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Literature / Messenger

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"Thatís why we have the Museum, Matty, to remind us of how we came, and why: to start fresh, and begin a new place from what we had learned and carried from the old."

Messenger is a 2004 Young Adult novel by Lois Lowry and the third in The Giver Quartet. Unlike its predecessor Gathering Blue, which was more of a Stealth Sequel to The Giver, Messenger is a direct sequel to Gathering Blue.

Six years after the events of Gathering Blue, Matt (now "Matty") has been adopted by Kira's father Christopher (now called "Seer") and has moved back with him to a village — which, unlike the one seen in The Giver, is a straighter example of a Utopia. Formerly a haven for lost or broken people, its inhabitants have managed to build a genuine, loving community. Everybody gets along well and is assigned their true names (and, by extension, roles in the community) by the young, mysterious, and powerful Leader, who has the power to "see beyond." Matty hopes to be assigned "Messenger," as he's the only one who knows how to navigate the mysterious Forest that surrounds Village in order to send messages to other communities.

Something's not right, though. The people in Village are growing angry, dissatisfied, and unpleasant, which might have something to do with the frequent arrival of the Trademaster, a mysterious man who specializes in Power at a Price. Fittingly, the Forest is also growing and changing, becoming more hostile to those who enter it. When the people vote to finally close Village to outsiders, Seer bids Matty one last job — bring Seer's daughter Kira, protagonist of Gathering Blue, to Village before it's too late.

Tropes present in Messenger:

  • An Aesop: Selfishness and materialism can easily destroy a community.
  • Blind Seer: Christopher, Matty's adopted father. His name in the Village is Seer.
  • Body Horror: The descriptions of the severe injuries Forest inflicts are enough to invoke a little queasiness in the reader.
  • Courier: Matty serves as this for Village, carrying messages to and from the community. Although there's no moneymaking involved, he craves the prestige of such a job.
  • Deal with the Devil: Trademaster's whole schtick. He'll get you what you want, but at a very steep price — Mentor trades away his very being to become a more handsome jerk so he can romance Stocktender's widow, while it's implied that Ramon's mother traded away her children's health for a Gaming Machine.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: The somewhat sentient Forest decides who is allowed to enter and when. Matty can travel through at will, but other people will find that Forest gives them a warning (something like a very intentional poke with a branch); if they enter Forest again after that, they'll be killed. Later in the book Forest twists itself to become more hostile, even to Matty, and stops giving warnings before attacking. It takes a World-Healing Wave for Forest to turn mostly benevolent again.
  • Healing Hands: The ability Matty eventually realized he had. He never got the chance to perform this on humans other than himself, and then only as a demonstration.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Every adult has a "true name", which describes the role they play in the community. Matty doesn't have one yet, but hopes to earn the name Messenger. At the end of the book, he gets his true name posthumously: Healer.
  • I Know Your True Name: Leader has the power to sense true names in people, which he then bestows upon them. Unlike most examples, this is a benevolent version, as it helps people find their true place in the community — for example, Mentor becomes the village schoolteacher. They do seem to have some power, though, as when Matty manages to get his formerly rambunctious puppy to sit by using its true name, Frolic.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: Defied. Leader makes an effort to ensure that everybody in Village has the freedom to make their own choices. This is due to his realizing the wrongs of his previous community in The Giver, which ascribed to this.
  • Keeping the Handicap: After Matty discovers his power of Healing Hands, he offers to heal his friend Kira's lame leg. She refuses because her disability is intrinsic to who she is.
  • Meaningful Rename: Matty changed his name from Matt as per his old society's naming structure where syllables represent ages. Children have one syllable names, preteens get a two syllable name. Adults get a three syllable name.
    • The concept of the "true name" is this.
  • Nice Girl: Jean's most prominent personality trait is that she's kind, caring, and gracious.
  • Precious Puppies: Jean's dog births three puppies, two of which die of illness. Matty heals the last one and its mother and adopts it.
  • Red Herring: In the beginning, Matty describes Forest as if it were a sentient being, and discusses how it occasionally kills people. Given how, in each of the previous books, the leaders have used lies and dissimulation to cover up the fact that they kill people, you could be excused for expecting "Forest's actions" to be a blatant example of the same. Here, however, you would be mistaken — this village's dark secret lies elsewhere.
  • Romancing the Widow: Mentor wants to romance Stocktender's widow after the death of her husband at the hands of Forest. A sinister example, though, as Mentor trades away his "true self" to Trademaster in order for her to love him.
  • Same Character, But Different: Matty shares few characteristics with the filthy kleptomaniac Keet he was in Gathering Blue. Other characters make references to how he's cleaned up (literally and figuratively) in the six years between the books.
  • Setting as a Character: Forest is described as an actual character. While (probably) not fully sentient, it kills people, leaves warnings, and can twist itself to reflect the personalities of Village's inhabitants.
  • World-Healing Wave: Matty sacrifices himself to bring this to the setting — the Village residents' wishes are reversed and they revert to their kinder selves, Kira, Leader, and Frolic are healed of their injuries, and Forest becomes benevolent again.