The Never-ending Storm

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You can fight a war with drones You can fight a war with loans You can fight a war with gas Or cans of paint But don’t you...

6 hours ago

You can fight a war with drones You can fight a war with loans You can fight a war with gas Or cans of paint But don’t you...

I think the Hunger Games series sits in a similar literary position to The Lord of the Rings, as a piece of literature (by a Catholic author) that sparked a whole new subgenre and then gets blamed for flaws that exist in the copycat books and aren’t actually part of the original.

Like, despite what parodies might say, Katniss is nowhere near the stereotypical “unqualified teenager chosen to lead a rebellion for no good reason”.  The entire point is that she’s not leading the rebellion. She’s a traumatized teenager who has emotional reactions to the horrors in her society, and is constantly being reined in by more experienced adults who have to tell her, “No, this is not how you fight the government, you are going to get people killed.” She’s not the upstart teenager showing the brainless adults what to do–she’s a teenager being manipulated by smarter and more experienced adults. She has no power in the rebellion except as a useful piece of propaganda, and the entire trilogy is her straining against that role. It’s much more realistic and far more nuanced than anyone who dismisses it as “stereotypical YA dystopian” gives it credit for.

And the misconceptions don’t end there. The Hunger Games has no “stereotypical YA love triangle”–yes, there are two potential love interests, but the romance is so not the point. There’s a war going on! Katniss has more important things to worry about than boys! The romance was never about her choosing between two hot boys–it’s about choosing between two diametrically opposed worldviews. Will she choose anger and war, or compassion and peace? Of course a trilogy filled with the horrors of war ends with her marriage to the peace-loving Peeta. Unlike some of the YA dystopian copycats, the romance here is part of the message, not just something to pacify readers who expect “hot love triangles” in their YA. 

The worldbuilding in the Hunger Games trilogy is simplistic and not realistic, but unlike some of her imitators, Collins does this because she has something to say, not because she’s cobbling together a grim and gritty dystopia that’s “similar to the Hunger Games”. The worldbuilding has an allegorical function, kept simple so we can see beyond it to what Collins is really saying–and it’s nothing so comforting as “we need to fight the evil people who are ruining society”. The Capitol’s not just the powerful, greedy bad guys–the Capitol is us, First World America, living in luxury while we ignore the problems of the rest of the world, and thinking of other nations largely in terms of what resources we can get from them. This simplistic world is a sparsely set stage that lets us explore the larger themes about exploitation and war and the horrors people will commit for the sake of their bread and circuses, meant to make us think deeper about what separates a hero from a villain.

There’s a reason these books became a literary phenomenon. There’s a reason that dozens upon dozens of authors attempted to imitate them. But these imitators can’t capture that same genius, largely because they’re trying to imitate the trappings of another book, and failing to capture the larger and more meaningful message underneath. Make a copy of a copy of a copy, and you’ll wind up with something far removed from the original masterpiece. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of blaming those flaws on the original work.

I… yeah. When the first movie came out, there was a tie-in makeup line. I don’t remember what brand, but it was called the Capitol Collection. And I was so incredibly put off by that. It was so completely missing the point of the books that it was practically comical. The Capitol looks nice, yes. They mask their atrocities in spectacle and high fashion. It’s horrifying. Anyone who’s read the books understands that it’s horrifying. And I just… disappointed but not surprised? I guess? 

Side note: The Hunger Games were not a one off. I would highly recommend reading Suzanne Collins’ middle grades series, The Underland Chronicles, that she wrote before Hunger Games. I mean, if you want to see an 11 year old confronted with the horrors of war, that is. (It’s really good though. Like. Really good.) 

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