So what are these “Hunger Games” I’m hearing about?
The Hunger Games Trilogy is an addictive, well-written series of books written by Suzanne Collins in the young adult market. First published in 2008, the three books The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay have sold millions of copies in dozens of languages and spent over a hundred weeks on the New York Times’ Bestseller List. The movie of the first book, directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence, will come out March 23 and is tracking to be the biggest movie since Twilight, perhaps bigger.
What’s it about?
The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic future America. The Capitol, run by President Snow, brutally rules what’s left of the former country. There are 12 Districts (a 13th having been destroyed by the Capitol for rebellion). The Capitol is rich and foppish while the districts are poor and often starving.
Spunky Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, roughly comparable to Tennessee or Kentucky. It’s a coal mining district where all the men and many of the women are forced to work in the mines. Katniss violates the law by breaking into forbidden territory and poaching game by bow and arrow with her friend Gale. She is beginning to think Gale might love her and is not sure how she feels about that.
Every year, the Capitol drafts two “tributes” from each District as a show of power. These tributes are forced to fight to the death. They enter an acres-large, high-tech arena with many special effects traps and obstacles. The fight takes several days and is televised around the country. The Capitol loves the spectacle and watches it with enthusiasm. The districts are forced to watch and are conflicted as they hate the games, but hope for the success of their own tribute.
The last tribute alive wins, earning fortune for himself or herself and some better standards of living for their district.
Katniss becomes a tribute by volunteering in the place of her younger sister, Primrose. The other tribute is a boy named Peeta, the baker’s son.
Most of the book is the fight between Katniss and Peeta and the rest of the tributes. One important character is Rue, a little girl who reminds Katniss of her sister Primrose and who Katniss tries and fails to protect. Rue sings the tune of the mockingjay, which is the three note whistle you hear in the commercials and a symbol of innocence and beauty.
Because the Hunger Games are as much about fame as fighting, the tributes are interviewed and discussed over TV. In his interview, Peeta professes his love for Katniss and their love story, which is only partly real, becomes the talk of the games. It also becomes a love triangle in Katniss’s heart between Gale and Peeta.
What are the themes of the Hunger Games?
A primary theme is injustice and how to stand up in overwhelmingly adverse situations, or even if it’s possible to do so. Neither Katniss nor Peeta want to fight and kill, but are forced to do so by the arena itself as well as fear for the safety of their families and district in general. How can they be true to themselves when forced to do horrible things?
Another theme is conflicting and shifting loyalties, with the result that Katniss has a hard time determining who she can trust, including her advisors, Gale and Peeta.
A third theme is the concept of reality TV and what that does to both the participant and the audience. Like in ancient Rome, the gluttonous citizens of the Capitol thrill to watch their gladiators fight, although it’s a bloody and horrific business. What makes a people group enjoy such horrible entertainment?
As a corollary, fame is explored. Katniss has stylists and advisors who help her use and manipulate her fame to gain benefits in the games. If she is popular enough, the populace will buy and send helpful items when she needs it. She hates the primping and trappings of fame, but realizes she needs to use them if she is to survive.
The themes of reality TV and fame make it very timely for current day.
What is the tone of the books?
As you can imagine, the tone is very dark. Unlike the Harry Potter series, which started light and became darker as it went on, The Hunger Games starts very dark and remains so. There are few humorous moments or lightness. The description of killings in the book are very gory. It remains to be seen what the movie will do with them.
Should I let my kids read the books or see the movie?
It’s up to you. The love story is innocent, but the themes are heavy and dark. The series ultimately questions if there is anyone to trust or anything worth fighting for. It’s certainly something for kids to wrestle with. I tend to err on the side of letting kids deal with heavy issues and explore stories, but it might be too much for a sensitive kid. Personally, I have tickets to take my daughter and son, big fans, to the midnight screening of the film when it opens.
For more, read our review of the movie.
Or my tongue in cheek Interview with George Washington
Watch a clip of the movie here.