one’s already off to a good start with our hero getting pounced!

Ben crouched, ready to spring for another attack. At some point a knife had made an appearance, gripped in his right hand.

Excuse me, Dashner, did you just say that a knife manifested from nowhere? Was it too hard to edit the previous chapter so that he was holding one the entire time? Okay, forget it, I just wanna see a fight. Give me the fight!

“Ben!”

Thomas looked toward the voice, surprised to see Alby standing at the edge of the graveyard, a mere phantom in the fading light. Relief flooded Thomas’s body – Alby held a large bow, an arrow cocked for the kill, pointed straight at Ben.

“Ben,” Alby repeated. “Stop right now, or you ain’t gonna see tomorrow.”

Aw yeah, the stakes just got raised!

The rest of this scene is just awesome. Ben suddenly tells Alby, “If you kill me, you’ll get the wrong guy,” and goes on to make vague, frightening statements about how Thomas is bad (more accurately, “bad, bad, bad, bad, bad”) and wants “to take us home … out of the Maze” – which is apparently terrible. Ben gets increasingly fidgety, Alby starts counting to three, Thomas is on the verge of flipping out, and then:

There was the sound of snapping wire. The whoosh of an object slicing through the air. The sickening, wet thunk of it finding a home.

Ben’s head snapped violently to the left, twisting is body until he landed on his stomach, his feet pointed toward Thomas. He made no sound.

This story’s reached Lord of the Flies territory, with Ben being the first (I expect more) kid to be killed by other kids – fittingly, in the graveyard. Who knows how many of the other Gladers buried there went through this mysterious “Changing” like he did? How many also died from another Glader’s hand? What was up with the whole “He’ll wanna take us home” thing? Is it a delusion that others before him had? Oh, how nice it is to be critically thinking about this book again instead of sitting there with that 4chan George Costanza face.

Thomas does a little critical thinking of his own: after understandably hurling, he has a realization about all the crap he’s been through.

He’d now been at the Glade for roughly twenty-four hours. One full day. That was it. And look at all the things that had happened. All the terrible things.

Surely it could only get better.

Let’s recap the last 24 hours of Thomas’s life. He:

  • Woke up in a dark hole, trapped in a cage with no memories of his life
  • Found himself in a freakish weird new world while strange kids poked him
  • Got hassled by almost everyone on his first day for no good reason
  • Learned that they’re all trapped in the middle of a maze with robot spies watching them and giant monsters lurking within the maze itself
  • Got suspiciously denied any answers to any of his questions about their situation
  • Was attacked by a psycho with a knife
  • Watched said psycho get arrow’d in the face and freaking die

And these are the first eleven chapters of the book … out of 62. Poor guy.

Out of sympathy for our friend here (and because I was able to write so much on these 1.5 chapters alone), I think I’m gonna cut off this post here. I’ll finish the rest of Chapter 11 in the next edition of Writing on the Pages.

Sincerely,
RADDman

Writing on the Pages – The Maze Runner #03: Chapters 6-9

Hey, you! Before I go on with The Maze Runner, I’d first like to thank The Chosen One for letting me write something for his aptly-named blog Total Time Waste. Hopefully I’ll get to do more collaborations, both with my new friend here and with other people, and hopefully those collaborations won’t have to do with dreams about Jaden Smith screaming.

On that note, I’d also like to advertise a new blog by my friend sf1nley, Reading Disorder, which will also feature reviews of literature and anime. Welcome to the club, Sam! Can’t wait to read your stuff and do some posts together!

But enough about other people, let’s go back to me and my opinions.

CHAPTER 6

It was Newt – the guy who seemed to be second in command; the air reeked of his morning breath.

Wait a sec. Each time this guy’s name came up in the text I kept thinking of the kid from Aliens, but … wasn’t this that cute British kid in the movie?

Well, he is!

Well, he is!

Yes! I remember you now! You were cool in the film, stay cool in the book!

“When you bloody need to know, you’ll know, Greenie.”

I recently learned that “bloody” is apparently the British English equivalent of “goddamn,” which makes it a bit odd that British characters in American productions casually throw the word around. In Hollywood movies it’s a little rude to ask someone to pass the goddamn mustard, but if you ask them to pass the bloody mustard while effecting an English accent, it’s okay. I get that it emphasizes Newt’s seriousness while he shows Thomas, from the safety of some watchtower, what comes out at night in the Maze. I just wonder if our born-and-raised-in-Georgia author is aware of this linguistic fact.

Funny, he finally uses an actual swear word in the text and he probably didn’t know it. Gotcha!

A large, bulbous creature the size of a cow but with no distinct shape twisted and seethed along the ground in the corridor outside. … It was too dark to make out clearly, but odd lights flashed … revealing blurs of silver spikes and glistening flesh. Wicked instrument-tipped appendages protruded from its body like arms: a saw blade, a set of shears, long rods whose purpose could only be guessed.

This description of the Grievers does not seem to precisely match its portrayal in the films, where it was just some giant metal spider thing.

griever film

I can only wonder how people who read the book imagined them … or I can just look up fanart!

griever fanart

No offense to Ben’s Blog, where this original fanart comes from, but I prefer the spider.

His desire to become a Runner had taken a major blow. But he had to do it. Somehow he knew he had to do it.

The narrative requires it!

How could a maze, with walls so massive and tall, be so big that dozens of kids hadn’t been able to solve it after who knew how long trying? How could such a structure exist? And more importantly, why? What could possibly be the purpose of such a thing? Why were they all there? How long had they been there?

Regardless of what one thinks of the book, it must be said that this is an awesome premise and a fascinating mystery. All that remains to be seen, after the set-up convinces us to open the book, is if the writing and characters are compelling enough that we want to find out, and that we want them to find out with us. So far, I believe so.

“Ain’t you lookin’ fresh?” Alby said. “Get a nice view out the window this morning?

… “Enough to make me want to learn about this place,” he said …

My thoughts exactly.

CHAPTER 7

Alby is showing Thomas around the Glade, starting with the first thing Thomas ever saw there.

“This here’s the Box. Once a month, we get a Newbie like you, never fails.”

Wait a sec, let me check something real quick. In Chapter 2, Dashner writes, “There had to be at least fifty of them …” If new people come once a month, that means the Glade gets twelve Greenbeans a year, and if there are at the bare minimum fifty, then this maze thing has been going on for more than four years by the time Thomas came in. And considering that there’s a graveyard, meaning quite a few people have died here, then the number increases to six, maybe seven, and who knows, maybe even longer! There weren’t nearly that many boys in the Glade in the movie, probably for the sake of convenient story streamlining. So what the heck is going on?

He pointed at the pitiful living quarters. “Homestead – stupid place is twice as big than when the first of us got here because we keep addin’ to it when they send us wood and klunk.”

Heh, they send you wood and what? Or is “and klunk” some silly PG-13 equivalent of the term “and shit” as emphasis, as in, “Yes, my mix tape has music and shit”? Nah, he could’ve easily used the phrase “and stuff” if he meant that, so I’ll just assume they live in a literal craphouse.

So Alby’s just aggressively showing him around their community’s four sections: the Gardens, where they farm crops and raise livestock; the Blood House, where they slaughter said livestock (and possibly people? Must keep that question in mind); the Homestead, the aforementioned dung building; and the Deadheads, the graveyard, of which Alby significantly says little until Thomas presses him.

“Two years, I’ve been here. Ain’t none been here longer. The few before me are already dead.”

Oh man, that “seven years” hypothesis just got a whole lot darker …

Or maybe they started out with thirty people or something and it’s only been about a few years? Yeah, didn’t think of that until now.

[Alby] was cut off by a booming, ringing alarm …

“Alby! What’s going on?”

“The Box, shuck-face, the Box!” was all Alby said before he set off for the middle of the Glade at a brisk pace that almost looked to Thomas like panic.

Man, this book moves at a brisk pace. In the movie it took several days for this to happen, and Thomas and the audience were given time to take in everything. At this point in the book, Thomas just came in yesterday!

CHAPTER 8

… Thomas was startled to realize he’d arrived just yesterday. Yesterday? he thought. Was that really just yesterday?

Yes, I just said that! Stop being more clever than me, book!

So the entire Glade is gathered around the box, waiting for the imminent and utterly unexpected arrival of a new Greenbean. How is Thomas handling this high-stress situation?

“Chuck, never wink at me again.”

He meets up with Chuck, who makes it a point to explicitly tell the audience that they are “buddies now.” Who needs to take time organically developing a relationship between characters when they can just nudge each other and have Thomas ponder about the usefulness of a friend in the Glade?

“Hey, look.” Chuck stopped and pointed to someone in the crowd. It was Gally, staring dead at them.

“Shuck it,” Chuck said. “He does not like you, man.”

“Yeah,” Thomas muttered. “Figured it out already.”

Yeah, figured it o- Darn it, book! Anyway, on the note of making character relationships obvious, here comes Gally, serving as filler while the Box takes a whole thirty minutes to come up.

Once the box finally comes up, Alby and Newt investigate and fall into bewilderment. At first it was only crazy because there were two Newbies in two days, but this surprise is almost too much for the seasoned leaders to comprehend at first. What could be so stunning and confusing?

“It’s a girl.”

AH! FEMALE REPRESENTATION!

And the boys react exactly as you’d expect:

“A girl?”

“I got dibs!”

“What’s she look like?”

Ah, teenage boys. You’re so predictable.

“You know what’s predictable? Deez nuts.” “OOOOOH!”

Newt silences the bunch by telling them he thinks she’s dead, and they drag the unmoving body out of the box. Everyone looks at Thomas, suspecting he killed her or something, and Alby, who reasonably finds the entire affair suspicious, rather unreasonably accuses Thomas of knowing her. Meanwhile, Dashner lovingly describes how pretty – pardon, “beautiful” – this sixteen-year-old girl is, taking care to point out her number one feature is her skin color: “pale, white as pearls.”

… The girl shot up into a sitting position. … Alby cried out and fell backward. Newt gasped and jumped up, stumbling away from her. …

Burning blue eyes darted back and forth as she took deep breaths. Her pink lips trembled as she mumbled something over and over, indecipherable. Then she spoke one sentence – her voice hollow and haunted, but clear.

Oh man, now that that ridiculous crap is over, I am stressed and hyped. She’s not dead, the freaking leaders of the club are spooked, Dashner’s writing gets vivid again, and all after so much has already happened in the past five pages, what could she possibly say?!

Everything is going to change.”

Come on, book, we talked about this already! This cliche is the important thing she had to scream to the world? This “dark and stormy night”-level overused trope is the five-word mantra that’s gonna shake up the whole thing?! With this and the silliness with Chuck and Alby in this chapter, can’t the author realize that show is always more effective than tell and –

Clutched in her hand was a wadded piece of paper.

… Scrawled across the paper in thick black letters were five words:

She’s the last one.

Ever.

Oh.

Um.

kermit panic

CHAPTER 9

So recap: the day after Thomas arrived, another person comes in the Box, which is highly unusual and, to some, even suspicious. It gets even stranger when it turns out to be a girl, and it gets scarier when a note in her hand reveals that she is the last person they’ll ever get in the Glade. After a moment of shocked silence from the boys (and Alby calling for “med-jacks,” meaning doctors), what’s the first thing they say?

“Who said Clint had first shot at her?” someone yelled from the crowd. There were several barks of laughter. “I’m next!”

As uneasy as I am, this is probably realistic.

“You know what’s realistic? Deez nuts!” “HOHO, IT MAKES A COMEBACK!”

At least Thomas feels “sick” from their reaction and Alby threatens banishment to anyone who touches her (other than the med-jacks hauling her away, of course).

Thomas’s gut clenched. He knew that he and the girl were connected somehow. They’d come a day apart, she seemed familiar, he had a consuming urge to become a Runner despite learning so many terrible things. … What did it all mean?

Wait, what does wanting to be a Runner have to do with the girl? Is he the only boy in the gang who wants to run away from her?

Alright, let’s conclude this with some brief initial thoughts on Chuck. In Chapter 8 he meets up with Thomas and lightens the mood with some comedy, and in Chapter 9 he playfully calls Thomas a psycho and takes him to get some food. He’s all jokes, which even includes scaring people in the john, and Thomas sees him as the one friend he’s made so far.

Thing is, he’s still really sketchy.

“This is crazy. How can this be for real? Somebody sent us here. Somebody evil.”

Chuck paused. “Quit complaining. Just accept it and don’t think about it.”

Note the pause. Thomas asks the really big questions and even dares to say their placement there was by someone “evil,” and Chuck had to stop to think before using the ol’ “don’t think about it” misdirection. You know, because it always shuts up people who ask a lot of questions.

Shockingly, Thomas asks something else, “one of the million questions bouncing through his brain.”

“So where does the electricity come from?”

“Who cares? I’ll take it.”

What a surprise, Thomas thought. No answer.

This goes on for almost three pages. Thomas asks how he can become a Runner, and Chuck says, “Not that again” and even “roll[s] his eyes dramatically, leaving no doubt as to how stupid an idea he thought that would be.” Thomas ponders if they’re criminals with wiped memories and they’ve been placed in the maze as punishment, and Chuck says, “Huh? … Where did that happy thought come from?” He then dismisses it by pointing out that he’s only 12 or 13 … which is fair, but then he dismisses any line of questioning about their lot in life.

“It’s better than -“

“Yeah, I know, living in a pile of klunk.” Thomas stood up and pushed his chair back under the table. He liked Chuck, but trying to have an intelligent conversation with him is impossible.

Chuck is a suspicious character who is deliberately dodging all questions and trying to persuade Thomas that there is nothing wrong with being entrapped in a maze, surrounded by cyborg slug monsters, and monitored by an unknown party’s cybernetic insect sentinels. It’s so jarring because this is not at all how they characterize him in the movie, and it makes even less sense because he’s the Greenie before him. Chuck has only been here for a month, and he’s already desensitized? He doesn’t care that he can’t remember his age, his last name, his anything, and that he knows even less? How did Mr. Nice Guy get like this so quickly?

Of course, maybe he doesn’t care and has just adjusted his mind to be used to this new life. Maybe I just can’t understand why because I feel I’d be more like Thomas. But it’s still weird to me.

So, before anyone gets confused by the mention of cybernetic insect sentinels, one appears at the end of the chapter. It’s called a “beetle blade.” Check out this detail that closes the chapter and today’s post:

He caught a gleam of red light sweeping the ground in front of the creature as if it came from its eyes. Logic told him it had to be his mind playing tricks on him, but he swore he saw the word WICKED scrawled down its rounded back in large green letters. Something strange had to be investigated.

“WICKED”? Really? And in case it was too subtle, Dashner made sure to go all-caps on it (all reasonable people use all-caps!). This …

Fine, I’ll do it.

I couldn't put into words my disbelief at how ridiculous this is, so I just copped out and put this.

I couldn’t put into words my disbelief at how ridiculous this is, so I just copped out and put this.

That’s all for now! And I don’t just mean that about the post, I mean that the next post won’t be about The Maze Runner! Yep, finally doing something other than Writing on the Pages. Here’s a hint for what’s next: it is one big pile of shit.

… Wait, I don’t mean that the post will be shit, it’s a quote, a reference, please …

Darn it, it’s a tribute to Jurassic Park, happy now?

RADDman

And that’s what I was referencing!

Writing on the Pages – The Maze Runner #02: Chapters 1-5

Hey, you! Today we begin The Maze Runner by James Dashner, the very first book featured in Writing on the Pages (partly because I want to exploit its popularity with the teenyboppers for views, partly because it’s a birthday gift from a friend who’s waiting to hear what I think of it). Time to find out if it’s all it’s cracked up to be or just another spacetaker on the crowded YA dystopia shelf!

But first, just letting you know how this will go down: I’m gonna quote lines from throughout the chapters and write my impressions as I go along. Okay, now we can quit stalling.

 

CHAPTER 1

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

I was taught that the first sentence of a story needs to be compelling. If the reader isn’t invested from the get-go, then they don’t have much reason to continue it … right? I don’t know about you, but I believe that if you start a book and lose interest in it, you shouldn’t feel forced to finish it. Life is too short to spend too much of it on something you don’t even care about.

Damn, stalling again at the first line. With all that said, it’s got my attention!

 

Minutes stretched into hours, although it was impossible to know for sure because every second seemed an eternity. No. He was smarter than that. Trusting his instincts, he knew he’d been moving for roughly half an hour.

Boy, I’d like whatever instincts he has. Wouldn’t need this watch anymore. Also, does that measurement include all the time he was unconscious? For all he and his instincts know, he’s been moving for days.

Pleb.

Pleb.

He screamed, called for help, pounded on the walls with his fists.

Nothing.

Thomas backed into the corner once again, folded his arms and shivered, and the fear returned. He felt a worrying shudder in his chest, as if his heart wanted to escape, to flee his body.

Someone . . . help . . . me!” he screamed; each word ripped his throat raw.

Aw, geez, first line of dialogue and it’s already a melodrama. Maybe it’s the spaced-out ellipsis and italics, maybe it’s the fact the narration already described that he screamed for help. Either way it really deflates the tension.

 

Hands reached down, lots of hands, grabbing him by his clothes, pulling him up. The world seemed to spin, a swirling mist of faces and color and light. A storm of emotions wrenched his gut, twisted and pulled; he wanted to scream, cry, throw up. The chorus of voices had grown silent, but someone spoke as they yanked him over the sharp edge of the dark box. And Thomas knew he’d never forget the words.

“Nice to meet ya, shank,” the boy said. “Welcome to the Glade.”

In contrast, this section was really well-done. The description of Thomas’s confusion is vivid and fittingly chaotic, the words a “swirling mist” themselves. All of it leads to a plain statement that seems matter-of-factly to the point of being obvious, but actually explains very little. Don’t you just hate it a friend invites you to something with their other friend group and they spend the whole time exchanging inside jokes that sound completely alien to you? This is just like that, but you’re also almost completely amnesiac and surrounded by scary things. It’s another, more frustrating type of bewilderment in an experience that’s already crazy for Thomas. Cleverly done.

 

CHAPTER 2

What, already? Chapter 1 was barely over three pages! Oh, is this that writing shortcut BS where they give the illusion of progress by splitting chapters into halves or thirds? Come on, man, fifteen- or twenty-page chapters shouldn’t be that daunting if your target audience is in high school.

 

“As he rotated in a slow circle, the other kids snickered and stared; some reached out and poked him with a finger.”

Well, that’s rude. I’ve seen the movie, so I already know that the same thing happening with Thomas once happened to all these kids. Is his presence really so unusual that some of them feel the need to be like those jerks at a turn-of-the-century freak show? It’s a small detail, but it’s really weirding me out.

patrick touch

“A tall kid with blond hair and a square jaw … A short, pudgy boy … A thick, heavily-muscled Asian kid … A dark-skinned boy …”

I can see that the Glade is multiracial, but it’s odd that Dashner tells the race and skin color of two non-white characters while the first two do not have theirs described. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the tall and short kids are white, but then why would he want us to know that the muscular one is Asian and the one who greeted Thomas is black? Is it just a subtle, probably subconscious byproduct of how our culture teaches us that whiteness is normal? Or am I just looking too much into it when it’s just trying to introduce characters?

 

“I told ya, shuck-face,” a shrill voice responded. “He’s a klunk, so he’ll be a slopper – no doubt about it.” The kid giggled like he’d just said the funniest thing in history.

Laughing at your own joke: always a sign of class.

 

Thomas looked back at his captors, feeling awkward but desperate to ask questions. Captors, he though. Then, Why did that word pop into my head?

Gee, could it be because you were trapped inside a cage in the dark for God knows how long, can’t remember anything about your past, and now find yourself in an unfamiliar place surrounded by giant metal walls and hostile strangers?

 

“Shuck it,” Alby said, rubbing his eyes.

Oh, I get it now! “Shuck” is a mix of “shit” and “fuck”! Cute way of dodging that R rating for the movie, Dashner! Totally not lame at all.

 

Thomas slid down the rough face of the tree until he sat on the ground again; he shrank back against the bark and closed his eyes, wishing he could wake from this terrible, terrible dream.

This moment comes after several pages of the group leaders, Alby and Newt, hassling him with completely unfamiliar terms and throwing vague comments alluding to death. As if this wasn’t rough enough, the chapter ends with a piercing shriek in the distance and a reaction from Newt that basically amounts to, “Can’t the doctors shut him up?”

The heroes of other fantasy and sci-fi stories are stoic and brave, and when they find themselves someplace unfamiliar through unknown means, they demand to know what’s going on. Meanwhile, Thomas seems to be doing his best not to break down and weep. Some might say he’s being kind of a wuss right now, but dammit, the kid can’t even remember his last name. The only thing he knows besides his first name is that he’s in serious danger that will only get worse.

So far, I strongly appreciate the realistic reaction that our protagonist is having towards all these developments. There’s something to be said for escapism, but I do know that if I awoke in a cage and found myself in a situation completely out of my control and largely beyond my understanding and can’t even remember my own freaking last name … hell, I’d shrink back and wish I could wake up. After all …

if you aint scared

So far, I feel that my responses aren’t as thoughtful as they could be. Let’s see if I can spend a little less time mocking the book and more time finding more positive and analytical things to say about it.

CHAPTER 3

Klunk’s another word for poo. Poo makes a klunk sound when it falls in our pee pots.”

Thomas looked at Chuck, unable to believe he was having this conversation. “That’s nice” was all he could manage.

Um …

That’s … nice …

Okay, I just needed to get that out of the way. In this chapter we are properly introduced to Chuck, the Greenbean (Glade slang for new guy) before Thomas and his guide for the night. I remember him from the movie, but as “Chunk.” I didn’t call him that because he’s described as “short and pudgy,” but because I would swear that his actor, Blake Cooper, looks just like Chunk from The Goonies.

chuck-maze-runner-chunk-goonies (1)

I also may have thought that the movie characters were actually calling him Chunk.

 

He stood up and walked past Chuck toward the old building; shack was a better word for the place. It looked three or four stories high …

Whoa, I don’t know how you define shacks, Dashner, but that building, even if it is “about to fall down at any minute,” is three or four stories high. It just doesn’t sound right to call something that tall a shack, even if it is somehow technically correct. The tallest thing I’d call a shack is probably Shaquille O’Neal.

 

“Listen to me, Greenbean.” The boy wrinkled up his face, folded his arms. “I’ve seen you before. Something’s fishy about you showing up here, and I’m gonna find out what.”

A surge of heat pulsed through Thomas’s veins. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. I have no idea who you are, and I couldn’t care less,” he spat.

I can’t help but feel that this is a parody (sorta) of YA conventions, namely the sudden development of a rivalry with some random narrative-designated jerk, a boy named … Gally? Really? Not quite the same ring as “Draco Malfoy,” is it?

The bigger question is: is it a parody? I can’t tell for sure, but even if that is not at all what Dashner intended when writing this scene, I’m enjoying it too much to care.

 

He lightly slapped Thomas’s shoulder, then stepped back, gesturing up the stairs. But Thomas knew the kid was up to something. Losing parts of your memory didn’t make you an idiot.

Never mind, the author knows exactly what he’s doing and it’s so much fun to watch. Your genre expects you to throw in an amnesiac teen protagonist? Okay, but he reacts exactly as an amnesiac teen in an unnatural situation like this would (as I explained in my previous post). Is “jerk rival” a typical trope? Sure, as long as Thomas points out how silly and exaggerated this is. Does that jerk then try, without any subtlety, to get our hapless protagonist in trouble? “Screw you, I’m James Dashner and losing parts of your memory didn’t make you an idiot.”

Does this look like a face that gives a damn?!

Does this look like a face that gives a damn?!

 

Thomas hated these people. He hated all of them. Except Chuck. … He realized that Chuck might actually be his only friend in the world.

Oh ho ho, it is humorous, because earlier he told Chuck that he doesn’t need friends, and now he accepts that Chuck is his friend! What irony!

This doesn’t take away from Dashner’s newfound street cred, though. While I saw that coming from a mile away, I thought it’d come back as an ironic echo closer to the climax or something.

 

CHAPTER 4

Though it was hard to make out from where he sat, there was something odd about the stone edges of the exits to the outside corridors.

The remainder of this chapter reveals that this is the giant door that leads to the Maze, which I already knew from watching the movie. However, I can only imagine how compelling this must have been for people reading it for the first time. I honestly don’t have much else to say about this chapter other than that if there are two things Dashner excels at (so far), it’s imagery and making build-up for that imagery.

“Why are you guys so secretive?”

Okay, I had to include this, I just like that he said that.

CHAPTER 5

So, how does the book follow up the big, discomforting reveal that everyone’s trapped within an enormous maze?

 

“The bathroom,” Chuck whispered.

“So?” A thread of unease stitched along Thomas’s skin.

“I love doing this to people. Gives me great pleasure before bedtime.”

Great, just what we needed to cap off what had to be an exhausting, disturbing day for Thomas: pranking someone in the potty. Dashner, can’t you go two more than two chapters without mentioning poop?

 

“Who’s that!” yelled the boy from the bathroom, his voice scratchy and laced with anger. Thomas had to hold in a gasp when he realized it was Gally –

Never mind, I approve.

 

Without warning, Chuck suddenly popped his head up toward the window and screamed at the top of his lungs. A loud crash from inside revealed that the trick had worked – and the litany of swearwords following it let them know Gally was none too happy about it.

Satisfied.

But … really, you’re just writing “litany of swearwords”? I’m personally not a big fan of strictly enforced PG-13 standards. If only they’d actually show some of the swears, or at least some kind of and colorful language …

 

“I’m not a dong, Greenie,” Gally spat.

I beg your pardon!

(And naw, man, I won’t even bother trying to put it in context. He called himself a penis, end of story)

 

“I know you,” Gally added without looking back. “I saw you in the Changing, and I’m gonna figure out who you are.”

Yeah, have fun with that, you dong.

 

Sorry, I thought this would be censored, or at least pixelated.

NSFW

Suddenly, the Glade, the walls, the Maze – it all seemed … familiar.

And it’s back to the plot, which is at least thickening. Thomas has this sudden epiphany that this place is not as foreign to him as it initially seemed. Damn, maybe I should have just come into this book fresh: this scene wasn’t in the film, and it seems so intriguing here but I already know the answer … Well, if it’s fresh for you, then isn’t this awesome?

I think these five chapters are enough for now (or perhaps more than enough). Seeing that this blog is just starting and this post in particular is a prototype, what do you think of the style? The length? The use of a Spongebob quote? (There’s one for any situation, I’m telling you!) Please let me know in a comment, I’d really appreciate it!

RADDman

Writing on the Pages – Maze Runner #01: A Little Background

James Dashner has made a name for himself in the world of YA literature. He’s written five different novel series for young teens, totalling at 17 so far, with the most famous being his Maze Runner. This series, consisting of three books, a prequel, and another prequel coming in 2016, became a New York Times bestselling series and built up a legion of devoted fans. Despite the first one coming out as recently as 2009, it is already being adapted into a blockbuster film series, with one film already out and the next one about to be released. It’s fairly popular in its own right …

Apparently. Um, I first heard about it when someone asked to show me the trailer for the adaptation.

I’m hardly being edgy and original in saying that by this point I’ve become a little jaded with YA fiction. You can only read so many teenagers-rebel-against-an-authoritarian-dystopia novels before it starts to feel repetitive. I’m even more tired of seeing movie studios hastily adapting any series they can get their clumsy paws on in increasingly desperate attempts to make the next billions-grossing summer blockbuster franchise. If you don’t know what I mean, think I Am Number Four, The Mortal Instruments, and that unholy attempt at a Percy Jackson film series.

Wait, they unleashed a second one?!

Wait, they spawned a second one?!

So I didn’t expect much when my friend sat me down to show me this, especially because I’d never heard of The Maze Runner before. What did this blackened, pessimistic soul think? Exactly what you’d expect me to think.

I thought it was awesome. For one thing, there was color. How many of these YA dystopian features feature any sort of shade in the rainbow that isn’t black or very very dark gray? As for actual content, every new line of dialogue was a fresh idea and a total mystery. What, so these kids don’t remember their names?, and they’re trapped in this huge maze?, and there are Grievers and what?, it was just one thing after another and I was fascinated. I knew I was gonna watch this.

So I saw it at my university’s on-campus movie theater, in a packed auditorium with a few buds. I’ll give the film credit for being as exciting and engaging as promised, even if there were some really silly things about it. And as I discovered that friends of mine had read the books, it turns out that this is an unpopular opinion among fans. One of them, a friend henceforth referred to for privacy’s sake as Bimmy, strongly believed that my experience with The Maze Runner should not be limited to an unsatisfying Hollywood adaptation and decided to buy the book as a birthday gift to me, which means that I at least feel obligated to finish it. And here we are now!

Before me is the copy that Bimmy kindly gave me:

20150523_195133

Time to judge a book by its cover: honestly, if I had seen this on a shelf at a bookstore, I wouldn’t have given it much of a thought. I can’t put my finger on it (though it may be the PowerPoint WordArt font used for James Dashner’s name), but something about it just seems generic. Again, I at least like the presence of color, but otherwise there’s not much else to it that catches my attention.

“The Kill Order”? How seriously am I supposed to take this series?

The back is fittingly mysterious, with most of the text being excerpted quotes from the book and the rest being vague sentences. The sense of genericness also creeps in here, with that cliched line, “Everything is going to change.” Well, duh, that’s how stories happen. You could just as easily have this line on the back covers of Odyssey, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Green Eggs and Ham.

Near the bottom are the lines, “Join the #DashnerArmy for exclusive content. DashnerArmy.com” Sounds legit – I feel that I can trust anyone whose legion of devotees calls itself an army.

So as I said before, I received this book as a birthday gift. Thing is, my birthday was more than half a year ago. And because of my aforementioned obligation to read books gifted to me, I know I have to read it at some point! So it’s time to put it off and start reading it.

… In the next post!

RADDman