The Hunger Games

I finished reading The Hunger Games this afternoon when I should have been learning some ancient Greek. I haven’t yet downloaded the other two books in the series, but I have to say it will not be all that long after I post this that I do. Also, I don’t want to say too much about the book right now, because when I watch the film, read Battle Royale, and re-watch Battle Royale the film, I will be comparing the two of them as far as I think the analysis will stretch. At this point, remembering the film from when I watched it something like a decade ago, I can understand why people choose to compare the two, but I feel that it is a very easy comparison which isn’t terribly rewarding. The concept of gladiatorial conflict was hardly new with BR (I can think of another 2000 film which also dealt with the topic, actually) and even if there is an influence on The Hunger Games the difference in approach and intention seems to me to support the necessity of variety over picking the better one.* But perhaps I don’t remember the intentions of BR very well. I do remember my sister saying that the book read like the wish fulfilment of a man who had wanted to murder his classmates. Then there is the different target audience, the different world in which we live post-11/09/2001, and with reality TV as it is now. I will say that I compared The Hunger Games mentally to the second episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, 15 Million Merits. But to be honest, I think that was at least in part the aesthetic of the trailer to the film of Hunger Games. Interesting, though, that people should be connecting reality TV and the ever-increasing polarization of the wealthy elite and the working classes on both sides of the Atlantic.

This is what I thought of The Hunger Games: it was a good start for children in their teens to start learning about social justice. To a far-left twenty-six year old perhaps the metaphor is obvious, even strained. But to a fifteen year old just starting to realise that there is an imbalance in this world, it could be much more potent.

The role of the Career tributes is one which I find fascinating, although perhaps under-explored in the way I had hoped it would be. To me, the Career Tributes were presented as those who had submitted to the dominance of the Capitol rather than those, like Katniss, who would rebel, or Peeta, desperate to retain his identity in their Games. I’m not sure if this was intentionally hinted, or if it was just my reading.

A review – or rather a mention on twitter – by Radio Times film editor Andrew Collins said that he felt that, in the film, the other tributes weren’t developed enough so that it was possible to care. In the book, with its first-person perspective, this is hardly surprising. But the aim of the Games is to divide – even the individual Districts – and to keep the lower classes fighting one another rather than the Capitol. Katniss cannot afford sympathy for the other Tributes, so how can we, seeing the Games through her eyes? I perhaps think that there could have been a greater element of menace to the other Tributes, but I am unsurprised by their (general) lack of development. It is a survival technique.

The after-effects of the Games on the Tributes is another under-explored area, although I suspect and hope the other books will explore this. Enough is said of Haymitch to hint that the psychological damage could be great, and one angle I had hardly considered is highlighted towards the end of the book. The descent into the necessary violence needed to survive would have to be traumatic, and whoever wins the Games must have killed at least one child – several seems more likely. The ill-effects of this I expect to see explored in Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

I liked Katniss. I’ve read some negative criticism of her, as well as some positive thoughts, but I understand the slightly bewildered response to being told that someone believes they are in love with you, and the possibly negative response which that can engender. She behaved, as far as I was concerned, like an ordinary teenager with too much on her hands, except perhaps for the obvious differences in her position:

Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitute for the Capitol version. What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?

I did think, for most of the novel, that the love-story seemed tacked-in, especially the third angle. But then again, so did Katniss, it seems. It made sense to play the audience, and that the audience would be played by this. It also made sense that separation could make the heart grow fonder. I was happy to be following her through these games; definitely happier than I would have been following the sap Peeta, who I’m not entirely expecting to carry the film. Nonetheless, a book enjoyed. And more than I meant to said about it, now I come to think of it. More after I see the film on Wednesday! Apologies for indulging in hype…

* I will also confess a certain wariness which relates to the probability that people think Japan>America. Too much of me doubts the likelihood that the praise for Battle Royale is as simple as it being a better film.

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3 thoughts on “The Hunger Games

  1. You can borrow my copy of Battle Royale if you like.

    I have not read the books of Hunger Games, so I’m not really sure what any of this blog means. I will go and see the film, although I must admit, my interest in it is solely down to the stonking soundtrack. Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Neko Case, Civil Wars, Low Anthem, Punch Brothers … great stuff.

  2. It isn’t terribly rewarding to compare the dystopian-near-future-where-children-are-forced-to-kill-each-other-for-the-benefit-of-the-cameras-after-being-issued-with-a-variety-of-weapons-the-reason-being-to-exert-social-control with the dystopian-near-future-where-children-are-forced-to-kill-each-other-for-the-benefit-of-the-cameras-after-being-issued-with-a-variety-of-weapons-the-reason-being-to-exert-social-control? DUDE!

    Hehehehe

    I shall write a full review in response to this calumny but I will make one note here regarding Battle Royale. After watching the film, reading the book and reading the Manga I was left with an experience which could well be described as “satisfied”. Not to say that there was not room for similar tales (like Hunger Games which I did in fact enjoy) but that the arc was taken in interseting strands. More character devlopment in the book, more idosyncracies in the manga, more style in the film. Suffice to say the slight differences didn’t jar so much as contribute. A good example is the fact that (I believe) the film states that the class is chosen for Battle Royale due to its unruliness while the book states its random. A nice (in the classical, boxing sense) distinction. I also believe that Koushun Takami (sp) worked on all three

    Anywho regarding Hunger Games, while I believe it owes a debt to Battle Royale I believe it has more than sufficient originallity not to cry foul! The conceit of the “careers” was interesting to a Marxist as it depicts (perhaps the best I’ve seen in literature barring the hallowed Eric Blair) the lot of the Middle Class. In actuality an extension of the working class in so many cases and therefore subjected to the same ordeal but with advantages. Ultimately the same ordeal mind with the same end result. Splendid.

    The weaponry used was intriguing, I recalled the Joker’s “guns are to quick” line being apposite. A multitude of intentions (yes authour intention, shun,shun and shun again one and all – however bearing in mind we apply “authorial intention” to politicians and the like why don’t we do it to, you know, authours . . . ) emphasises on the barbaraic, juxtaposition to being outgunned BY the areana (gamemakers have better tech, not giving enough for rebellion (or to teach rebellion), more gore for the capitol audience, slower for the capitol audience and (most intriguingly) slows things down for the reader. [as a by the by more high tech weaponry in the arean may come in later books but I doubt it – just finished the second]

    Pacing was excellent. And regarding the whirling morass of emotions on teenagers, spot on.

    As a by the by the engagement I found to be total. Doing that thing when you initially read sentences too fast to zip through the pages as the action is great.

    So yeah – I’ll respond further when I watch the film and prepare my Magnum Opus of a Battle Royale smack down (which I do think is a better book).

    I await your broadside in response my fine friend!

    P.S. I understand from an overread (similar to overheard but, well, read)) tweet that you imply I have some sort of “JP>USA” complex. That’s our good friend Sei my good sir!

    • A simple copy/paste of the comments I posted on facebook, for your reference. I saw the film last night, expect further comments soon:

      “Suffice to say the slight differences didn’t jar so much as contribute.” – this is the most important line of your comment, except that I would apply it to the HG/BR comparison as much as the varieties of BR. When I say “unsatisfying”, I really mean obvious, general … it’s a fairly obvious comparison to make, while comparing HG to 15 Million Merits, for example, would show differing responses across the Atlantic to the reality TV phenomenon at a similar time; meanwhile interesting differences between BR and HG aren’t being highlighted – how does the post-11/9 world change HG compared to BR? What about the massive growth in reality TV since the turn of the century?

      I have so much more to say about the Career Tributes that I can’t do it in a facebook comment… The most important thing I think is the complicity in the whole process, that these children are made for these Games, and they accept it as a part of their lot, as a way to get more out of the Capitol. Not entirely certain I would equate them with the middle class. Also, I’m not certain that you’re using “authorial intent” in the correct way either, really.

      I (angrily) tweeted at the Gollancz publishers that it is actually possible to read BOTH BR and HG, and, in fact, that one of the messages of both is that co-operation overcomes competition. I’m told that this does not happen in The Long Walk by Richard Bachman/Stephen King which is also comparable (?). Next day, this tweet: https://twitter.com/#!/Gollancz/status/185005142603608067 Kind of the point.

      And, in any case, value judgements about the betterness of BR or HG are reductive – if you enjoy one, chances are you’ll enjoy the other. And why not enjoy both? I can enjoy the entirely of western literature despite the fact that I’ve read the Odyssey and the Iliad from which it’s all derived….

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