Messenger is a 2004 novel by Children's author Lois Lowry. It forms the third installment of the loose trilogy begun by her 1993 novel The Giver, which won the Newbery Medal. Characters from the two earlier books reappear in Messenger, linking the novels more strongly. Set in an isolated community known simply as Village, this novel focuses upon a boy named Matty, who serves as message-bearer through the ominous Forest that surrounds the community.
The book brings back Jonas, the central character from The Giver. He and Gabriel, the infant he rescued from his old Community, now live in Village (the place described in the first book's very final scene) where Gabriel is a student and Jonas, using the wisdom he gained from his vast memories, is the Leader. In the village, the people have their own names, however Jonas (referred to the entire time as "Leader) gives those who "come of age" another name that describes their job. Matty, a character Lowry introduced in Gathering Blue, is an energetic and impatient individual who begins the story at the awkward transition between boy and man. Matty lives with Seer, a blind man whom the citizens of Village rescued years before. Struggling to overcome his stealing and lying habits, Matty is desperate to for his new name to be "messenger", which he feels is what he is best at being.
Many of the people in Village are like Seer: cast out from their old communities and sometimes seriously injured, they have made themselves new homes in Village. Most of the Villagers are reasonably altruistic, and there are never lacking those to help a Villager overcome some disability (blindness, for example).
Outside the safe boundaries of Village is Forest, a foreboding realm which most of the Villagers fear. They certainly have more than enough reason to fear it; in spite of the lack of dangerous beasts, the Forest itself is animated. It is capable of delivering "Warnings" in the form of injuries caused by such things as sharp twigs, stinging insects, or poisonous plants, all of whom attack with deliberate intent. If the person enters the forest again, it entangles them with vines until they are dead. But as Matty proudly states, "The forest likes me." He has gone through the forest many times without incident. Consequently, he has become Village's messenger, carrying word to the other communities scattered throughout the region.
Very early in the book, discord appears in Village. People who trade at a gathering called Market change from being caring people to becoming angry and impatient. The temperament of the Villagers changes, and they decide to close their borders, no longer permitting the displaced and unwanted of other communities to enter. Matty decides to travel through Forest once again to retrieve Seer's daughter, Kira, who lives in a town several days away. The journey soon becomes gravely perilous, as the forest begins to attempt to entangle Kira and Matty. Leader senses the danger they're in and runs into the forest to save them, only to be captured himself. Kira, who has the ability to weave prophecy-like patterns on a loom, uses her gift to contact Leader, who tells her to have Matty use his [Matty's] gift to save them, a special ability which he possesses but hardly understands; a power of healing, which causes wholeness even as lightning consumes wood ---- from the inside out. Matty puts his hands to the ground and manages to heal everything: The village and all the people in it, the forest, Kira, and Leader. It is implied in the book that Matty dies of the overwhelming effort of healing the earth, thus eliminating the discord in Village, at the very end. It's also easy to speculate that Matty healed the entire world, including the town that Kira previously lived and the town Jonas/Leader used to live in. "Messenger" abruptly ends here without mention of what happened to Jonas and Kira, giving readers a chance to speculate. Village is what it isn't is as it describes in the beginning. This is a critical thinking book.
"Messenger" uses the ominous forest (which is personified further by being capitalized as Forest) as a symbol for the discord and animosity that spreads throughout the normally peaceful village. Several times throughout the book, Matty is told that Forest "is just an illusion". When the frustration and anger builds up in the village, Forest becomes more and more aggressive, "entangling" those who travel through it with vines until they are dead. Reflecting the villager's anger towards new arrivals, Forest also attacks Matty when he attempts to bring Kira back to the village with him. Jonas is also attacked, which seems to show the anger that the villagers feel for him, as he believes that the village should stay open and tries to stop it from being closed off. As the forest becomes comepletely filled with murky swamps, poisonous plants, and malicious vines, Matty feels as if everything were too mixed up to be fixed, which is almost identical to the feelings of helplessness he felt as he watched his old friends from the village become sick and hostile. When Matty puts his hands to the ground uses his power to "heal" Forest, the village recovers as well, with the wall remaining unbuilt and the citizens returning to their regular, peaceful, personalities.
Another major symbol of "Messenger" is the concept of the Market and the trading. While Market provided the villagers with goods and luxury items superior to what was normally available, the items came at high costs. Some trades made were:
Mentor traded his "deep self" for the love of Stocktender's Widow (this caused him to change both physically and emotionally)
Ramon's mother bought a Gaming Machine. It was never stated precisely what she traded, however since both Ramon and his sister became dangerously ill around that time, it could be assumed that she traded her children's health for it. She also tried to get a fur coat, but her offer was refused.
The lady who sewed Matty's clothes got a fancy sewing machine and cloth. It was never stated precisely what she traded.
All the people who traded at Market became hostile towards the newcomers, even though they all were remembered by Matty to be kind people. They also became more ill-tempered in general, as proven by Mentor's act of kicking his daughter's puppy and Ramon's mother's lack of concern over her children's illnesses. During Market, the people were all unnaturally silent and were extremely rude and greedy to be chosen to participate in the trading.