Literature: The Taking

The Taking is a 2004 Horror/suspense novel by Dean Koontz, detailing an invasion by hostile alien forces who bend all that is right with the world in their quick, ruthless takeover, and one couple caught in the middle of it all.

Set in the California mountain town of Black Lake, it begins with Molly Sloan getting out of bed to investigate a strange, sudden rain storm. Her husband Neil slumbers soundly, while she can't sleep.

She finds the rain is faintly luminous, and has a subtle, repulsive scent. Neil wakes screaming from a nightmare, or more of a terrifying awareness of something passing overhead—some massive force like “a mountain coming down.”

News broadcasts tell of strange weather phenomena across the globe, and connections to the outside world begin to be severed as the menacing visitors close in. Molly and Neil leave their isolated home and gather with other townsfolk at the tavern in hopes of finding answers and safety.

A purple fog enshrouds Black Lake. Some stay behind, others plan to fortify and find refuge at the bank, and others want to fight back at what is threatening their world.

Disturbing things happen to undermine the fragile morale of the townsfolk. Molly and Neil leave as disagreement and paranoia and something far worse takes hold of everyone. Braving the horrors outside, they must rely on each other and hidden reserves of strength and humanity they didn't know they had to survive and help those who need it the most; children.

Trying to find reason in the increasingly impossible happenings that seem intent on tearing them apart emotionally as well as physically, they soon find that whatever is taking the earth is changing it in ways profound and unnatural.

Like most of Koontz's stories it works on the premise of genuinely good people cast into horrific situations. The Taking is chock full of Nightmare Fuel, bizarre creatures, T. S. Eliot references, and, despite its Lovecraftian overtones, the notion that no matter what happens, good will prevail and darkness will die.

The Taking provides examples of:

  • Alien Kudzu: The luminescent lichen on the trees and the self-repairing fungus.
  • And I Must Scream: Toward the end, Molly and the gang come across a group of people who have had their faces removed and are frozen in a standing position, twitching occasionally, their throats moving as if swallowing. Made even worse later when it's established that a stolen face equals a stolen soul and they are totally aware of what has happened to them and why.
  • Author Filibuster: The book regularly takes breaks to indict certain types of people as unilaterally evil, at one point even taking time for an aside to say that people who enjoy modern architecture literally want to see the world destroyed. Naturally, all these horrible people are the ones who are being cleared out to make way for a utopian world.
  • Body Horror: Alien fungi. Inside you. Animating you even after you're dead. Fun, fun.
  • Black Speech: The voice from the space station after...whatever..comes in and kills the astronauts.
  • Badass Normal: The couple is thrust into a living nightmare and yet proves to be competent and brave enough to not only save themselves, but others.*
Brainwashed and Crazy: Many people don't handle the invasion well, to say the least.
  • Broken Aesop: In short: Horrifically killing off (or worse) everyone deemed "insufficiently virtuous" would be a handy shortcut to utopia.
  • Children Are Innocent: Played universally straight. The invaders aren't even "allowed" to directly harm them, though they happily approve of humans taking care of that for them.
  • Creepy Doll: A doll Molly picked up in hopes of giving it back to the child who owned it stands up in front of everyone in the tavern and starts mutilating itself, pulling out its eyes and tongue, the innocuous phrases in its voice box turning into "all of your babies will die" as psychological warfare against those who are thinking about fighting back against the invaders. Holy shit.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: And how.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: When she was a child, Molly was nearly abducted from her school by her estranged, gun-toting father, who opened fire on her classmates when his efforts to get to his daughter failed. One girl died in little Molly's arms.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Virgil, who knows a lot more than even a normal dog should know. In fact, all the dogs seem to be this way, being able to reliably locate children who need rescue amidst the chaos and tell when something bad is nearby.
  • Evil Is Visceral: Many of the creatures are described as fungal, insectile, and generally disgustingly organic.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Leviathan.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies
  • Face Stealer: "The thing with faces in its hands." The protagonists come across a group of people who have had their faces removed, leaving only a smooth, blank surface behind. Also counts as Your Soul Is Mine. The invading creatures can then use their identities but the face-stealing is not required for this.
  • Facial Horror: Everyone's reflections in the mirror at the Tavern.
  • Genius Loci: "Something weird's happening to the house. It's changing. It's like...almost alive."
  • Happily Married: Molly and Neil.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The aliens.
  • Kill It with Fire: What's worse than zombies? Flaming zombies. With tentacled parasites nesting in their innards, reaching out for a nice hug.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In the church, a gigantic bug-like abomination bursts from the basement and impales a guy on its stinger.
  • Living Ship: The Leviathan
  • Losing Your Head: Poor Ken Halleck...
  • Lovecraft Lite: The Taking starts out as an alien invasion story with all the trappings of Cosmic Horror (it's even speculated that the aliens are terraforming Earth and humans to them are akin to the pesky mosquitos you annihilate by draining their swamp), complete with a reference to Cthulhu. Turns out, the "invasion" was actually the Apocalypse and the "aliens" were demons unleashed to punish humankind for its wickedness. They depart as suddenly as they arrived, and all children and sufficiently virtuous adults have been spared. The new world is actually pretty pleasant with all the Bad People gone
  • Mirror Scare: Molly and Neil briefly glimpse a different world in their bedroom mirror—one composed of the charred ruins of their home and strange plants and a shadowy winged figure.
  • More Dakka: Guns may not work on many of the otherworldly monsters, but they definitely work on human ones.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Molly has written several novels but still hasn't managed to make a career out of it. This troubles her greatly, as she fears leaving the world without leaving any lasting mark on it.
  • Mama Bear / Papa Wolf: Molly and Neil have no children of their own but make it their mission to save any they can find.
  • Mind Rape: Happens to pretty much everyone.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: Walking armored fungi that make screaming and weeping sounds and hold human faces under their gooey membrane of flesh. Yeah, I'd say plenty different.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: Molly's collection of antique music boxes and other items start doing things on their own accord when the Leviathan passes by.
  • Personal Horror: one of the main themes of the novel is how the protagonist's—especially Molly's—insecurities are played against them, and how they resist succumbing to this and focus on what needs to be done.
  • Sadistic Choice: Oh boy is there one. "I'll let you keep your face and walk out of here with four of the lambs. But only four. You choose the one to leave behind."
  • The Blank: They walk into the bank, and find a group of faceless people. Just standing there. Still alive in some way, and clearly not enjoying themselves very much.
  • Take My Hand: Kid, this is a bad time to freeze like a deer in the headlights when you're dangling like bait over a pit full of monstrosities.
  • The Power of Love
  • The Power Of Trust:
  • The Eyes Have It: That damn Creepy Doll, previously normal but animated by the Leviathan, suddenly has mobile eyes which look around and seem to see.
  • The Tragic Rose: Rebecca Rose, Molly's classmate who died in her arms during her father's attack. Her death in particular has haunted Molly for years.
  • Tears of Fear
  • Terraforming: Derek Sawtelle theorizes that this is what the aliens are doing. The rain's purpose is to plant seeds which grow into these strange new life forms, which release compounds that will slowly make the air less breathable for earth's inhabitants, and food inedible. It's much worse than that.
  • Title Drop: "One phase of the taking of the earth had ended."