Underland Reviews: Gregor the Overlander (chapters 8-10)

Chapter 8

So, Gregor has finally come face to face with a rat. Two rats, in fact.

The cockroaches had been freaky, the bats intimidating, but these rats were purely terrifying. Sitting back on their haunches, they were a good six feet tall, and their legs, arms, whatever you called them, bulged with muscle under their gray fur. But the worst part of all was their teeth, six-inch incisors that protruded out of their whiskered mouths.

Rats bulging with muscles, eh?

musclerat

Silly imagery aside, the rats actually are pretty creepy. Mostly because they keep talking so openly about wanting to eat Gregor and Boots. They can also smell what Gregor and Boots ate for dinner hours ago, which is how Gregor figures out that the Underlanders were trying to help mask his scent by making him bathe. No shit, Gregor.

Now Gregor is in a weird situation, because he was trying to get away from the Underlanders and now suddenly he’s hoping desperately that they’ll find him before the rats kill him. The only thing he can do is stall.

He brushed off his clothes and tried to adopt the rats’ casual banter. “Do I have any say in this?” he asked.

To his surprise, Fangor and Shed laughed. “He speaks!” said Shed. “What a treat! Usually we get nothing but shrieks and whimpers! Tell us, Overlander, what makes you so brave?”

“Oh, I’m not brave,” said Gregor. “Bet you can smell that.”

The rats laughed again. “True your scent carries much fear, but still you have managed to address us.”

I can’t believe one of these rats is called Shed. Fangor is a good rat name, but Shed? Does it mean something I’m not aware of?

At first, stalling seems to work. He keeps the rats laughing and talking for a bit, at least. But it can only last so long. The rats are still pretty intent on killing and eating Gregor.

“But you must agree, to eat such amusing prey is a great pity.”

“A great pity, Shed,” said Fangor. “But without remedy. Shall we?”

And with that, both rats bared their teeth and moved in on him.

Welp.

Gregor tries to defend himself with the one thing he has, a torch, and something strange happens. The rats stop when he holds the torch out in front of them, but not out of fear.

“Mark you, Shed, his shade,” said Fangor in a hushed voice.

“I mark it, Fangor,” said Shed quietly. “And he is but a boy. Think you he is…?”

“He is not if we kill him!” Fangor growled, and lunged for Gregor’s throat.

That’s when the Underlanders show up. So I guess Gregor’s stalling was handy after all.

The Underlanders – that is, Mareth, Perdita and Henry – fight Fangor and Shed on their bats, but they’re at a disadvantage. The bats don’t have a lot of room to fly and the rats can jump almost as high as the ceiling of the cavern they’re in. Perdita gets knocked out, two of the bats are injured, and Mareth and Henry lose their weapons. Even with Fangor dead, things aren’t looking good, until Luxa shows up and kills Shed.

Shed slumped back against the cavern wall, but there was no fight left in him. His eyes burned into Gregor’s. “Overlander,” he gurgled, “we hunt you to the last rat.” And with that, he died.

Yikes.

Suzanne Collins is great at writing action scenes, by the way. It’s one of the things she’s best at as a writer. And that’s impressive, because writing good actions scenes is really hard.

Chapter 9

With both rats dead, they’re able to return home, but Gregor is undoubtedly being treated like a prisoner now. The Underlanders are furious with him.

He’d had no idea, of course, about the rats. But hadn’t the Underlanders tried to warn him? No, they had spoken of danger, but no one had specifically mentioned rats except the cockroaches. “Rat bad,” one had said. And later they had talked about how much the rats would pay to bargain with Luxa. He and Boots could have been sold to the rats, and then what?

As bad as Gregor’s idea of running away was, it’s true that he wasn’t really properly warned about the rats. I tend to forget on rereads, but everything the Underlanders tell Gregor about the dangers of this land is very vague, and they never really explain properly why he has to stay in the palace with them, and why getting him home is difficult. It’s not really a surprise that he felt like a prisoner.

Still, by running away Gregor endangered his own life and his sisters’ life, and a lot of Underlanders got seriously injured trying to bail his ass out and could have died themselves. But this all probably could have been avoided if they’d given Gregor more information from the beginning.

Mareth takes Gregor to a room where he’s left alone for a little while before Luxa and Vikus finally come in. Luxa is so furious with Gregor that she hits him, which Vikus scolds her for. We also find out that Luxa is in trouble too. She wasn’t supposed to have gone with the other Underlanders to fight the rats, and she’ll have to answer to “the council” for this. Not that Luxa really cares. Vikus asks her what Gregor did during the fight.

“Henry says he fought,” Luxa admitted grudgingly. ” But without skill or knowledge of weapons.”

Gregor felt like saying, “Hey, all I had was a stupid torch!” But why bother?

My god, they’re both such children. Which is a good thing, actually, because they are literally children and I’m glad Collins wrote them this way.

Vikus acknowledges how confusing and scary this whole thing has been for Gregor, and it’s kind of nice for someone to finally acknowledge this. This kid is eleven and he’s fallen into this weird land with no easy way out and up until now, no one has really bothered to talk much about how Gregor must be feeling. So thanks, Vikus. He also explains why Luxa is as angry as she is at Gregor for running away and endangering people close to her: she lost her own parents to rats.

This seems like a really personal thing to be telling Gregor, and even Gregor agrees, but Vikus think it’s necessary for Gregor to know this, and that he has reason to believe that Gregor may be missing a parent too. Then he pulls out a keychain that belonged to Gregor’s dad.

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a shock to us, because I’m pretty anyone could have seen it coming, but it’s a shock to Gregor.

Chapter 10

Like The Hunger Games trilogy, each book in this series is split into three parts. The first part of this one was called “The Fall”, and chapter 10 marks the beginning of a new part: “The Quest”. I’ve never totally understood the point of dividing books into parts like this, but I kind of like it when books do that anyway? It just feel so dramatic and exciting when you start a new part, like the story is about to move somewhere important.

We know that Gregor’s dad was in the Underland at some point, but we also know that there are no living Overlanders in Regalia aside from Gregor and Boots. Apparently Gregor’s dad stayed in Regalia for a few weeks and then tried to escape himself. He met the same fate as Gregor, but this time the Underlanders didn’t reach him quick enough to help.

He’s not dead though! The rats are holding him captive. Gregor’s dad was a science teacher, and the rats believe that he might be able to help them make weapons, like bombs and guns and such.

rats-in-the-army

I’m sorry I should be taking this seriously but… rats with guns. Rats with guns.

Another theory is that the rats are keeping Gregor’s father because they want him to make them thumbs. Thumbs!

Again kind of a silly visual, but I like Vikus’ explanation of why the rats would want to have thumbs.

“Rates have no thumbs and therefore cannot do many things that we can. They cannot make tools or weapons. They are masters of destruction, but creation evades them,” said Vikus.

I bolded that last sentence for emphasis because I love it, it’s kind of poetic.

Vikus and Luxa take Gregor to a room with writing all over its walls and ceilings. This room is full of prophecies that Sandwich wrote. Once the humans were settled in the Underland, Sandwich spent most of the remainder of his life carving his prophecies into the wall.

It sounded like just the kind of thing crazy old Sandwich would do. Drag a bunch of people underground and then lock himself in a room and chip out more crazy stuff on the wall.

Well, this is as good a place as any to talk about this

I mentioned in my last Underland post how Collins has a tendency to use ableist language a lot in her books, and I want to just expand on that a bit more. To be clear, I don’t think Collins is ableist. As mentioned, she does have quite a few characters with mental illnesses as well as ones who are physically disabled, and while some of her portrayals are questionable, most of them are written sympathetically. Plus, characters who do exhibit ableism by dismissing characters with disabilities are presented as being in the wrong for this. But there is still a lot of ableist language used, and I do feel uncomfortable with that.

To be fair, these books came out in the early two thousands and Gregor is eleven and a lot of people even today are unaware that words like “crazy” and “insane” are damaging and not okay. I also get that it can be hard to rid our vocabulary of language like that, especially when it’s been so normalized. It’s something I’ve struggled with and even though I’ve much improved over the years, I still find myself struggling with it. But it’s also a bit different for me, because I myself have mental illnesses and even though I have been affected by ableism,  I find myself being casually ableist without thinking sometimes. BUT my mental illnesses and the symptoms I experience are, for the most part, easier to manage, or at least easier to pretend like I’m managing (which is a whole other thing). So I can’t really speak for people with illnesses or symptoms that are not so easily managed or hidden, and who have been affected by ableism more than I have.

Goodness, this is confusing. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think Collins is intentionally or maliciously ableist, but ableism is a pervasive thing and it’s not as widely acknowledged as other -isms, so it’s very easy for it to slip by unnoticed. I try to point it out when I see it not just for other people but for myself as well. Learning to recognize it is important.

Anyway, Vikus shows Gregor a particular prophecy, one called the Prophecy of Gray. It’s called that because the meaning of it is unclear, as Sandwich could never see its outcome. The prophecy says something about a warrior from the Overland, and how he will lead a quest that will help the Underlanders with their war against the rats.

And guess who Vikus thinks the warrior is?

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