Monday, July 25, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Here's some advice. Stay alive.

Before I read these books, I had heard various opinions ranging from they're absolutely fantastic to they're not worth your time. But I was intrigued. The storyline sounded compelling and, from the summaries I had read, it seemed to me that Suzanne Collins had things to say. And she did. The books did not disappoint, not by any means.

The trilogy starts off with incredible momentum that Collins is able to maintain throughout the trilogy. I haven't flown through a set of books since Harry Potter. And here I come to a reason why many are of the opinion that these books aren't worth your time. As the last set of Harry Potter movies have recently been released, the last book long since read and re-read, people have been looking for that next big read. One should not necessarily expect The Hunger Games to be that big read. Yes, they are great books, provocative, enchanting in their own way, and captivating. But, in no way can they live up to Rowling's great work, and they should not be expected too. Rather, this trilogy needs to be taken for what it is--it's own work of brilliance, talented writing, and mesmerizing characters.

Entwined in the thrilling plot about the annual Hunger Games and the nation's districts' fight for survival is a strong political message--or perhaps warning would be a better word here. Katniss and our other protagonists live in a greatly dystopian future that, in some ways, feels like a gentle mix of 1984 and A Brave New World. I say gentle mix because the future Collins created is truly a time of its own, but reflects similar fears written by Orwell and Huxley. It is this aspect of the books that I find most provocative and valuable. These undercurrents of dystopia pervade our own minds as constant concerns. We worry about the direction in which society, diplomacy, and politics are headed. We worry about our future, and Collins has created a future that we most certainly do not want to find ourselves in some 100 years down the road.

It is against this dystopia that Collins' fierce heroine Katniss Everdeen battles. Having written the trilogy in first person--quite masterfully, I might add--Collins immerses the reader into the mind of Katniss. We care for the other characters as she cares for them, hate as she hates, dreams as she dreams. It is in this way that Collins nurtures our own connection to the many characters that make an appearance through the novel. They all become very real and manage to evoke a wonderful mix of emotions from us as readers. However, I do feel as though Collins failed in one respect--I closed the third book feeling as though I didn't know Katniss as well as I should have. Collins did not seem to provide her with the same emotional and character development that she provided for some of the other characters. Maybe this is me expecting more from a book written in first person. Or maybe we can't know more about Katniss than Collins provides. For, what person truly knows themselves? And, if one does not know oneself, how can one act independently?

This idea of autonomous action versus being someones puppet or game piece is another theme that receives monumental attention from Collins. It is also another theme we easily relate to. Within in the system, how do we know we are truly ourselves and not some pawn shaped by society? Granted, Collins takes this question to the very extreme and in our own reality, we have much more control over our own person than Katniss and others have in Collin's dystopian future. Even so, such questions are conveyed vividly, also paralleling themes in the films Being John Malkovich and The Truman Show. Who is the puppet? Who is the puppet master? How much free will and control over our own lives do we really have. How do we know we are not pawns in some great game of chess? Maybe we can't know, but the questions as Collins has infused them in the trilogy are important and poignant.

Finally, I tackle the issue of the ending. Personally, I found it realistic and satisfying. Actually, it was frighteningly realistic. I know many people hate the ending and claim that Collins ended the trilogy in perhaps the worst way possible. To this claim, I say your expectations were far too unrealistic. Despite being set in a fictional future, Collins trilogy rings of truth and reality. The ending needed to be real. It needed to be something we could believe, something we could grasp. Katniss, like other literary heroes (including Harry and Frodo) manages to defeat many seemingly impossible odds, overcomes horrendously tricky situations more than once, and finds herself to possess relatively good fortune. So, despite what might be described as a tidy ending, I argue that it is much more complex than that. Those dissatisfied with the conclusion may have expected something larger, something that raises Katniss above humanity. But that's the beauty of these books--she is just as human as the next person. Despite extraordinary circumstances, she is a perfectly flawed human susceptible to the same struggle and trials that all of us are. Collins provided the perfect ending for this trilogy by infusing it with the sting of reality.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trilogy. It is a quick, compelling, engaging read. Collins thoroughly developed her world and infused intelligent commentary and cautionary warnings into her plot and characters. She wrote fearlessly and boldly to create such a fast-paced and edgy story that truly is impossible to put down.

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