Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: Reissue September 2012
Audience: 12 and up
Summary: Matty, a lively boy entering adolescence, lives with Seer, his blind guardian, in Village, once a welcoming and healing place for all. But this is beginning to change. People are growing selfish; they want to close the village to any newcomers who, they say, have too many needs. Seer and Leader suspect the baleful influence of the Trade Mart and Trademaster. People are trading their inmost selves to get such things as a Gaming Machine or a better appearance. When Village votes to close its gates, Seer knows that he must send for his daughter, Kira, who lives in another village and who is lame. She had stayed there to use her gift with needle and thread to embroider a new life for the violent, cruel village in which she lived. Matty, who hopes his real name will be Messenger, is sent to tell all nearby villages that Village gates are closing. He goes first to Kira to bring her to her father. Matty has discovered that he has the gift of healing and he offers to heal Kira before they start for Village, even though he knows how much vitality and strength this will take from him. Kira refuses and they start back through Forest, only to find it has become hostile to them. Branches stick them; vines entangle them; the stench makes breathing almost impossible. Matty is called to use his gift in a costly, remarkable act of healing that restores Forest and Village and restores Kira to her father.
Literary elements at work in the story: The genre is dystopian fiction. The tension and danger of most such novels takes a slightly different form here. The gifts used in the story’s conclusion veer into fantasy or magic rather than dystopian fiction. Evil is represented by a consumerism that encourages selfishness and that affects the natural world. The trip through the forest that Matty and Kira make is vivid, frightening, horrifying.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The reasons people of the Village give for closing their gates express racial and cultural prejudice and prejudice against those handicapped. Neither gender nor economics affect the story.
Theological Conversation Partners: Messenger opens up a number of topics for theological exploration: evil, suffering, ecology, responsibility, stewardship of gifts, identity, community. In the two previous communities, an evil pattern of life was already established. Here Lowry telescopes the results of materialism, consumerism, selfishness into a rapid change in the entire character of Village. Is this an adequate concept of evil? Explore Genesis 2 and compare. Lowry and the Bible personalize evil. Compare Trademaster with Satan or the devil. Kira claims her lameness as part of her identity-“Who I am.” Does our faith encourage us to accept handicaps as identity, as something to keep? When does my healing take from the community-a question that lurks in discussions of medical care today. Biblical characters are given new names-Abraham, Jacob, Peter. Compare this with the names given in Village. Matty is reminded to use his gift carefully, not to squander it. This is in contrast to the story Jesus told about the Master who demanded that his servants invest their gold coins. (Luke 19: 11-27, Matt. 25:14-30) Both ideas could be included in the stewardship of gifts.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Villagers give reasons for wanting to close their gates to newcomers. What are these and are they used when we discuss immigration today.
- When Matty arrived at Village he lied, stole, and avoided responsibility. What made him change?
- Why did Kira refuse healing. What did she mean by, “This is who I am?” Was she right?
- Leader tells Matty about using his gift: “Wait for the true need, Matty,. Don’t spend the gift.” How does he recognize the need?
- Names were given to indicate the true nature of the person. What would your name be?
- Can you think of times when you can trade your true self for something you want-popularity? Good looks? Success in sports or grades? Other?
- Selfishness affects the natural world, making Forest hostile. What is the connection between selfishness and global warming, for example?
- Do you think the author gives an accurate picture of the Village before Trademaster comes?
- How can a community protect itself from influences the cause us to be selfish, cruel, dishonest?
- In Christian theology is selfishness the root of all other sins? What other sins mar us and our world?
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas
Messenger by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.