The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a book so popular that it’s highly unlikely you (yes you, the reader) are not hearing about it for the first time reading this post.  The book’s wild success spawned two sequels and a movie adaptation.  Today, we’re going to be talking specifically about the original book and my own predictions of how this series will progress through the next two books.  Once I’ve read the other two, we’ll see how well I did.

The Hunger Games is the tale of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old living in a run down area (known as District 12) under control of the brutal, totalitarian government known as Panem, and how she is forced (sort of) to compete in their annual gladiatorial tournament known as the “Hunger Games.”  Within the Hunger Games’ arena are randomly selected children between the ages of 12-18 and they are to kill each other off while being broadcast live for the viewing pleasure of Panem’s wealthier residents.  We learn through Katniss’ inner dialogue  that before the Games there was an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Panem, and we also learn that while the Games are a way to drive nation’s economy forward, they also serve the implied purpose of demonstrating Panem’s ability to control its people.

In short, I appreciated my time spent reading this book.  Collins’ writing style is perfect for the narrative because it shares the same essence of being alert, on the move, and quick thinking.  It would be silly to call her language juvenile, when in actuality she is being efficient.

The Hunger Games is also a love story.  I am not going to pretend I understand the inner workings of the female mind (much less the very scattered inner thoughts of a 16 year old), but I appreciated that Collins was able to show Katniss saying one thing and yet, inwardly and often subconsciously, hold to an entirely different position.  Since the novel is in first person, Katniss’ personal struggles are expressed in an interesting way with often unreliable accuracy.

Before going into spoilers territory, I will give my one complaint.  I could not buy the ending.  The very close of the book is ragged and uncertain.  We’re not entirely sure were things are going and Collins even caps it with the line “END OF BOOK ONE.”  Which is silly, but that’s not my beef.  The novel presents a science fiction world where we can expect technology to be ahead of our own.  But there is a giant leap within the last few chapters that breaks from the previously established “rules” and “feeling” of the rest of the book.  I don’t mind jumps, but I cannot buy jumps that are not anticipated in some way to gear the reader for the shock.  There is a good storytelling principle called “Chekhov’s Gun.”  It states that if a writer hangs a shotgun above a mantle in a story’s beginning, that shotgun will be used in some way by the end.  The Hunger Games recognizes the existence of the hanging shotgun and finishes the story with a spaceship crashing into that mantle piece.  Its jarring, unbelievable, and unwelcome.  I believe if the ending resulted in a more mundane fashion, it would come off as more satisfying.

You’ll notice I’m not going to commit to some sort of a numeric rating as I did in my previous movie reviews back in the dark days of Martian Sunrise’s infancy.  Let’s say we’ll try it without it.  Instead for now, I’ll keep it binary.  I wouldn’t want the book in the Martian Sunrise Canon to read over and over again and share it with my great grand children.  I wouldn’t want it on a desert island.  So there you have it.

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING WARNING

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW HUNGER GAMES BOOK

Here on out, we’re entering spoiler territory.  You’ve been warned.

If there’s one thing that immediately reminded me of the human condition, its Katniss’ turmoil over Peeta saving her family from starvation.  She is uncomfortable in being shown grace because of its humbling nature and, it would seem to me, part of the reason she has trouble opening up to him is because she’s embarrassed he saw her at the point of desperation.  In the same way, people don’t like to think of themselves as dust (Psalm 103:14) and because of this do not want to come to God.  Its the revelation of their own finitude that keeps them from the Infinite.

Consider the passage from Psalm 10:4-6

4In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

This is Katniss.  Bold and powerful.  She’s very tough, but at that cracking open of her helplessness, she is too proud to receive Peeta.

The jump in technology I referred to above are the Muttations.  I believe the problem could be fixed (or at least mended) if it was anticipated or wondered by at one point.  At no segment do I recall Katniss ever thinking where dead tributes went outside of being sent home in a cardboard box.  The novel also never spends any significant time wondering at Panem might be able to do and yet keeps hidden.  If Collins took either of these routes, it would have made the twist  (starting with electrical fields and genetically engineered wasps then ending on werewolves built off the genetic data (and possible brainwaves) of dead people) much more believable.

Now I do like the muttations because they are frightening.  Collins likely spared most of them so they could be used at a later date.  I just hope that she doesn’t use it as a way to resurrect Rue to full health.  I don’t mind if she’s a muttation that only wants to kill.  I don’t mind if she’s a human again with severe brain damage and no real recognition of Katniss.  Just don’t bring her back completely and make her death mean nothing.

In terms of future predictions, I’m guessing that:

There will be a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale.  Katniss will choose Peeta.

The other two books will focus in some way about a new rebellion to take down Panem.  Katniss (and likely the other two) will take part in it.  They won’t start the rebellion, but be contacted by a previously established group of hidden revolutionaries.

The muttations will return and play a part in the downfall of Panem.

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7 Responses to “The Hunger Games”

  1. Her writing style definitely makes the book fast paced and interesting. It was odd at first, for me, but then i got used to it.

    • Yep. It’s interesting that first person narratives are sometimes regarded as trashy by the literati. Perhaps Collins is unknowingly part of a trend moving toward very elegant, respectable first person prose.

  2. Shelby Says:

    So a few things I picked up as I read the series. “Panem” means “bread” in Latin. If Katniss chooses Peeta, does she choose Panem as it is? Gale its like a “wind” of change… Maybe i’m seeking too deep but I was always taught that character names mean something. I have so many other theories… Love these books!

    • Interesting, was not aware that Panem’s name had any hidden meaning. To me, Peeta was simply the bread of life bringing salvation to Katniss and her family. Perhaps Panem could be viewed as leavened bread (which usually is a symbol of sin in Scripture) that is puffed up and arrogant.

  3. I really, really disliked the muttations and agree they felt very much like a(n unfair?) leap had been made with their inclusion in the text. It wasn’t just about the inarguably gratuitous nature of Cato’s death — I could see no justification for it and felt the book crossed the sci-fi genre into straight-up horror — but also the implications of the meaning of death, as you say.

    A thoughtful review, Alex. I only read about 150 pages of ‘Catching Fire’ as, honestly, the narrative was just depressing me and I felt no compulsion to continue reading. I’ll be interested to catch your subsequent reviews, though.

  4. I didn’t love the muttations. Honestly, that part of the book seemed ridiculous and even stupid. I was disappointed, because up until that point, I loved the book. Still, I really enjoyed the book overall and went on to read the next two (the second one was ok – but not as good as the first – and the third one didn’t do much for me.).

    • The fact that you, myself, and Suze all came to the same conclusion without collusion leads me to believe the three of us are well read, intellectual giants who tower above the fold of normal men.

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