Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
So I finally got around to finishing out the trilogy that every one has been talking about for years. Yes I am that behind.
Unfortunately one of the things that kept me from reading / listening to the trilogy earlier was that a lot of the premise reminded me a lot of Battle Royale that was created back in 1999 with a movie adaptation in 2000.
I enjoyed Battle Royale despite the insane amount of blood, violence and sex… because the provocative storyline is something that I could see would happen in the not so distant future (which was the setting of the story in general).
Available summary of Battle Royale (from Amazon.com):
In an alternative future Japan, junior high students are forced to fight to the death! Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan — where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller — Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic.
A bit too close to that of the “present time” as opposed to The Hunger Games where the setting was post-current Earth. It would appear that a World War III of some sort occurred and now everyone is left in a very authoritarian world. In fact it was rumored that Albert Einstein once said:
I do not know with what kinds of weapons the Third World War will be fought, but the Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones.
Yeah, no kidding. In any case, to the fantasy / science-fiction mind a premise of using children as play pieces in a game / fight to the death is not a new premise. In fact this has been the kind of story from ancient times most typically:
- Gladiator style in ancient Roman times
- the mythology of the Minotaur where fourteen young sacrifices were given to please the monster in a massive maze
So it is rather believable that two authors could have come up with rather similar premises to create their stories. After a significant amount of time as passed I finally decided to listen to the audiobooks more out of curiosity than anything else.
The Hunger Games available summary:
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.
There is just so much expository that was interwoven within the storyline. Because this was written in the point of view of Katniss Everdeen the sixteen year old with amazing archery skills due to her time of breaking the rules to go outside of the District to hunt additional food for her family and for trading.
We learn about Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’ hunting partner and Peeta Mellark, the other tribute from District 12. Katniss wasn’t originally picked to be in the Hunger Games, instead it was her little sister Primrose that was chosen, Katniss volunteered to be a tribute the moment her sister’s name was called out in an effort to protect her sister from the games.
Throughout the story we learn that Katniss has a very rough exterior and rarely allowed anyone in, while Peeta knew how to weave words and present a very calming outlook but had a strong interior. Almost immediately you get the sense that there was a kind of love triangle that was being established here, there was the already the in built connection between Katniss and Gale… and in parallel with the storyline the connection between Katniss and Peeta was being developed.
All in all, I did like the first of the trilogy as a whole, there are moments where I felt for the characters involved and moments where I couldn’t wait to read / listen to what happens next. There were times when I wanted to scream at Katniss for being so damn strong, but then again understood as to why. For someone who had to grow up rather quickly and rather young in life, you can’t help but have a harden outlook on life. However, for some reason Katniss is almost too hardened to be relate-able in any way… and it is those few moments where she lets her guard down and does something straight from the heart that people latch onto and find themselves drawn to where Katniss finds her audience. I suppose by having those extremes in her personality, that is how her more “real” moments become more than special for the reader.
In many ways I find myself much more drawn to Peeta, who (with Prim to a lesser extent) appear to be the heart of this story. Katniss seem to find herself drawn to the boy without her ever realizing why. Because of Katniss’ untrusting character trait she is always questioning the motives of everyone around her, thinking that everyone is playing a game… in a lot of ways I felt that this is her projecting what she does upon others, but considering she is only 15/16 in this novel I am not terribly surprised.
Eventually, even if Katniss didn’t really grow as much emotionally, there are remnants of a possibility of there being more than meets the eye and as thus there is hope that Katniss would grow up to be someone that is not only hardened, but soft and yielding when need be. This was featured prominently when she volunteered to be Tribute in place of her sister and when she buried little Rue while they were both in the games.
My favorite character of this book thus far? Haymitch Abernathy, hands down. Yes he was constantly drunk but he had good reason to be so, yes everyone thinks so lowly of him but because he didn’t care what other people thought of him. Being the only victor of District 12, he is expected to train all the tributes from District 12 in preparation for the Games. Because District 12 appears to be at a clear disadvantage I had the feeling that Haymitch lost his heart in the last 25 years because he considered being their Trainer akin to prepping kids for slaughter. No wonder he hit the bottle so much. Through it all, however, Haymitch had a very calculating mind and has no qualms in using it to manipulate those around him for a particular goal. He was the ally that Katniss needed to survive the games and somehow she understood him when she needed his help most.
One parallel to Battle Royale (storyline-wise) was that the two protagonists of The Hunger Games were helped at the last minute (or were given a last minute reprieve) by someone who by and large should and can be killed outright. In the Hunger Games, Thresh was the one that could have killed Katniss and as thus indirectly killed Peeta, but in the end chose to let her live because of what she did for Rue (who was part of his district).
In Battle Royale, Shogo Kawada chose to ally himself with the protagonist as a way to cheat the system and program and has arguably helped them live through the battles. While in all reality he was probably chosen to add a little spice into Battle Royale and killing off the other classmates when he can.
Another parallel that I found rather enticing was that of the creator of Battle Royale, Kitano, with that of President Coriolanus Snow. Both parties manipulated the games and the participants within the games and although Kitano had a clear idea of whom he wanted to win Battle Royale, Snow puppeteered anything and everything including the games and it didn’t matter who won out in the end as long as he still had control.
Yes, parallels can be drawn, but in all honesty The Hunger Games has every ability of standing on its own and away from Battle Royale. Even though originally I didn’t really relate to Katniss, the few moments where she felt the need to protect those around her I was able to relate to… and is probably why so many others who are fans of the series could also relate to her as well.