penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

The Hunger Games Trilogy

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Note: Spoiler alert if you have not read all three books. And comparisons will be made with the Twilight series. How can you not?

I saw that the second movie in the Hunger Games Trilogy “Catching Fire” was coming out in the relative near future, so I thought I might actually read the trilogy.  I wasn’t sure whether I should invest in the purchase so I went to my local library and took out the books one by one.

I had seen the first in “The Hunger Games” series on screen before reading the book.  I was impressed by the movie for the most part. They had done a very good job of interpreting the book – even perhaps improving it by providing further details of the relationship between Game master Seneca and President Snow.

The initial book (and movie) explores some interesting topics that hit close to home.  How do we, as a First World Nation, treat those who provide us with our quality of life?  I found this particularly striking as I was reading the series when a factory collapsed on garment workers in Bangladesh.    How do we look upon television, particularly reality shows?  To what depths are we willing to allow others suffer, to what ethical standards are we willing to lower ourselves to for entertainment?  What do we give up, in order to continue our current existence?  In the second and third book, the themes of knowing who your enemies are and questioning whether a more rigid and controlled way of life and government is necessarily better provides an interesting perspective.

Comparisons have been made between the Hunger Games and the Twilight series.  I would say that Suzanne Collins series is the better of the two.  The issues explored in the Hunger games demand a more thinking and matured audience.  The writing is better, and the narrative is much more interesting – moving along at a rapid pace for the most part.  Initially, Katniss is a much more active character than Bella and fights for her own survival rather than waiting for someone else to come and save her.

There were a more than a few issues that bothered me as I read the series. Why was Katniss’ mom treated badly for having suffered from depression? (Shades of Twilight here as well where Bella’s mom is treated as though she is incapable of taking care of herself. Are all parents morons, not to be trusted? Not a message I can agree with).

While I was impressed with Katniss’ strength and courage in the first novel, by the second and third I was less convinced.  The action seems to take place around her, and she is not so much a decision maker, as someone who simply acts to survive whatever is thrown at her.  While at first she seems to be strong of character – looking out for her sister, and volunteering to take her place to save her.  However, as the novels wear on, she seems to lack empathy or much depth of emotion beyond fear or anger.

Characters arrive and depart from the books with surprising regularity. Even characters the reader may have invested emotional baggage into seem to be dispatched quickly (particularly in the third book) and without much emotional reaction from Katniss – although given that the books explores how war and violence changes people this may be the author’s point.

Katniss’ spends a lot of time worrying about her complicated relationship between Gale and Peeta (*yawn* this is where the book is most like the Twilight series) and this seems to take up significant amount of space, slowing the narrative to a crawl.  This becomes tedious by mid the second book. She seems incapable of making a decision and in the end, there is no clear reason why she makes her choice – she seems to simply follow whatever falls her way.   Yet she doesn’t seem to really care for either of them, so that when she finally makes a choice and settles down – doing the opposite to what she said she would do all along –  it seems a bit baffling.  Instead, choosing the inevitable and expedient only served to make her character weaker and less likable.  Why not choose a third option – leave the boys behind, become a leader and to go her own way. It would have been the more courageous and interesting choice – not to mention a better role model for teen girls.

The similarities of the plot between all three books also becomes a bit boring.   The fact that all three books contain Hunger Games gives the series the feel of a one-trick pony.  By the end of the third book, Katniss has spent more time either fighting or recovering a fight than doing anything else – it’s a bit of a relief when she can actually make up her mind to end it all.  However, even in the last moment where she makes her choice she becomes a pawn of her enemy and gives him what he wants.  The last pages and epilogue of the third book feeling a bit anti-climatic and unfinished.  It’s a bit disappointing for a series that started with a lot of promise.

As I was reading the third book I started to compare the series not only with Twilight, but oddly, Watership Downship (One of my favourite books. It’s about rabbits. Really.)  In Watership down, the rabbits must leave their cosy warren due to impending undefined disaster.  On their journey to find a new home, they initially encounter a different rabbit society that is utterly decadent. However, they do not seem to mind if one or two of their number goes missing on a regular basis to the “shining wire” (ie. Death) if it means the rest of them survive with their rich quality of life.  Later the rabbits encounter a militaristic rabbit society.  In this place, the rabbits survive by absolute obedience to the rules of their overlord General Woundwort.  Comparisons are made between these two warrens and what kinds of the communities do the rabbits want to build.  In the end,  the rabbit survivors re-build on Watership Down, creating an autocratic democracy of sorts. The novel explores similar themes about violence, war and survival.  Like the Hunger Game, Waterhsip Down asks the reader to question and evaluate the kinds of society that we live in and that we want to aspire to.  I would argue that even though rabbits are the medium the author used, they have more depth of character and more interesting adventures than either the warrior or vampire girl.

Final Verdict: The first book is worth a read (although perhaps not a purchase).  Set your expectations low for the second and third books.   Read them if your kids are so that you can have a discussion about the issues the author raises in the books.  Then recommend they go read Watership Down.   I plan to see the new movie when it comes out – I love any excuse to eat theatre popcorn.

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Written by pennyinacastle

July 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

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