March 16, 2013
The Hunger Games Trilogy
Somehow I managed to miss the first waves of adoration that The Hunger Games induced on its release. I said that about Twilight too, I think this once and for all indicates that I am old and that I have no idea what's cool with "the kids". So, when the film adaptation arrived I was keen to see it and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, unlike many adaptations, watching it left me with a strong desire to read the novel, easily satisfied by the box set of the trilogy with the lovely "grown up" cover art.
As I'm talking about the entire trilogy here there will be spoilers, so if you haven't read all three please go and do that now. If you're anything like me an entire weekend will be consumed by the stories of Panem and you'll be back here in no time.
On with my ramblings.
The consequence of the novel being told entirely in first person from Katniss's viewpoint, unlike the film, is that it engulfed me rapidly in the world of District 12 but took a bit longer to discover its full nature. As I knew this world already I can't comment on what the effect would be like if you didn't know, but the emphasis on the character is effective and well done. Despite knowing the plot the book was a joy to read, I instantly began to care for Katniss and her family. Like the film I think the best part of The Hunger Games is the first half, when the world is still to be discovered, when we learn what the games are, when we are repulsed at the show and glamour in the Capitol for the slaughter of children. The games themselves I found less interesting, however in the novel the timespan is at least increased which makes more sense. It's a game of survival against the elements as much as the other competitors, something that was hard to convey in a two hour film. I also enjoyed the chance the novel offered to more fully explore the important relationships between Katniss and Peeta and Gale.
One of the key scenes in the film that I thought set it apart from a standard adventure film was the scene of uprising in District 11, hinting that there was more to this world than we had seen. In the novel, due to the first person nature, we don't see that, instead though we get the feelings of Katniss, her hate of the Capitol, the hints that the oppressed are ready for a change. And then we get two books to see the consequences.
I devoured Catching Fire and Mockingjay in a weekend. I literally could not put them down. I find it hard to separate the two now, in my mind they're the full story of Panem. The first book stands apart because I had seen the film, but I'm sure if I hadn't all three books would be merged in my mind as the big arc of Panem.
As a story it continually surprised me, switching from a story of oppressed people and their control, to the story of a revolution, to a wide-screen war adventure and back to the small, tight focus of a tragic story of love and family. I loved these gear changes. I loved the focus on the damage that the games had inflicted on the winners, it wasn't dismissed or ignored, it was dealt with. Maybe condensed, yes, but I felt the novels attempted to deal with the mental damage caused by war and conflict.
The second games I found to be perhaps the weakest part of the story. I know it's the hook, but it felt like the most ideas driven part of the novels and wasn't executed s well as I'd wanted, like I would expect from a top class SF novel. Instead the novels are best when they are focusing on the characters. Sure there is plenty of adventure but it's there to show us the people.
I've heard some people complain that The Hunger Games is unrealistic and that a game which involves the slaughter of children is an ineffective way to oppress the masses. I have never seen the games as part of that tool, I see the games as a cruel punishment, a taunt, the people are already oppressed and helpless and the Capitol kills their children to make them angry and unhappy. The idea that the districts could even attempt to rise up against the Capitol is never even considered. Why should it be? They are all powerful, they are all controlling, they are arrogant. Only when the uprising begins do they even consider it possible. Katniss and Peeta were indeed the catalyst, they were the ones who out of all those children stood up to the Capitol and were prepared to sacrifice themselves to prove a point, to fight against the oppressors. Before them no one thought it was possible. They really were the spark.
Finally to the ending. It can be hard to end a trilogy. Very few have endings that I remember, perhaps only Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy left as a permanent memory. The Hunger Games trilogy has joined this, indelibly imprinted in my mind. Heartbreaking yet offering us all hope. Life carries on. We can carry on. We can love and live and we can, if we are lucky, be happy. We can make a better world for a children, it may be hard, it may cost, but it will be worth it.