Ok. So I may be a little behind schedule with this particular trilogy, but with the nationwide cinema release of the The Hunger Games, just around the corner, I would rather think I am perfectly timed! I somehow missed the reading hype first time around but noticed all trending tweets in the week running up to the final instalment, Mockingjay, in 2010. There were A LOT of very excited post-teen readers up and down the country. People were desperately begging one another to track down the book as quick as inhumanly possible. When such things come around, I reach a certain stubborn stumbling block. I don’t like too much hype. It actively puts me off books and films until someone convinces me otherwise.
For example, at University a girl on my corridor was reading some children’s book about a boy wizard who’s parents had been murdered by some lord or other. Apparently, they were pretty good. It was another two years and Steve who finally metaphorically beat me about the head with two light hearted stories about children and magic. They were bright and gay in an Enid Blyton kind of sickness, but not so bad that I stopped there. I was glad to have persevered as it was The Prisoner of Azkaban which made me an addict. That was the first (and certainly not the last) series of books were I awaited the postie with bated breath on the day of deliverance. But the wait between was almost unbearable – a similar feeling to the final instalment of William Hussey’s Witchfinder Series, Gallows at Twilight (Oh!!! That’s the one I forgot from Thursday’s post!). Which is another reason I am glad I waited until now to read the journey of Katniss Everdeen etal. I get them in one glorious mouthful.
Suzanne Collins’ series is set in a dystopic future, a decimated America, now know simply as Panem. Surrounded by 12 districts, each with their own brand of descending misery, the capitol reigns high. Past civil-wars some seventy-five years previous, saw the total annihilation of the thirteenth district and the beginning of the Hunger Games. These gladitorial, big-brother exploits are TV voyeurism at its most malevolent. As with Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, see children from 12 – 18 battle to the death – literally. The last one wins. A kind of sadistic hide-and-seek for the terrified masses – hooked and locked onto their TV screens watching 24 tributes stab and bludgeon and slay and break and pound one another into the next life. For the capitol and its exempt families, this is nothing but mere entertainment, an annual spectacle of slaughter. For the majority of the districts, it is an entirely different matter. It is a captive religion, a control, an eternal, social-order enforcing fear. For district twelve in particular it means certain death; being the poorest, the hungriest, the weakest, they stand no hope.
In the first instalment, Hunger Games, twelve year old Primrose Everdeen, sister to district twelve’s Katniss, is selected in the annual lottery – against all possible odds. Katniss instantly volunteers to take her place and within minutes is whisked into a complicated and contrasting world of stardom and doom. Plucked and polished and primed, Katniss is not only trained beyond her established hunting/survival skills, but in techniques of audience persuasion and charisma. To have any hope at all of survival, she must work against all her fundamental qualities to be likeable. She must convince fellow tributes and potential sponsors she is not only a contender, but something of a mythological beauty with both feeling and honesty. However, it is ultimately her strong-headed-bluntness and stoicism which wins the reader over. Her heavy dislike of false portrayal and her hardness makes her a contemporary and enlightening heroine, long missing from children’s/teen fiction. Yes, there are many books with female stars or counterparts, but none have recently made me happy as Katniss. She is tough and in most of her essence, almost manly. She has fear over her ultimate survival, but in everything else it is a hard going expectation that life is just going to bite you in the proverbial. You may think, poor thing, how sad, but don’t. It is everything a good heroine should be – a solid, courageous, fearless . . . girl. For she is only sixteen and despite surrounded by people who adore her, worryingly alone.
Katniss has heart. Passion. Is everything a young girl should aspire to. Apart from the killing bit. Obviously.
The series is great and should make an excellent cinematic spectacle – creating a renewed fever among the Twilight hungry teens nationwide. It will not be long before girls (and women actually) up and down the country are swearing their allegiance to ‘Team Peeta’ or ‘Team Gale’ and scribbling their names on pencil tins, blunting the end of many a compass. At this point, the books will be devoured by the thousands and ultimately the screaming teens who’ll kinda miss the point slightly in favour of some misplaced love story, will once again bring on my stubbornness. For it is not the will-they-won’t-they scenarios played out which engage me in the books, it is the disaster, the dystopia and the distress.
Reading it, I feel I have almost fallen into a teen Margaret Atwood book. Which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I can just imagine young girls moving from The Hunger Games Trilogy into The Hanmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood etc. All tales of this world we know so well but has hidden secrets and torment in its future demise, a demise that we bring about. And from these tales of disturbia, we learn hope and forgiveness and ultimately learn a happiness from overcoming our demons.
Katniss does find her own version of this hope but it is one I slightly disagree with. I understand the outcome of book three Mockingjay but it was not what I would have chosen. The ‘team’ which won out was definitely not the camp in which I had firmly planted my allegiance, but it does make sense. I feel the third book is the weakest of the three, somehow loosing its momentum to spend a lot of time lying in hospital beds feeling weak and a little sorry for itself. But it is not to say it is poor. Far from it. It just doesn’t match to the heavy weight of the first two, Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The first has the shining novelty, the second the deadly Quarter Quell with an outstanding arena, the third the war to bring about equality. With twists and turns, ups, downs and sideways slants, it is a great teen ride. But a teen ride which creates a firm stepping stone into adult literature.