The Maze Runner by its title alone puts the maze as motif in the forefront. There are three kinds of mazes: the labyrinth, the maze and the tour puzzle. James Dashner's maze has elements of all three.
The labyrinth has its roots in the Cretan myth of King Minos and the Minotaur. Daedelus built the labyrinth to hold the minotaur. He was kept in the center of the structure where he couldn't escape. Anyone who entered the structure ran the risk of being killed by the Minotaur.
A true labyrinth has one path that starts on the outside and ends in the center.
Here we get our first pieces of the The Maze Runner: The teens arrive in the center of the maze. They live there in an area they call the Glade. Although they can explore the maze, at night they must return to the center. While there are dangers in the maze itself at night (Grievers and the moving walls), by being housed in the center of it all, they are symbolically minotaurs. These teens are in some way the creation of WICKED, though how exactly isn't explained in the first of the series. Likewise, the minotaur was the beastly off spring of Queen PasiphaÃ« and a bull slated to be a sacrifice to Poseidon.
A maze is designed to be more difficult to solve than a labyrinth. The goal to a maze is not just to get to the center but to find a path from a starting point to a goal. The goal could be in the center or along another side. Mazes of this sort are often used in psychology experiments to test navigation skills. Think of the typical lab mouse going for the piece of cheese hidden somewhere in the maze.
In The Maze Runner we are given clues to the purpose of the maze. It appears to be some form of experiment involving the teens in the place of the lab mice. So while they might pose a threat to the very people testing them, they are also valuable for whatever can be learned by their time in the maze. Again, what that value is, isn't a big part of The Maze Runner. That will have to play out in future books.
The Tour Puzzle:
Broadly speaking a tour puzzle is a test where a token (or player) has to be moved through a set number of destinations. Wikipedia includes mazes whose walls move (as they do in The Maze Runner) under the heading of the "tour puzzle." The most famous tour puzzle is the Knights Tour where the goal is to move the knight piece across all 64 squares on the chess board. One variation on the tours asks players to map the knight's path. If you know where the Knight has been you can figure out the path he has to take
Here then are the finally pieces of the maze. There are the moving walls, the mapping of the walls each day by the runners (or knights) and the way Thomas helps them find the way out by looking at where they've been for the last two years.
Labyrinths, Mazes and Tour Puzzles:
These structures are part of our literary history. Besides the tale of the Minotaur, mazes have appeared in a number of books and films. A small sampling of them includes:
- Def Fr0g 42 suggests "Idoru by William Gibson, which is partially set in a virtual community called Walled City, which was basically modeled after the Kowloon Walled City here in Hong Kong, which in many ways was a real-life maze."
- The Infamous Mom suggests "Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart."
- My friend Ceri suggests the pattern which is part of the Amber series by Roger Zelazny
- The Shining (1977) replaces the topiary animals with a hedge maze
- There's of course The Labyrinth (1986) staring David Bowie which has moving walls too so isn't a true labyrinth.
What about you? Do you have any favorites that I've missed?