Stephanie Meyer's novel The Host presents incredibly original ideas in a way that is fairly palatable to young audiences. This tale of identity crises and mixed memories, all in the wake of an alien invasion, provides an interesting setting for this science-fiction love story. The protagonist's struggle for understanding and control of the very body it lives in carries many unique scenarios that are presented in a sometimes fascinating way. This paper will overview many different aspects of the first part of The Host, including setting, character and conflict.
The first setting the book takes place in is a facility where the souls are implanting Wanderer into Melanie’s body. It is a cold antiseptic place, and it is very sparsely described as the book focuses more on the character’s thoughts and confusion regarding the implantation. The aliens’ facility (including the Comforter’s office) is depicted as brightly lit and clean. More or less, it looks and behaves just like normal, everyday society, except for the fact that inside each human is a ‘soul.’ Meanwhile, Wanderer begins dreaming of places, and thinking of Chicago, civilization, and home. She realizes that these are Melanie’s memories, and is inspired to follow them to their natural conclusion.
Next, the book takes Wanderer to Tucson, Arizona, where the entire area was filled with ‘dark, rough rocks’ and ‘dusty plains.’ This was a direct contrast to the clean, safe and secure network of the society under the stewardship of the Seekers. In terms of atmosphere, it feels freeing, both in terms of geography and of emotions, the Wanderer wishing to be away from Seekers. It is here that Wanderer allows the life of the desert overtake her, and they escape to the caves where the rest of the resistance are.
The overall idea of The Host revolves around ‘souls,’ alien spirits that can inhabit a person’s body and take over their consciousness, using their physical form as an avatar. The protagonist of the novel is ‘Wanderer,’ a soul who inhabits the body of a young woman named Melanie Stryder after the rest of the souls have effectively dominated the human race, Melanie being one of the last true humans left. However, this habitation is somewhat different than before; instead of completely taking over the girl’s body, the memories and emotions inherent in Melanie still linger within Wanderer and begin to affect her. Their personalities and experiences start to merge, to an extent, Wanderer benefiting from some of the things that Melanie remembers from her past. Melanie and Wanderer effectively fight for the control of Melanie’s body. Despite this, Wanderer gets the vast majority of the characterization in the book, as the book follows her journey and her attempts to understand Melanie’s live, rather than vice versa. Also among the main characters is Jacob, Melanie’s boyfriend, a strong, determined young man who still resists the alien invasion of Earth.
Eventually, the two entities start to come to an understanding, and they manage to make their way back to the underground area where many of the remaining humans hide out. Distrustful of Wanderer at first, they soon begin to let her become part of the group. The primary conflict of the book is a character-based one – Wanderer’s attempt to reconcile her new experiences and the fight with Melanie over control of her body. One of the more direct conflicts, however, come from both Melanie’s and Wanderer’s love for Jared Howe, Melanie’s boyfriend. As Wanderer shares Melanie’s memories, she starts to also share feelings for Jared, something that Melanie does not take kindly to. This forms a strange rivalry between these two entities that had just started to cooperate. There is also the underlying conflict of the ‘souls’ having taken over Earth, and the ongoing battle between the humans and souls for control of the Earth parallels Melanie’s and Wanderer’s own internal battle.
Many of the same tendencies and story elements found in Twilight are present here – both Bella and Melanie share the traits of the ordinary, unremarkable girl who is still somehow, for no good reason, special and amazing. Jared and Edward alike are the headstrong, hypermasculine and authoritative male figures for the girls to latch on to. Their love is complicated by dangerous racial barriers (girl-to-vampire or boy–to-invaded-alien-consciousness). If anything, the most important distinction made in this book to set it apart from Twilight is that, instead of two supernatural creatures battling for the love of the protagonist, the protagonist is the one supernatural creature trying to insinuate itself in an existing human relationship. Admittedly, this twist makes the star-crossed love angle somewhat more interesting as a concept, as it plays with notions of ownership of Mel’s body that are already present by virtue of the basic premise of the book. Does Wanderer have the right to try and steal Jared away from Mel, even though Mel was there first, and she is living in Mel’s body?
Unfortunately, however, Meyer still seems to have some strange, patriarchal ideas of romance. Mel (and, as soon as she knows Jared, Wanderer) are both hopelessly in love with Jared, becoming entirely dependent on him, and becoming extremely over-the-top in their need to be with him. At many points, Melanie’s and Wanderer’s entire motivations are summed up by repetitions of “Jared’s alive, Jared’s here” in their thought processes, their single thought turning toward him as a validating figure in their lives. While some of this is levied by Melanie’s desire to get back to her family as well, and Wanderer’s burgeoning discovery of these strangers whom she feels she has known all her life, it can get repetitive and alienating.
In terms of the writing style of The Host, Meyer falls into the same unfortunate patterns that plagued her prose in Twilight. Adverbs, both sensical and nonsensical, find their way into sentences far too often, making the discovery of the overall intention of the sentence an exhausting exercise in futility. The plot moves far too slowly, as the emphasis is much more on the relationships between the characters; normally, this is not a bad thing, but none of the characters, save Wanderer, are extremely well-drawn. Wanderer herself is an interesting character all the same – the constant struggle between her and Melanie is fascinating, as we hear their inner monologues and internal conflicts. However, many of them consist of ‘yes we will’/ ‘no we won’t’ bickering, and not enough of it tackles real philosophical issues like, ‘What do we do now that we are cohabiting a single body?’
Other concerns came up for me during the reading. It has been strange so far to see the oddness of the alien culture still find far too many similiarities to human life. While many of the aliens have strange names (Fords Deep Waters), the simplicity of the Native American-like names bothers me a bit; naming her characters using a scheme used so often by the Native Americans can draw strange parallels between the colonialism of the aliens and the oppression of the humans. Furthermore, I find it a fairly lazy way to try and avoid coming up with “silly” alien names, complete with apostrophes, that you find so often in science fiction.
The aliens also speak in a manner that is very close to humans, and they behave in a very humanlike way. This has the effect of making them not seem very alien, which is somewhat disappointing. I would have liked to have seen a greater clash of cultures and ideas and personalities between Melanie and Wanderer; what we get so far are just two of the same kind of woman fighting over control of the body, the only difference being that Wanderer has come from a bit further away to do it.
I wish they would explore aspects of this alien-conquered society a bit more. How does their society work? What are the logistics of its economy, and how do they keep the hosts alive? With such a disrupted society, how do they maintain the resources to keep thriving? There are glimpses of authoritarianism with the Seeker, and the rehabilitation and medical procedures seen in the beginning, but that does not happen very often, and I would almost rather read a book about this society attempting to work than focus on the single struggle between two forces for one body, as interesting a concept as that is.
Meyer, S. (2008). The host: a novel. Boston: Little, Brown And Co..