Happy Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favour! Don’t die, don’t smell the creepy roses, beware the Capitol building! So … yeah. I read the lot … this is one of those rare times when I read the book after having seen the film. It’s funny, I seem to have gone through a bit of a teen fiction phase over the past few weeks but to be fair, they’re ridiculously quick reads. The Hunger Games has been out for years and I have blithely ignored it for all that time … I do wonder if Harry Potter came out now, would I actually read it? While not being a crazed Potter fan, I do still enjoy it as one of those kind of Comfort Reads On A Rainy Day but would I just see the plot holes and faults in the writing if I hadn’t first read about the boy with a lightning scar aged eleven? Not sure … I do think that the hype surrounding the book releases is something not equalled before or since and would probably have caught my attention no matter what age I was but still, I loathe Twilight and had had only a vague idea of the premise behind The Hunger Games before this winter. I am fairly certain that I would never have read this series had I not really enjoyed the film. So, really, the credit goes to Jennifer Lawrence on this one.
|Good big sister|
For people who have never read the books/seen the films/gone outside in the past two years – the Hunger Games is an annual tournament in a brutal, totalitarian vision of the future. From twelve districts, two young people are selected to compete to the death in a deadly arena while the whole thing is shown on television. So basically – it’s the story of the Minotaur meets Big Brother meets 1984 with a certain amount of Gossip Girl-esque teenage angst thrown in. I think that about covers it. Katniss Everdeen’s twelve year-old sister is selected to compete and in a genuinely traumatic passage, sixteen year-old Katniss runs forward to volunteer in her sister’s stead. With that, Katniss is in for the fight of her life. (Caution – this review contains spoilers.)
Collins apparently came up with the idea while channel hopping between news coverage of a warzone and a prime-time reality show, she was struck by the possibilities of combining the two. So, Collins created this diabolical world where after some kind of mysterious apocalypse, the United States is much smaller and divided into districts, ruled by District One, the Capitol. Anyway, in the Dark Days, District Thirteen rebelled and after the rebellion was squished, the Hunger Games began as punishment. A lot of time and energy is spent in drawing out the rules of this world – it’s not easy to do to be fair. The Harry Potter series has a hero who is being introduced into this world and so has to have things explained, but with The Hunger Games characters have been born into it.
Anyway, back to the point. Katniss Everdeen. She’s a tough tomboyish girl who’s just too cool for school, she knows how to use a bow and arrow like really, really well and she hunts things and takes care of her family even though they’re frankly a bit useless and generally Katniss Lives Life on her Own Terms and of course she tries to rebel against their evil federal oppressors. Slight allegory about attitudes towards US government stirred in there. I’ll be honest – protagonists like this annoy me. It’s hard to write a first person narrator who is also the hero and not have them sounding either a) arrogant or b) falsely modest and arrogant. When the other characters started saying “Oh she has no idea of the affect she has”, it strongly reminded me of Twilight. And I really didn’t like Twilight.
Anyway, Katniss has her Guy Friend Who She Has No Feelings For, Gale … you get the idea, she ‘laughs’ at the idea of romance between them blah blah blah. Then she has to become a Tribute for the Hunger Games along with Peeta Mellark who she has never really spoken to and Does Not Trust. At this point a siren should sound really loudly, like the one on QI when someone says something stupid – Love Triangle Alert! I don’t like love triangles. I remember when I was seven and watching one on Neighbours with my Grandma and she told me very firmly that they weren’t real – if you can’t make your mind up then you don’t have strong feelings about either of the other two people. To be fair, my Grandma fell in love for the only time aged fourteen and had the same partner (her husband, my grandfather) upon until his death, five years ago when she was seventy-four. This is not the common experience. Still, I do still believe that she is right. One of my grandmother’s other sisters commented pre-marriage that there were three or four boys who she could be quite happily married to. My Grandma derisively told her that that really meant that there wasn’t even one. Judging by the past sixty years, again, she was quite right. It’s a hard thing to acknowledge though, in the midst of emotional turmoil, that the time has come to take a step back and move on.
What interests me more though is how this particular conflict is so common in teenage drama/fiction. If we accept that Katniss is the same as Bella, which she totally is, then she is also the same as Joey Potter from Dawson’s Creek and also Lucas Scott from One Tree Hill. There are probably wider parallels but the last teen drama I watched went off the air five years ago – I’m in my mid-twenties, I’ve moved on. Anyway, the conflict there is that the characters must choose between pursuing a relationship with the person to whom they have a spiritual connection or the person who is more down to earth/supportive/available. Basically – the person who they have always loved but has been unattainable or the person who they had never thought of but who has always loved them.
|No woman would ever pick that face. Run for the boat!|
So – the spiritual love interest – Gale, Edward, Dawson, Peyton versus the earth-bound – Peeta, Jacob, Pacey, Brooke. If we look though at who the central character eventually picks though, the results here are split 50/50 … although, like I said, I am sure that there are other parallels. Bella picked Edward over Jacob, Joey picked Pacey over Dawson, Lucas married Peyton, not Brooke. Now, the results aren’t entirely reliable, because although Lucas ended up with Peyton in the series, in real life, the actor was briefly married to the actress who played Brooke, making it too awkward post-split for them to play lovers on screen. So, the series which had been moving towards Lucas/Brooke had to drag itself back to a storyline that had been ignored for three years. It was clunky, but then much of One Tree Hill was, hence why I ignored the final four seasons. But basically – looking at the spiritual love interests – they made horrible partners! Edward wanted to eat Bella (why does this get ignored, it should not be ignored), Dawson made Joey give up on everything that was important, Peyton was whiny and annoying and Gale … blew up Katniss’ sister. Though to be fair, that last one was clearly written in to sabotage his chances with Katniss.
|Love Triangle (and Chewie).|
It is interesting to see the writers’ bias in having created these characters – trying to skew the triangle to get the fans to agree. The writers of Dawson’s Creek notoriously tried to slant the series in Dawson’s favour, but he was just a deeply unpleasant and selfish young man. Maybe he would grow out of it but he wasn’t nice to Joey. Or Pacey. Or anyone really. He was selfish and controlling and then he made that really weird crying face. In the end, the writers caved to pressure and let Pacey and Joey have their happiness. Yay. However, Stephenie Meyer did not bow to pressure over the Edward/Jacob dilemma. I hated the books but my best friend and I still had Team Jacob written on our noticeboard the year we shared a house. I remember that this caused great comedy when she was briefly involved with a boy named Edward. I never got the Edward thing though – vampires are always cold, werewolves are always warm. Vampires want to kill you, werewolves just leave you be. I don’t understand what Bella was so confused about … and I also don’t get why she was ok about Jacob marrying her daughter but then I haven’t seen that film so maybe it’s not weird. Though I doubt it. And oh, I just thought of another one – Star Wars – in the first one, Luke likes Leia after seeing her hologram and wants to rescue her because he loves her (or at the very least has a gigantic crush) but then the Leia/Han romance builds up so Luke turns out to be Leia’s brother so that anybody on the Luke/Leia side of the triangle has to either fall in with the Leia/Han pairing or else end up supporting incest. Which to be fair, is something that fans probably do still write about in some dark corners of the Internet.
So yeah, authors have to make sure fans are on board. I have never read The Southern Vampire Mysteries – all I ever did was watch the first five episodes of True Blood then decided that it wasn’t for me but I’m familiar with the premise. Anyway, recently the author has faced a huge backlash because the fans are unhappy with who the central character has ended up with at the close of series. When it is in fact the author’s creation, it can seem unfair for them to face pressure about how to swing things but after a long series, you can understand readers becoming invested. That was one thing about Harry Potter – there was never any real suggestion that Harry and Hermione were going to get involved. The first three books had almost no romantic tension at all and then after that it was just a straight forward will they/won’t they between Ron and Hermione with Harry looking on with mild amusement/concern. When you write a love triangle, you’re always going to end up with one side being disappointed. And that is precisely the problem that Katniss has in having made ‘the audience’ love her and Peeta as a couple, she is then stuck with him forever if she wants to live. So in many ways, Collins herself explores the idea of fan pressure herself through this series. It’s very post-modern. Possibly.
As a final muse on love triangles – I remember the scene in When Harry met Sally, when Harry and Sally are arguing over who Ingrid Bergman should have chosen in that ultimate tragic love triangle, Casablanca. Sally claims that Victor Lazlo was the better bet, to which Harry declares that this means that Sally has not experienced physical attraction yet … later in the movie Sally is shown to have changed her opinion. Anyway – maybe being able to see the choice between the person you think you Should be with and who you Want that clearly is indeed part of growing up, as Harry says. To be fair to Sally though, watching Casablanca I regularly fall a little bit in love with Victor Lazlo when he gets the entire bar singing the Marseillaise … but then I don’t think I’m quite done growing up yet.
I feel I have wandered off the point with The Hunger Games … it was an interesting read. I was a little concerned afterwards to realise that some of the children in my Year 6 class had been reading it – there were some sexual references that were downright unpleasant. From the dark allusions to extreme torture to Finnick’s on-air confession that he and other tributes had been farmed out sexually post-victory … there was a sinister flavour to this series that went far deeper than the standard good vs. evil of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. It was a grim world where nobody really cared about each other – superficial and glamourised with little true feeling.
If Collins had been trying to write a convincing totalitarian regime, that would have been one thing. But she also spends a lot of time talking about fashion and designers – Katniss sets up her own clothing line after her victory in the first book. To me, that was really weird – the obsessing over Katniss’ ‘Beauty Base Zero’ and the state of her eyebrows while all the time they were planning a rebellion. Two pieces of the jigsaw that Did Not Fit. I get that propaganda is important – I understand that, Goebbels understood it too. But I just don’t care about whether or not Katniss’ ‘Down-There’ region had been waxed or not. And nor should your average pre-teen. I really don’t like that there has been this rising societal expectation about waxing. I especially don’t like it cropping up in young adult fiction. I don’t see how it helped the rebellion at all!
I think it sounds now as if I’m slamming this book a lot more than I actually am. I think it’s a very clever concept and in some ways does critique our celebrity-based culture. We do place celebrities on pedestals and fete them and then watch as they publicly crash and burn in a Lindsey Lohan-esque tailspin – is that any less brutal and immoral the Capitol citizens who watch The Hunger Games ever year? Last night, I watched Eurovision with some friends and we laughed at the ridiculous songs, felt terribly sorry for Bonnie Tyler who was never going to win and then sniggered at the ex-entries who were announcing the results from their native countries – just like ex-Tributes commentating The Hunger Games. Given that quite a few of us have read The Hunger Games recently, the parallels were not lost.
So yes, I had my issues with The Hunger Games but ultimately, I enjoyed reading something that was exciting and so well-paced … aside from Catching Fire which was very much the Back to the Future II of the franchise. It is an original take on the reality television genre and I liked that Collins had interwoven so many references to Greek mythology. She had given this a lot of thought, the rules of this world were well done and convincing. The descriptions were vivid and although there were many cliches, they were enjoyable and I will be watching the next films in the series.
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Published by Scholastic Inc. on February 7th 2012
Genres: Young Adult, Action & Adventure, General
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