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In a recent edition, Jens Lloyd’s article ‘Fearful Associations in John Christopher’s Middle-Grade Science Fiction’ (https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/fearful-associations-john-christophers-middle-grade-science-fiction-2/) takes a close look at two of John Christopher’s YA novels that are not The Tripods: The Guardians and The Lotus Caves.
Honing in on a major theme in John Christopher’s work – the struggle between assimilation and individuality – he concludes:
… The Guardians may be more immediately relevant and politically interesting. For contemporary readers, its bifurcated landscape reflects our era of increasing economic disparity, where associations aren’t always a matter of choice. But Rob does have a choice, and how he chooses to resolve his struggle, while predictable, is not necessarily unsatisfying. Caves offers an ambivalent ending that I find more compelling. Marty and Steve escape the caves, leaving Thurgood behind. But, as they head back to the Bubble, Marty reflects on his choice. We are told that The Plant “tried to assimilate” Marty and Steve, “but only because it could not do otherwise.” The Plant is not malevolent. It is, rather, an extraterrestrial force that challenges human understanding. Marty is “glad to be free,” but, as he considers Thurgood’s coexistence with The Plant, he feels “a glimmer of something.” What is it? “Only a hint of a feeling,” we are told, “but he wondered if it could be envy.”
The novel, fittingly, ends in doubt. It ends with the sneaking suspicion on the part of the protagonist that he’s made the wrong choice. When should individualism be feared? When should assimilation be welcomed? If assimilation entails cohabitation with a benevolent interstellar vegetable, then I am, at least, going to consider my options.