It’s been around a couple of years – maybe even more – now since I first heard of The Hunger Games. I must have been 19, only 3 years older than the main protagonist of the series is in the first book, yet the books somehow seemed incredibly childish to me. After hearing the descriptions of the book (and now series), all that stood out to me was the use of “it’s about a 16 year old girl who hunts”, which isn’t really an accurate description of the series. I dismissed the books, but as I started to hear more about the movie, which is set to be released on March 23rd, I thought I should read into the story a little more. After a bit of research, I realized how dark and perhaps inadvertently political the series was, and that drew me in.
The first book took me about 2 or 3 days to finish, excluding the breaks I had to take in between reading. While I had been an avid reader as a kid, ever since the start of my university studies (and maybe even a little earlier), my interest in reading was limited. The first Hunger Games book sucked me in, and I had to read the second, called Catching Fire. Catching Fire wasn’t as good as The Hunger Games for me, but it kept me going and it was finished rather quickly. Finally, I tried to draw out the final book – the one that people often consider the worst of the series – and found it hard to stop reading until the very end, when I knew I didn’t want it to be over and tried to slow down. That was unsuccessful, because Mockingjay (book number 3), is just as important as the other two books, if not more so.
As you get older, your perception on fiction may change, as it did with me. I went from being a massive fan of fantasy and far-out fiction novels to being more and more drawn to non-fiction, political, and historical books. Most of the “young adult” literature I’ve tried to pick up over the years has seemed shallow and completely uninteresting; one book I tried to read was about some “young woman’s struggle to cope with her boyfriend back home now that she had moved to Paris”, which bored me far beyond reason. Most of the fiction I tried reading was similar, and I had even given Twilight a shot – yes, a very desperate move on my part to find some kind of literature to get into again. The funny part in all of this is that The Hunger Games has been compared to Twilight recently, and the previous description of a young woman coping with a boy back home due to a recent move is actually applicable to this series, and yet it works so well because it’s merely a small piece of the puzzle. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist in The Hunger Games, is not your typical female character, and no matter how many comparisons fans will make between this and Twilight, The Hunger Games is superior and far above anything Twilight could ever be.
First off, as already mentioned, Katniss is atypical. There have been mentions of Katniss being too unbearable as a lead character, or being a bit of a “Mary Sue” (an idealized, one-dimensional character), but these are unfair assessments. Katniss is far from ideal – yes, her main reason for being involved in the games is to protect a loved one, but if anything, she’s overly flawed. The author makes no mention of her good qualities as even being redeeming – the closest we come to that is the mention of her being ideal on film, as she captivates attention due to her rawness and because her main audience is so easily captivated by anything marketed well. Katniss, for me, becomes a perfect reflection of a lot of current celebrities – average-looking by nature, attractive after hours of preparation, not particularly bright, but molded perfectly for a particular audience. I would give Katniss a little more credit – she never seems to quite enjoy the spotlight – but the way she’s manipulated by both sides of the war, as a fabricated “image”, is a little reflective of our times. Many attributes of Katniss’ personality are somewhat subdued on film, as she plays out her first Hunger Games as a puppet to what her superiors want out of her. She is by no means a great person, but as a character, she is compelling while not being perfect or idealized. Perhaps the greatest thing about her is that she is able to own up to her faults and, thankfully for us female readers, not completely obsessed with her male prospects.
This brings me to the next point – there’s been a lot of talk of “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” and as a result, the comparisons to Twilight’s “Team Jacob” and “Team Edward” have been made. Firstly, neither Peeta nor Gale are supernatural beings, and there’s definitely no instant nor obvious attraction felt on Katniss’ part for either of them. The first book, to me, suggests that Katniss prefers Gale – this continues a bit onto the second book – but by Catching Fire, you just can’t be too sure as to whether that was due to her own feelings or due to Gale’s subtle remarks regarding a future together or even because Gale was her hunting partner and subconsciously a prime partner given his looks (he’s considered the best looking guy in her entire district). Katniss isn’t completely preoccupied with the idea of romance, but seems more interested in coping with her problems as she feels she leads both characters on. Before I had finished the books, I preferred Gale; Peeta did have a slightly Edward-like quality to him in the beginning, mentioning his admiration for Katniss in somewhat creepy ways. In comparison, Gale seemed like the much more stable solution, and the fact that Katniss and Gale were a strong duo before the books even began suggested that Gale was the obvious choice. However, by book 3, you get the feeling that book 3 Katniss is completely different from book 1 Katniss. While Gale would have been perfect for her had the Hunger Games not occurred – particularly because, in comparison to Gale, Katniss was quite calm and reserved and content with the idea of a life with Gale – things changed over the course of the series. Katniss in Mockingjay was not only understandably deranged from the games, it would have been difficult for her to live out the rest of her life with someone who didn’t quite understand the Hunger Games the way she did, especially when that person was more interested in destruction rather than restoration – the latter being an important focal point for her, after all her time in the “arena” (where competitors faced off). I’m no romantic expert, but the “opposites attract” saying is pretty popular for a reason, and definitely applies in this case. Peeta was always going to make Katniss lighter, and Katniss was always going to balance Peeta out; as cliche as the pairing is, having read the whole series now, it’s hard to imagine Katniss with anyone else.
Now onto the games. When I first considered the concept of The Hunger Games – wherein 24 children, from the age of 12 to 18, compete to the death – I was a little disturbed. When I thought more of it, however, I realized that this form of entertainment is definitely not a novel idea; deathly combat, for the sake of the privileged and their appetite for drama, has existed since the Gladiators from Rome and before. It got me thinking as to whether this sort of thing could ever happen in the future, and the insane part is that it’s not hard to imagine this becoming a new reality show. The way the privileged in The Hunger Games are so desensitized to this violence reminds me of how our own privileged are so enthralled by increasingly ridiculous (and also televised) events. Also notable is how the Hunger Games competitors are all marketed, made up, and transformed for the sake of receiving sponsors (literally sponsors who send them “gifts” during the games to help them survive) – all because the people of the “Capitol”, where the privileged viewers in the books are from, seem to be most empathetic to the most attractive competitors; this is seen through how successful one particular character named Finnick is. Finnick is introduced in Catching Fire as some sort of statuesque and beautiful 24 year old whom wins his Hunger Games about 10 years before he’s reintroduced to the games in this book. We first get the impression that he’s a typically shallow good looking guy who enjoys a lot of women, as he’s rumoured to be active amongst the ladies in the Capitol. His looks get him far, and he seems like the perfect representation of everything wrong with this world; however, later in the books, we find out he’s an extremely substantial character, uninterested in the superficial aspects of his life, and in love with a fellow competitor who returned to him rather deranged after she won her own games. Most disturbing is the fact that Finnick was actually only popular with women in the Capitol due to having been sold out to prostitution by those that run the land (something he could not deny, as the Capitol’s men threatened to kill his loved ones if he did). Every character is some mold of what “sells best”, and you get the feeling that this resonates a lot with our own society and the huge emphasis we place on physical attractiveness – something that is actually subjective, but somehow portrayed to be objective and in only one form by our own media – while disgusting acts and ideals are completely ignored in favour of unimportant and rather amoral values.
The Hunger Games seem rather juvenile at first, and the first book seems to be rather quick and focused on more simple ideas; however, it draws you in instantly, and you start to see the parallels between its world and our own quite quickly. As the series goes on, the issues the protagonist deals with become more complex, until finally, it seems almost hard to keep up with all of her thoughts. As a political science major, the books and the arena sort of remind me of the classic political book, The Prince, by Machiavelli – a cruel world led by cruel thoughts and calculations, all in the name of power that is protected by fear from the people. I could be reading into the series far too much, but I see them as a warning to our own society; if we keep things going at this rate, we could find ourselves in a similar world one day. Real or not real?