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.
  • Animalistic Abomination: There are creatures that look like insects, monkeys and reptiles.
  • As the Good Book Says: Neil's brother Paul quotes a few Bible verses, which are revisited at the end.
  • Ate His Gun: Harry Corrigan.
  • 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.
  • Ax-Crazy: A man breaks into a house and tries to sacrifice an entire family so he'll be spared. He kills the parents, tries to force Molly to kill the children after she attacks him. Molly kills him in self-defense. Molly's father was also a murderous psychopath. Until he died, anyway.
  • Babies Ever After: Molly becomes pregnant after the survivors resettle.
  • 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.
    • It's implied that they were spared because they tried to save others and tried to protect children in particular.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Harry Corrigan thought so.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: A giant insectoid creature hides in the church basement.
  • Black Speech: The voice from the space station after... whatever... comes in and kills the astronauts.
  • 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.
  • Bloodless Carnage: When Molly shoots her father, the wounds don't bleed, telling Molly that it's not her father that she shot.
  • Body Horror: Alien fungi. Inside you. Animating you even after you're dead. Fun, fun.
  • 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.
  • Caught Up in the Rapture: Some people were mentioned to have floated away, but were happy when they did so. It's implied that they went to heaven.
  • 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.
  • Corrupt Politician: Seen in the hand of the creature in the bank.
  • 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: It would be easier to list the people who didn't meet a nasty end.
  • Cue the Rain: Inverted. The glowing rain just the beginning and the rain at the end is a sign of things getting better.
  • 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.
  • Dark World: A ruined, otherworldly version of the Sloans' bedroom with... something hiding in it is visible in their mirror while the Leviathan is passing overhead.
  • Deadline News: Becomes increasingly prevalent as the unnatural storm goes on. Reporters are killed by the invaders as seemingly-indiscriminately as everyone else.
  • Declaration of Protection: Molly does this multiple times, with the final time being in the bank when presented with a Sadistic Choice. It's why the creature she encounters there can't touch her.
  • Demonic Possession: When the demons finally come to take the souls of the people in the tavern, they insert themselves into the faceless bodies left behind, as evidenced by the formerly blank faces taking on the features of the demons themselves before seeming to go back to their ordinary features.
  • Despair Gambit: Everything the creatures do from the apparent terraforming to the Creepy Doll are intended to make people despair so that they'll see protecting others as pointless and thus have their souls taken.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Happens to a pretty large portion of humanity.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Sloans think this happened to Harry Corrigan at first. Further investigation reveals that he killed himself for an entirely different reason.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Leviathan.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: The creatures reanimate some of the corpses from the graveyard near the church. There's also the Sloans' neighbor Harry Korrigan whose corpse reanimates in his house.
  • 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.
    • One of the other groups encountered near the end has cats with them as well.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: When one of the creatures tries to take Molly's face, its hand is described as feeling cold and greasy.
  • Evil Is Visceral: Many of the creatures are described as fungal, insectile, and generally disgustingly organic.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Festering Fungus: All over the damn place. Masses of fungus are found all over the town, some of which move around on insect-like legs while others are glowing. Molly instinctively sees them as malignant and they eat souls. The self-repairing mushroom in the tavern is a less dangerous example.
  • Fog of Doom: The town gets filled with purple fog, which eventually forms a layer further up.
  • Genius Loci: "Something weird's happening to the house. It's changing. It's like...almost alive."
  • Good Shepherd: Neil becomes a priest again after the invaders leave, though he always had the personality of one.
  • Good Wings, Evil Wings: The humanoid... thing that took the shape of Molly's father and confronts her in the bank has leathery, bat-like wings.
  • Guardian Angel: At the end, Molly realizes that the smaller glowing craft were benevolent and considering the nature of the invaders, they were most likely angels.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Happens to a cameraman.
  • Happily Married: Molly and Neil.
  • Haunted Technology: Whenever the Leviathan passes overhead, anything technological starts freaking out. Digital clocks rapidly cycle through random numbers, phones and radios emit strange electronic noises and some television stations only disply swirling colors. When Molly and Neil arrive at the tavern, they hear stories of everything from CD players and computers to kitchen appliances acting strangely. Even non-electronic devices such as Molly's watch and music boxes are affected, and that's all before the doll animates and starts pulling itself apart.
  • Hostile 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.
  • Hostile Weather: The rain at the beginning is stated to have caused mudslides and flooding in some places. There are also impossibly dense and wide waterspouts that form in the ocean.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The things with faces in their hands and the figure that appeared in the Sloans' mirror.
  • Human Sacrifice: One person resorts to this to try to save himself, though he was already Ax-Crazy to begin with.
  • If I Can't Have You: Molly's father killed her classmates to get at her so he could raise her himself.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In the church, a gigantic bug-like abomination bursts from the basement and impales a guy on its stinger.
  • Infernal Retaliation: What's worse than zombies? Flaming zombies. With tentacled parasites nesting in their innards, reaching out for a nice hug.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Most of the guards at the asylum where Molly's father was incarcerated wanted to let the inmates go, but two of the guards decided to kill them instead based on this logic.
  • Insecurity Camera: Happens on a global scale. Cameras and any other observation devices including weather satellites fail when they try to look at the creatures or the bizarre weather.
  • Intangible Man: The creatures can move through walls and aren't hit by bullets.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The book starts as the glowing rain begins falling.
  • It Won't Turn Off: Happens with the TV set in Molly's house after it starts showing scenes of human depravity due to the Leviathan's effects.
  • The Legions of Hell: What the "aliens" actually were.
  • Light Is Not Good: Smaller glowing craft fly through the clouds and seem to have an absolute knowledge of people they pass over. Subverted. At the end, Molly suspects that they are guardian angels due to events such as another person being physically unable to shoot her while one is overhead.
  • Living Ship: The Leviathan. Emphasis on living.
  • 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
  • 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 the people in the tavern.
  • 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.
    • Later at the tavern, everyone sees themselves in the mirror— not exactly in their glory though.
      • Some people didn't appear in the tavern mirror at all. They survived.
  • Monstrous Humanoid: The things with faces in their hands.
  • 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Subverted. The tense scenes where nothing seems to appear always builds up to something nasty assailing the protagonists and revealing itself as it does so.
  • Older Is Better: The author certainly seems to think so. All of the movies watch by Molly and Neil before they leave to look for other people are old movie. Modern media is represented by reality shows, gory violence, porn and cruel jokes. There's also Molly's internal monologue about how modern architecture sucks.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The woman that "looked like Obi-Wan Kenobi" as described by a trio of siblings rescued by Molly and Neil. It's either this or an angel.
  • 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.
    • Our Demons Are Different: The creatures are hinted to be demons during the beginning, though it's only confirmed at the end.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The corpses in the church are animated by masses of tentacles nested in their ribcages.
  • 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. Played with in that the music boxes themselves don't play anything unusual. It's all of them playing at the same time that's unsettling.
  • Pedophile Priest: Neil left the priesthood because one of these went unpunished.
  • 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.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The creatures can do this with corpses.
  • The Radio Dies First: Phones are one of the first things to go.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When Molly finally confronts one of the invaders, it's revealed to have these.
  • Religious Horror: At the end of the book, Molly realizes that the giant "ship" was actually the Devil and the creatures were demons, making the story this retroactively.
  • A Round of Drinks for the House: Russell, the tavern owner, is giving out free drinks since the world's ending.
  • 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."
    • Subverted as by that point Molly knows that the creatures can't harm children.
    • The Final Temptation: The creature tries to get Molly to abandon one of the children to its mercy to save herself, an act that she has thus far refused to commit. It also happens just before the creatures leave.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: The voice on the space station was introducing itself after it killed the astronauts, but was saying the individual words backward.
    "My name is Legion, is Lucifer, is Abbadon, is Satan, eater of souls."
  • Shapeshifter Guilt Trip: Molly's father was actually killed in his cell by a guard as the catastrophe was starting up. The man that Molly talked to was actually one of the demons who had stolen her father's soul, revealing itself during the confrontation in the bank vault.
  • Strawman News Media: Television media in general is depicted this way.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: What the main characters and the people in the tavern think the invaders are. Actually concludes at the end a direct reversal of the saying: the heroine realizes that if a sufficiently advanced race would look like magic or gods, a supernatural event of any scale would look like the arrival of sufficiently advanced aliens to a world that had abandoned all faith and belief in anything beyond what they could scientifically prove.
  • Survival Horror: Seems to be this at first. The setting is creepy and oppressive with monstrous creatures and walking corpses seeming to lurk in every shadow and people holing up to defend themselves, but the horror takes a much more personal turn as the story goes on.
  • 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.
  • Take That: The story contains several toward various aspects of modern society including the news media, modern entertainment, modern architecture and science fiction and none of them are particularly subtle.
  • The Power of Love: What keeps Molly and Neil going through the events of the story.
  • The Power Of Trust: Molly's Declaration of Protection in the church evokes this.
  • 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
  • Title Drop: "One phase of the taking of the earth had ended."
  • When It Rains, It Pours: The oddly-scented rain at the beginning and the purifying rain near the end are both downpours.
  • Winged Humanoid: The creature that Molly encounters in the bank is a Monstrous Humanoid with wings.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: When Molly and Neil head out to rescue others, they hear what sounds like a woman crying. The source of the sound is a walking fungus and the exact same cries are heard in different voices from other walking fungi, suggesting that the sounds are a lure.