The Hunger Games Trilogy has two things working mighty hard against it. It’s classified as Young Adult literature (YA Lit) and it’s often compared to the Twilight series. Neither of which are actually consequential to the story or author Suzanne Collins’ ability to write but nevertheless turn many readers away.
I was like many of you. Stubbornly refusing to read the series because of its “teenager” labeling and my abhorrence for anything like the emotionally stunted whine-fest that is Twilight. Do you know what changed my mind? The trailer for the upcoming Hunger Games film, which I’ll discuss in another post.
The film actually looks pretty good… actually, really good. So I decided, “FINE! I’ll read the bloody thing.”
The Hunger Games exceeded my expectations. Mostly because they were so very low, but it actually is a very, very good series. Even with the similarities to Twilight (teenagers, possible love triangle, YA Lit tag), it taught me a valuable lesson. Don’t judge a book by the section you find it in. Now let’s take that lesson learned and apply it here. Why am I talking about The Hunger Games on a horror blog?
The Hunger Games is most definitely NOT Young Adult. Because of its hyper violence, torture, abuse, descriptive gore, horrific mutated monsters, and the fact that all of this happens to… children! The no-corners-cut storytelling and its disturbing foreshadowing of our own political climate and world add to the gripping tension.
Suzanne Collins is a masterful story-teller. With her background in children’s literature, I can see how this series is shoe horned into the mold that this woman’s career made. But please, please, please do not assume that The Hunger Games is hyper emotional teenage drivel. It’s not. So much so that you often forget the main character is essentially just a girl.
The Hunger Games is a first person journey told through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl of District Twelve of Panem (today’s Appalachian US). She lives in one of the twelve districts of a totalitarian government run by President Snow in a Romanesque Capital. Every year the Capital forces each district to send one male and one female tribute between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death with one victor. This is in order to remind the twelve districts of what will happen should they rebel like the ill-fated District Thirteen, which was blown to bits.
The decadence and corruption of the Capital are thinly veiled allegories for ancient Rome and the gladiatorial games. Collins also drew inspiration from the ancient story of Theseus and the Minotaur melded with the shallow entertainment of our modern reality television. There are some glaring similarities to the Japanese Battle Royale, but that doesn’t go much beyond school children fighting to the death to keep down insurgents. The people of the twelve districts of Panem are essentially slaves to the greed of the Capital. They toil under horrible conditions, often dying of starvation or illness while the big government citizenry gamble and cavort over the deaths of their children in the live televised Hunger Games. The more gruesome the deaths, the more violent the tributes, the more the Capital loves it and the better the warning to the Districts – we own you.
The three books The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, span Katniss’ entry into the games, the fight for her survival and that of her fellow District Twelve tribute Peeta, the subsequent revolutionary which the 74th Hunger Games sparks and full on war that follows. Sure, there’s a little romance, but that is not what this story is about. It is only a portion of Katniss’ tale.
With the idolization of weak female characters prevalent in society, Katniss Everdeen is the “role model” that feminism needs. The fact that she’s a girl barely factors into her ability to survive these extraordinary circumstances. She is strong, determined, and honorable. Katniss is hardened by her life spent hunting for her family and carving out a survival in a very inhospitable world. She is not your weak-willed miss to fade away at the first sign of strife. While Katniss is not infallible (hell, she second guesses herself with paranoia so often that it paralyzes her), she is still admirable, courageous, and so very very bad-ass that if I was in this such situation I could only hope I could handle myself so well. A true hero for girls and women alike.
The topics handled in the series are both engrossing and very mature. Unfortunately, there are times where the series drags, such as Katniss’ romantic indecision between Peeta and her childhood friend, Gale. Thankfully, these are brief and not the focus of the series. Collins makes us face uncomfortable eventualities and happily enough does not use convenient plot devices to smooth her sailing. She writes a hard and unforgiving story (don’t forget the torture, death, manipulation, developing love, broken hearts, betrayal, family, and fear). While not strictly horror, The Hunger Games Trilogy is definitely a thriller. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s book and maybe something fresh for an avid literary horror fan.