Friday, May 23, 2008

Humans Battling Mind Controlling Aliens: a Struggle of Cardian Proportions (Part II)

(This is a continuation of an earlier post. For Part I see here.)

Stephenie Meyer’s the Host has been advertised and hailed as a story about the triumph of the human spirit. This would be in keeping with the impression that one would get just from glancing at the book jacket. The humans are going to defeat the aliens, right? Wanderer is going to be won over by the individualism of the free humans and reject the communal structure of the Souls, right? The truth is that Meyer has something very different in mind. Rather than a simple freedom triumphing over slavery story, the Host is a tale about society building and of conflicting societies.

The Host starts off as being a society building story about Wanderer and Melanie. They are two strangers thrown together by chance and forced to share not a piece of land but a single body. They have every reason to hate one another. For Melanie, Wanderer is a parasite, who has stolen her body and her life. For Wanderer, Melanie is a voice in her head that should not be there and is unneeded and potentially dangerous complication in her life. That being said Wanderer develops a strange affection for Melanie even to the point of protecting her from her fellow Souls. Wanderer covers up the full extent of the problem so that the Souls do not simply take her out of Melanie’s body and kill Melanie. In essence Wanderer chooses her troubled, schizophrenic existence with Melanie over a less problematic existence in some other body. Not only does Wanderer accept Melanie as a part of her life, she risks her life in an attempt to find Melanie’s family, a task which has no possible good ending for her. Tracking off into the desert lands of Northern Arizona might get her killed. If the Souls find her they will view her as a traitor. If she succeeds and finds the group of free humans, that she is looking for, the humans will take her what she is, a hostile enemy and a threat.

Wanderer’s search for the free human hideout is only the prelude to the main part of the story. Not to give too much away but she finds them (they actually find her) by page 117. (This is a 619 page novel.) The rest of the book is devoted to Wanderer’s struggle to become part of this free human society and how she comes to relate to the various residents of this society. Meyer puts Wanderer into a Stephen Donaldson type dilemma. Wanderer cannot use play her most valuable card to protect herself, to tell any of these humans the truth that Melanie is still alive and well inside her own head. This society survives on the belief that those humans taken by the Souls are gone; that the Hosts are no longer human and that there is no hope of bringing them back, no matter how much they would want to believe otherwise. If Wanderer were to tell the truth they would believe that she was lying to them by playing on what they would most desperately want to believe and kill her. Therefore she must lie and hide the truth even from the people she loves most in the world, Melanie’s younger brother Jamie and her boyfriend Jared.

The free humans are led by Melanie’s Uncle Jeb. He rules this society as a benevolent dictator. The caves, they are living, in are his house and therefore he makes the rules. He knows what Wanderer is yet he stops his people from killing her not because he has any delusions that the person he sees is in any way his niece but because he wants to get to understand these alien life forms that they now have to share the earth with. From this perspective Jeb and, later, other characters, come to form their own bound to Wanderer, or Wanda as she comes to be called, even though she is and remains the physical embodiment of everything they hate.

This society that Jeb is running is up of people thrown together by the fact that they are amongst the last humans not taken by the Souls. These people do not necessarily like each other nor are they particularly virtuous. Furthermore they are riding against the tide of history; the war is long over and the Souls won while hardly even having to fire a shot. Parallel to this small gritty, problematic free human society is the society that the Souls have created. The Souls are also part of this societal building narrative; they are also thrown together by events and most form bonds with people they have no particular reason to care about. In the beginning of the novel Wanderer meets one of the first Souls to come to Earth. She and another Soul took the bodies of people who were husband and wife. These two souls, despite the fact that they had no previous connection to each other took on the relationship of their hosts and fell in love with each other in a very human sense. Later in the novel Wanderer sees a couple who are Souls with small children who are clearly not occupied. So you have Souls with human children, created through the agency of their hosts, and who have taken on human connections to their own human children and have therefore kept them human.

In this tale of society building Wanderer must choose the society in whose building she will take part in. Neither society is good or bad; if anything it is the Souls who have the moral edge. Wanderer, though, chooses her flawed humans over her own kind. Wanderer’s reason for this is emblematic of this whole notion of society building. The bonds that she forms with the free humans have meaning precisely because they came out of an active choice, made by people who had every logical reason to turn her away. The Souls are beings who love naturally. While they may lack the flaws of human beings and their society may be a lot more moral and less problematic, their bonds are meaningless as it was something never came out of any active choice.

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