With the movie adaption of “The Hunger Games” in theaters, John Dwyer wants to discuss the original idea for the story.
Tom has been writing about “The Hunger Games” and its protagonist, Katniss*, for a bit already, but I can’t help voice a little counter-argument. We both came to the series with an open mind. He used the books as an opportunity to connect with his kids and I needed an audiobook that my girlfriend and I could agree upon during a 16 hour road trip. She has described my literary tastes as “elitist” during kinder moments, and I have tried not to call her habits plebian, because it only reinforces her argument.
I will preface my counter-argument with this: I am talking about the entire trilogy here, and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the first book. However, just like the Millennium Trilogy, the books literarily disintegrate as the series progresses (and yes, I did pun on literally). More importantly, whereas “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” was an impressively original piece of work despite its many other flaws, the first installment of “The Hunger Games” is simply a cheesy, foreign knock-off. That is to say, it’s the domestic version of a beautiful Japanese novel.
I’m not accusing Suzanne Collins of plagiarism, though. She creates a dystopian future completely her own, filled with plenty of brightly colored cyber/steam-punk stereotypes. Her novels’ mix of Survivor, Project Runway, and telenovela programming makes it highly doubtful that she has ever heard of Battle Royale unless she was perusing the screenplay for the theatrical version.
If you don’t want to read spoilers, then feel free to skip down to the comments section now. Right above it, you’ll find suggestions for some interesting YA novels. What really ruined my fun with this guilty pleasure, is an exact passage in the second book, “Catching Fire” (and I find the similarities between Best-Sellers quite interesting). If you want to see for yourself, my citation can be found on page 358, beginning with the final paragraph:
“There was a plan to break us out of the arena from the moment the Quell was announced. [show, don’t tell, were there any hints of this plan?] The victor tributes from 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11 had varying degrees of knowledge about it. [But why not the reader?] Plutarch Heavensbee has been, for several years, part of an undercover group aiming to overthrow the Capitol [what a cool idea that has been completely untouched for over 300 pages!] … Bonnie and Twill, the women I met in the woods from 8 were right about its existence [District 13, a nearly unfounded guess based on the fact that stock footage played for the District is exactly that, re-used stock footage] and its defense capabilities [not nearly unfounded, completely unfounded! and almost unmentioned] … Meanwhile all the districts in Panem are in full-scale rebellion. [Oh please, don’t go to the bother of actually showing this to me. You’re right, yet again, just telling me after the fact is way more interesting. It’s only the entire point and goal of this book, getting to the godd*mn rebellion.]”
The brackets are my additions. I posted this on Facebook and the response was stunning. Among some fantastic links and an honestly good discussion that only once teetered on the edge of Godwin’s Law, I received some fantastic suggestions for alternative reading. So I’ll leave you with a list that I hope will lighten this criticism of “The Hunger Games.” Young Adult literature doesn’t have to dumb itself down to the masses, and can often be a rewarding experience that challenges as it entertains:
- Robin McKinley’s “The Hero and the Crown”
- Elizabeth Marie Pope’s “The Perilous Guard”
- Salman Rushdie’s “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”
- Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman Chronicles” (actually a series of graphic novels)
- Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” series
- Piers Anthony’s “The Magic of Xanth”
Oh, and I plan to see the movie anyway this weekend (hopefully the crowds have dwindled after a week of showings). Suzanne Collins is actually a television writer, so maybe the screen will play to her strengths. Blame Mr. Anthony for my puns.
*Updated thanks to a fan catching my typo!