The Strange Bird: A Borne Story Summary & Study Guide

Jeff VanderMeer
This Study Guide consists of approximately 41 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Strange Bird.
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The Strange Bird: A Borne Story Summary & Study Guide Description

The Strange Bird: A Borne Story Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Strange Bird: A Borne Story by Jeff VanderMeer.

The following version of this book was used to create the guide: Vandermeer, Jeff. The Strange Bird: A Borne Story. MCD x FSG Originals, 2017.

Jeff Vandermeer’s novel is divided into 23 chapters detailing the journey of a Strange Bird as she follows her inner compass through a post-apocalyptic world. Vandermeer uses third-person limited voice to describe the journey through the eyes of the Strange Bird. The Strange Bird is a biotech creation that is a mix of multiple different animals, including humans, and technology. The Strange Bird, therefore, straddles the line between nature, humanity, and technology and has certain epiphanies about each of them.

At the start of the novel, the Strange Bird escapes from a laboratory used to test on animals. Upon escaping from the laboratory, the Strange Bird explores the area and follows an internal compass that is leading her southeast. At first, the Strange Bird searches for a home and for others of her kind. However, she is only met with foxes who chase her. The novel then follows the Strange Bird, as she rather naively heads south over a desert.

The Strange Bird encounters a flock of birds which she attempts to greet. However, these birds reject her as “There was too much else inside her” (8). The Strange Bird is again rejected when she meets the dark wings, an abandoned aircraft of a country long-since destroyed. The character Sanji, a woman who worked in the laboratory caring for the Strange Bird, and her companion are revealed in a dream. After these meetings, a storm hits the Strange Bird, which results in her being knocked unconscious.

After the storm, the Strange Bird wakes up in a jail cell, where her keeper is the gaunt Old Man, who claims to have been a prisoner in this abandoned prison. The Old Man names the Strange Bird Isadora and treats her as a pet. Throughout this period, the Strange Bird fears that at any moment she may be eaten, a direct psychological result of the scientists’ attempt to eat the laboratory animals. Foxes once again appear outside the Strange Bird’s prison, whom the Strange Bird starts to view as friendly.

The Old Man tells the Strange Bird many stories of his past, most of which she does not care for. Throughout, the Strange Bird attempts to escape by camouflaging with the background. However, the Old Man is not fooled as it is revealed that he was not a prisoner but a guard who starved the prisoners and killed his fellow guards in order to stay alive. Further, the Old Man reveals that he named the Strange Bird after a woman from his past, whom the Old Man seems affectionate for. The Strange Bird is taken by another dream where she is walking with Sanji. In this dream, the Strange Bird seems affectionate for the woman. After her dream, the Strange Bird attempts to escape but is caught. In retribution, the Old Man takes the Strange Bird into the run-down City to sell her.

The Old Man wanders into a trap set by a bat-faced man, who murders and eats the Old Man. In the ensuing struggle, the Strange Bird’s wing is broken by the Old Man, resulting in her inability to fly. This bat-faced man, later known as Charlie X, catches the Strange Bird and brings her to the Magician, an eccentric woman who is obsessed with creating order in the post-apocalyptic city. The Magician, who is creating an army of mutant children, modified by the Magician herself, carves up the Strange Bird to make her into a cloak that can camouflage the Magician. Again, a fox appears as a still living trophy set up in the Observatory, the Magician’s base. Sanji reappears in the Strange Bird’s dreams as more of their relationship is revealed.

More powers in the City are distinguished. A giant flying bear called Mord defends the Company, an entity similar to the laboratory where the Strange Bird is from except much larger. Another group of biological engineers, Wick and Rachel, are also in opposition to the Magician. The novel progresses to describe the Magician’s ensuing battle with the Company. In the fight, the Magician ends up killing Charlie X and having most of her army destroyed by Mord proxies, smaller land-bound versions of Mord. During this fight, the Strange Bird starts to lose her will to live, and her internal compass or beacon is fading. However, the foxes return and beseech the Strange Bird to live so that they may use the Strange Bird to track the Magician.

Soon, the Magician is defeated as she dies in the bowels of the company building. Wick and Rachel then save the Strange Bird, and Wick modifies the Strange Bird because she has been greatly harmed by the Magician’s modifications and the fight with Mord. After the modification, the Strange Bird has now become four birds who are each given a choice of whether or not to follow their internal compass. One chooses not to and goes North. Three Strange Birds travel South where one of them is killed by a missile-launching system and another by a falcon. The last one makes it to a destroyed laboratory which mirrors the one which the Strange Bird escaped from.

The Strange Bird finds no life forms in the laboratory except for an apple tree, which appears throughout the book when speaking of Sanji. Soon, the compass compels the Strange Bird to travel further where she comes upon a waterfall. Under the waterfall, the Strange Bird sees an identical copy of herself as she was when she left the laboratory. During this meeting, it is revealed that one of the Strange Birds has part of Sanji in her, and the other has part of the companion. This meeting shows how the two scientists and lovers have failed to save the world and have sent these two Strange Birds in order to communicate with the other scientist. However, both scientists have died and so tragically, the two Strange Birds instead communicate with each other. At the end of the novel, the Strange Bird sings in joy because “she was finally free and the world could not be saved, but nor would it be destroyed” (108).

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