Books / Entertainment / Movies / Women

Not Sated, Not Starved

The Hunger Games

So have you heard of this trilogy of books called The Hunger Games? I understand it’s got a small following.

Or it could be a massive hit which has spawned an upcoming summer blockbuster movie.

Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, which is kind of surprising after reading through the trilogy. I mean, these are dark books. Especially when you consider they are technically classified as “Young Adult” fiction. The bleak, post-apocalyptic, autocratic world of Panem definitely leans toward the tone of George Orwell’s 1984, heaping misery upon misery over the protagonists.

And the Hunger Games themselves are a cross between Roman gladiatorial combat and The Running Man. Neither Russel Crowe nor Arnold Schwarzenegger make appearances, mind you, but the comparisons are still easy to make.

Katniss Everdeen is the heroine of the trilogy, and tells the story in a first-person, present-tense perspective that does lend an immediacy and sense of urgency to the tale. She’s a brave but bristly sixteen year old who’s been hunting with a bow and arrow to keep her family from starving. When her younger, less-adept sister gets selected for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place, and sets herself up for romance, revolution, and violence. Tons and tons of violence.

The first book is well-paced and conceived, and has that “can’t put it down” quality one always strives for in fiction. Katniss is far from the most sympathetic character in literature, and her survival is – spoiler alert – never in question, but she’s complicated enough to root for, if only to see what she’ll do next.

The second book, Catching Fire, serves largely as a bridge in the trilogy but is just as solid as the first book, building on the behind-the-scenes machinations in Panem, further entangling Katniss in a very chilly love triangle, and setting up the revolution that takes place in Mockingjay.

And here’s where it all falls apart for me. Hunger Games and Catching Fire were quick and entertaining reads highlighted by their aforementioned excellent pace. Mockingjay, on the other hand, starts and sputters, starts and sputters. Katniss’s unlikable traits get magnified as she is coerced into becoming the symbolic leader of the revolution. The plot and our heroine switch back and forth between cold, raging violence and sullen, selfish depression. The story never really builds to anything, and deaths of major characters almost end up as footnotes. If the message behind the final book is that romanticism is dead, then it succeeds at least on that point. Even her two potential lovers take time to comment that Katniss’s primary motivation is survival and that she’ll only pick the one of them that would best help her survive. Katniss claims she’s angered by this, but doesn’t have an argument to the contrary, which makes me wonder if even the author realized how detached her protagonist had become.

Romance is certainly a strong word for what takes place in this trilogy. Katniss spends enough time agonizing over the love triangle, but most of the time it’s being used as a charade to gain favor in the games, as a flashpoint for the revolution, or finally as an instrument against her. And her final choice is little more than what both men predicted. Even after the war ended and the dust settled, Katniss merely picks the mate better suited to her post-revolutionary life.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss EverdeenThe weakness of the finale and of Katniss’s character aside, it is easy to see why these books became a phenomenon. Even the cover design is stellar. Stark and clean but eye-catching, with an angular font set reminiscent of Soviet propaganda type, the covers alone tell a good story. And the intense violence and pace of the first two books will lend themselves very well to the upcoming movies. Rising star Jennifer Lawrence dyes herself brunette to take on the role of Katniss. It’s intriguing and fairly appropriate casting, since her character in Winter’s Bone suffers some similarly-bleak hardships as Katniss, and her turn as Mystique in X-Men: First Class no doubt prepared her for the action-oriented Hunger Games.

It’ll be especially interesting to see how much Hollywood deviates from the books. Whether some of the more-brutal violence will be downplayed, or if they will try and make Katniss a little more approachable. Of course, given the usual mood of Twilight heroine Bella and the overwhelming popularity of that franchise, they might make Katniss even more cold and morose…

5 thoughts on “Not Sated, Not Starved

  1. Thanks for doing a write-up on these. I’ve been starting to hear a lot about the franchise, but you’re the first trusted voice I’ve seen actually talking about the pros and cons of the books. Even with the weaknesses, would you still recommend them? And would you recommend I read them before seeing the movie, or just see the movie and let myself be completely surprised?

  2. I think they’re worth a read. Very entertaining until, like I said, the last book. And I’d especially recommend reading them before the movie, but largely to see how and how well they pull off what’s on the page.

  3. I keep hearing everyone rave about the entire trilogy, but thank goodness I’m not the only person who loved the first book, liked the second, and hated the third book! I pretty much spot on agree with everything you stated in this post.

    The sad thing about it, though, is that I can kind of see where the author was trying to go with it. I mean, being 16, or 17 by the final book, and going through everything Katniss has, that doesn’t leave a well balanced person. It wouldn’t have made sense to write a main character who was weaker, or less determined. That character would not have survived. So, although I didn’t like Katniss very much, I accept why she was written so cold and detached.

    However, my main problem as the series progressed was not the story or characters, but the actual writing. By the third book I felt like Collins was just lazy and trying to rush through it. I mean, Katniss blacks out how many times, only to vaguely describe what happened? I also think Mockingjay gets a bit preachy about war and that stray, odd paragraph about the environment.

    So, thank you for confirming that I’m not crazy for being so disappointed over the last book, since the series started off phenomenally!

    • I took the preachiness about war to be just a part of Katniss’s growing disassociation with…well…everything. She didn’t want to be in the war or her relationships or society at large, really. Which, like you said, is perfectly understandable given her young age and the repeated horrors she’d been through over the course of a couple of years. Haymitch was probably the most realistic portrayal of what a person who’d been through all that would turn into. But I certainly wouldn’t want him as a protagonist, and the drug-addled, blacking-out, despairing Katniss of Mockingjay came perilously close.

      But I’m happy to have backed-up your dislike of the third book! It is always disheartening to believe you’re the sole holder of an opinion. What did people do before the internet?

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