The Hunger Games

This reflection contains spoilers. Big ones. This probably doesn’t matter given I’m possibly the last person to have read The Hunger Games trilogy. I had heard people say the first book at least was good and I saw the first film a couple of years ago which was long enough for details to fade, but not so much that I could still see the book was much richer.

I know dystopian books are dark by definition, but these books became darker and darker. While they are a fast-moving adventure story, there are signs that the action is not Suzanne Collins’ main driver. There are several points where the action builds to a climax only to leave us hanging. This happens at the end of Catching Fire where Katniss is knocked out by Johanna and the explosion when the dome collapses and misses their rescue, and then in Mockingbird where the canisters explode killing all the children.

One interpretation of this is that Collins became bored of writing and just filled us in with a summary paragraph from what Haymitch tells her happened while she was unconscious. This doesn’t ring true to me because it doesn’t match the quality of the rest of her plotting and writing. So there has to be another explanation.

From the start of The Hunger Games, the focus has been on Katniss and her relationships with others and most importantly, the triangular relationship with Gale and Peeta. Describing the rescue from the Quarter Quell and narrating her go through the confusion of who these people are would be a dull way to end Catching Fire. The tension and drama is described up until the point when there is none left. We know that she has destroyed the dome with the lightning strike, from there, we need the story to reach the point where she finds out that Peeta was not rescued and is either dead or captured. That is where the story is, that is what will keep us reading into the next book. The story about whether the Capital will be overcome is less interesting.

The same thing happens in Mockingbird. Once Katniss has seen Prim consumed by flame when saving her was what kicked off the whole story, we don’t care about watching the inevitable victory of the rebel forces. It’s Katniss’ reaction we want to see, her decision to die and then to live again.

Another potential anti-climax is her choice of Peeta. While we may for a moment feel cheated of a romantic climax, that would not have been in keeping with the book. Instead, she chose to look at how war changes people, jades them, damages them.

For me, one of its major themes was the anti-war message. The books don’t shy away from the horrors of war and the destruction and corruption of innocence, nor the torture and maiming of the human body. There are truly shocking moments in all of the books.

Both Peeta and Katniss have been terribly scarred, mentally, emotionally and physically. Katniss explains her choice very simply:

“…what I need to survive is not Gale’s fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.”

If we want the romantic choice, then it has to be the underdog who has loved her faithfully since before she even knew he existed, rather than the one who only realised he was in love with her six months before The Hunger Games begins.

The ending is a quiet anti-climax as Katniss is shunted back to where she belongs. But the books have been about the games and about how she has been a pawn in the games all along. She rebels against the games, both Snow’s and Coin’s and those are her crowning moments, but she does both for personal reasons, not to save the world. Throughout the rebellion, it is others who do the planning and the action. Katniss has been largely on the outside, kept in the dark. It would not make sense for her to become president, for the book to suddenly have the rebellion flourish into a utopian vision. Plutarch suggests it could be possible, just as he suggests it’s unlikely to.

As in all wars and rebellions, the common people pick themselves up and move on. The survivors of 12 return to the Seam and start to farm, Katniss and Peeta start a family.

It is the natural ending. It’s the return to a kind of normality or as normal as veterans of a terrible war can ever hope to find at their homecoming.

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