Suzanne Collins began her writing career in children’s television. While working for Nickelodeon, Collins wrote for many shows, chief among them Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. Eventually, Collins moved to children’s literature writing a five-part series, The Underland Chronicles. Her Hunger Games trilogy, however, has received high acclaim, and the first book has been adapted into a major motion picture. Collins lives in Connecticut with her family.
Trilogy is not only a word that piques the interest of an avid subset of moviegoers, but is also a word that equals a goldmine for movie executives. No matter the genre or story the movie business leaves every big budget narrative open ended to ensure unending story-lines and movies.
From a business perspective, I completely understand the strategy. Who wouldn’t want a continuous influx of cash? From an artistic perspective, however, trilogies leave much to be desired.
The Hunger and the Game
The Hunger Games is the latest “it” story for young adults. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games follows the lives of protagonists Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mallark in the dystopian ruins of North America – now called “Panem”.
Set in a period after a failed rebellion, Panem is ruthlessly ruled by The Capitol – a centralized city guarded by the Rocky Mountains. The Capitol reigns over twelve districts pillaging the resources of these communities leaving them barely above subsistence. In fact, the lack of resources leaves many citizens wishing for a quick and painless death instead of starvation. At one point, Katniss states,
“Anyway, Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker” (17).
As a means of controlling the population and instilling fear in the districts, The Capitol holds “The Hunger Games” every year. By law, The Capitol holds a raffle selecting one male and one female under the age of eighteen as “tributes” to compete in these lethal games. The sole survivor’s region wins one year’s worth of resources.
Describing the influence of The Capitol on her district, Katniss complains,
“Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is The Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. ‘Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen’” (18-19).
As chance has it, The Capitol selects Katniss and Peeta from District 12 (the region inhabited by our protagonists). Swept onto a train, the duo travels to The Capitol to be made over, advertised, and trained to kill. Despite the perpetual underdog status of District 12, Katniss’ hunting ability and Peeta’s brute strength provides a higher amount of hope for their families and friends back home.
No matter the ethical stance on violence, each tribute must fight when they enter the arena. Gruesomely, every second of The Hunger Games is televised with mandatory watching for each district as punishment for the rebellion. Of course, some will find such games entertaining much like the Roman gladiatorial games but most consider watching the deaths of their family and friends to be horrifying. Understanding this voyeurism, the tributes play to the crowds in order to gain favor.
At one point Katniss responds with the viewers in mind,
“The thought makes me smile. I drop my hands and hold my face up to the moonlight so the cameras can be sure to catch it” (248).
When a Good Plot Suffers from Profit
Despite this extremely compelling plot, I found The Hunger Games lacking. With prose and marketing pointing toward a trilogy, the novel loses its edginess. In a fight-to-the-death battle arena, what fear does the reader have for Katniss, and Peeta to a lesser extent, when he or she knows that two more installments are on their way? Yes, given the rules of the games, a district member will eventually need to kill the other district member. But what does it matter provided that the district gains resources?
In this simple principle lies my greatest annoyance with The Hunger Games. I wanted to feel the tenseness of the arena as Katniss and Peeta fight for survival, but I didn’t because I knew that death meant no more story, and no more story means no trilogy.
I know the upcoming feature film of The Hunger Games will make everyone involved incredibly rich. Sadly, the pursuit of external wealth inhibits the effectiveness of the story. For this reason, I find it difficult to recommend The Hunger Games.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards