I have been dying to get my hands on The Passage. So when it finally arrived, I jumped into the story with the highest of expectations, and I was not disappointed. It was exactly what I was looking for — a big book with a big mythology; overtones of good and evil; a journey, rites of passage, and villains to conquer. Plus the little girl who saves the world.
I’ve described it to people as similar to The Stand and Lord of the Rings. (In fact, The Stand was on SyFy earlier in the week, and I was reminded again of how similar the two are.) The Passage has people being called to in their dreams, called to do something terrible, in this story. There is the archetypal older woman who is looked upon as a leader, a keeper of stories and histories. There are people moving to where life will be safer, to be free of the virus that has claimed so many other lives. There is a long journey and a young man who is called upon to be a hero. There is a big bad villain and thousands of smaller ones who must be conquered along the way. There are people who step into new roles, who make hard choices, who die.
Even though these three “big books” do have quite a bit in common, it’s interesting to see how they also reflect the different times in which they were written. Lord of the Rings was published in the mid-twentieth century, shortly after WW2, and it focuses on different types of people — hobbits, men, elves, fairies, dwarves — coming together to fight one common enemy. Every person makes a difference, and indeed, it is the smallest person who fights the hardest fight and ultimately destroys Sauron. The Stand, published in 1978, is about people — Americans — fighting each other. There is the virus that decimates the population, which is then separated into good and evil with otherwordly assistance on both sides, but at its heart, this is a story about humans and which side of human nature people fall on. The Passage is more arbitrary. There isn’t a strict line between good and evil (aside from Babcock and Zero); there are survivors and virals. For the most part, the people who have survived are good and have banded together to fight the “vampires.” And even the vampires aren’t wholly evil, just lost and desperate to remember who they were and to find a release from their condition. This novel is about fate and finding one’s destiny and being open to love even under tragic circumstances. It’s the human condition, magnified by the lens of horror. In LOTR, the antagonist is this grand, immortal creature — the all-seeing eye. In The Stand, the antagonist is the devilish Flagg and those who choose to join him, like cult disciples. In The Passage, the antagonist is the military and the desire for immortality. But once we pass that first section of the book, that particular antagonist is gone and we’re left with the victims of that greed. We’re left with humanity and what has become of our civilization.
A few final thoughts: The Passage did read like the first book in a trilogy. Lots of exposition and character development, lots of backstory on the virus, lots of putting people into place for book two. (But that epilogue… it was like a stab to the heart.) It’s a big mythology, a big world that Cronin has created. I’m along for the ride.