Is Nicolas Old Enough for “The Maze Runner”?

This was our family discussion this morning–a good thing, since our family discussion is usually filled we these phrases:

“Where are my mitts?”
“Shoot, I forgot to make lunches.”
“We’re late!”
“Oh, I forgot! I need a scale-sized model of the central nervous system of a Swahili Ground Gnat due this morning.”

Today the discussion was about a book club at school. Nicolas had read most of the books on the list except Kit Pearson’s Handful of Time. But his grade 5 partners had all read the Pearson book. A 10-year-old dilemma.

A solution was found in The Maze Runner. It came out a few years ago, but the film last year has brought it back into our minds. I’ve seen the trailer, and had decided that if the movie was anything like the book, this was too violent for a 10 year old–even a relatively mature 10 year old who has grown up on books.

But…. I wondered if the film had used older actors and themes, as producers had done with the film adaptations of Ender’s Game and The Giver. Moreover, Kerry and I have not spent a lot of time censoring reading in our home. We have sort of followed C.S. Lewis’ experience. He grew up in a house full of books, and was allowed to read most anything he wanted. As a child he left adult themes aside. When he was a teenager, he relished in adult themes. And when he was an adult, he was old enough again for fairy tales, fantasies, adventures, and other “nursery” books.

Instead of censoring, we’ve tried to create a framework where Nicolas would make wise choices. That has meant that we stay on top of our reading of excellent, living, children’s literature. Typically, this isn’t a problem. We are both lovers of reading, and we both like children’s lit. We’ve tried to stay on top of things. When Harry Potter came out and the parents of the youth we were working with had concerns, we read the series, and have since reread them and watched the films. With the Hunger Games discussion over the last few years, we read the books and watched the films. We were able to talk to our Sunday School classes, or students, as well as our niece, nephew, and son about what the books are like.

But this is hard. Really, the kids read too quickly for me to keep up. My niece, Madison–you remember my letter to her about Pride & Prejudice–she gobbles up books like jujubes in a clown club. My nephew can sit and read and read, and also loves the video game adaptations. And Nicolas, he just loves everything! We can’t keep up.

Plus, the books are toying with dangerous ideas. Young teen books now have sexual content, violence, abuse, manipulation, bullying, identity struggles, the politics of school and home and failure and success and in and out and us and them. These are wonderful, beautiful, horrifying, and essential things to write about.

But he is 10.

And kids are reading these great themes younger and younger–partly because many of them are great books too.

So Nicolas comes to us, knowing that The Maze Runner may be an issue. I sit with it, while Kerry takes action. She checks parental reviews, and comes up with this phrase:

The Maze Runner is even more violent than The Hunger Games.

I don’t know if this is true, because I haven’t gotten to The Maze Runner or the Divergent books or a hundred other books on Nicolas’ “to read” list. There’s just too much. But the phrase caught my ear because I think that The Hunger Games trilogy is just too violent for younger kids.

Why do I say that? It’s actually the flavour of violence that I struggle with. I am reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Nicolas, and they are violent. But the kind of violence is good against evil, the great epic, and the reluctant war. The bad guys are literally dehumanized, and there are times when the orc’s head must be freed from its shoulders.

The Hunger Games, though, has a violence tinged with perversion: kids killing kids. While the third book is more like a typical war–and loses the adventure and interest for many–the first and second book include horrifying violence against little ones. The death of Rue is important in both the film and the book.

Now, the problem isn’t that the violence is gratuitous, or even that it is deceptive. The problem is that the violence tells too much truth.

Truth: There are people like this in the world.

Truth: You may sell out your friends.

Truth: Our culture may end up like this.

Truth: Tyranny is always tyranny against the most vulnerable.

Does a 10 year old need to know these truths yet?

I’m not so sure.

So when morning came, we had to choose. And we told Nicolas that he should find an alternative book to read.

Now, we didn’t forbid him. We asked him to make this choice. When we talked about why in the car, I asked him why he shouldn’t see violence in stories just yet, or why it was too violent. He didn’t really know, so I said:

“Once you learn something, you can’t unlearn it. Once you see the violence, it is always with you.”

In this way, I sort of agree with Jason Mraz:

What about taking this empty cup and filling it up
With a little bit more of innocence
I haven’t had enough, it’s probably because when you’re young
It’s okay to be easily ignored
I like to believe it was all about love for a child (Jason Mraz, “Love for a Child”).

Why are we intent on growing kids up, moving them quicker along that cultural assembly line. “I’m innocent,” Jewel sings, “and I’d like to stay that way.” What’s the hurry? Nicolas will discover all these great and terrible things–and worse, and better–before too long. Why not give him the space to grow his imagination to the point where it is ready to explore the great heights and depths humanity has to offer?

Even as we talked, I was worried that I might be over-protecting in this case. Sensing that, my wife suggested he talk to his teacher, who has read The Maze Runner. I love his response:

“Can I go talk to her now?”

I love that he is open enough to talking with her, and that she is the kind of teacher who is worth talking to. As we were considering that, Mrs. Mawhinney, the Jr. High teacher, pulled into the parking lot of the school. She is a lover of great books, and an intellectual confederate of mine. As she pulled into her parking spot, Nicolas asked:

“What about Mrs. Mawhinney. Can I go ask her?”

We may choose wrong here. He may talk to teachers and friends and make a decision to read this book. If he does, I know what I’ll be reading this weekend–trying to beat him to the bits which might bend his imagination in adult ways. But we have done a good thing, I think, surrounding him with good books, encouraging in him a good critical mind, and enlisting people we trust in the great task of growing a child. It presses upon me in this moment that these are not such bad things.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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15 Responses to Is Nicolas Old Enough for “The Maze Runner”?

  1. Laura says:

    I hope this information will be helpful to people considering whether the “Maze Runner” series is appropriate for their child. SPOILER ALERT- If you haven’t read all the “Maze Runner” books, be aware that this will give away crucial information. I read the YA books my students love, and “Maze Runner” is a well-written book, but very harsh. It is not harsh merely because the fight between good and evil can be a brutal one, but because later books reveal that are substantial betrayals of trust and purpose. There’s no “good” in the Maze Runner world, only sad expedience. This series does not feature the momentary betrayal of Boromir overwhelmed by the ring, but the systematic cruel dishonesty of a hard world.

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  2. Doug Daniel says:

    I think you made the best call you could in a tough situation. We can’t filter everything in this culture, there’s too much– giving your son a voice and some choice in the matter, and talking to him about the issues, is the best course, imo.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. L.A. Smith says:

    I haven’t read The Maze Runner, but I saw the movie (didn’t think it was all that good, actually). I would agree with you about the kinds of themes in these types of books and their appropriateness for children. Why are we so eager to teach our children the hard ways of the world? If that means we are “sheltering” them, so be it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve read the first book, and I’d say you are wise to advise your son not to read it. The ending is really grim.

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  5. linalaukaR says:

    I’ve only seen the film, and I must say I was surprised to see 11-year-olds go see it with their mums. The violence was very graphic – more so than in ‘The Hunger Games’, I think – and directed against teens and children. There were also rather nightmarish half-organic robot monsters. I didn’t see much good to be gained from the film either (beside the thrill and suspense, of course).

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  6. I’ve read all the books in the series and went to see the first film when it came out. (I’m 20). My younger brother aged 12 started reading the first book. He’s quite intelligent and he loves reading, but he didn’t really understand why what was going on was. He understood the story line. He could tell you everything that happened. But as someone who doesn’t understand the harsh realities of the world we live in, he couldn’t really engage with it. So while I still think the violence and themes are a little advanced for a ten year old, I think the engagement with the novel will be more problematic.

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  7. Mary says:

    I was allowed free rein to read what I liked as a child and young adult- my father was the one I generally went to the library with and he usually allowed me to read whatever I chose. (Usually- a few times the books I chose were sent back unread but that didn’t happen often.) But the result was an intense love of reading and a reading/vocabulary level well above my peers so it makes me happy to see that your son is being allowed this freedom as well.

    I can’t speak to the appropriateness of The Maze Runner; I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. But I find it distressing that so much of young adult fiction and even some juvenile fiction seems to be written with a perverse desire to destroy innocence. As you point out, books like The Hunger Games are violent, and truthfully so, but in my opinion the violence in these stories has no real point. I’m not a mother yet but I would rather a child of mine read something like the original Grimm fairy tales than the majority of pop fiction written today for kids and young adults.

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    • I agree with you about the trend. I too have a written a book with violence in it. But violence is not met by violence–or it shouldn’t be. With strength, yes, but not violence. The principle in the book is that violence begets violence. I don’t know if it will find a readership or not.
      I am in favour of innocence, and in favour of discovery. I don’t think all experience is needed to navigate the world. I have not been raped, or have raped, but I have sat one some who were. I have not seen war, nor perpetrated it, but live in its knowledge.

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