06 August 2011

Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy

Well, it's been quite a while since I felt I had anything to report.  I had about a month's worth of periodicals to catch up on and haven't really had much new wine to report on either.  I read TS Eliot's The Wasteland, but I can't say it had much of an impact on me.  Poetry has never been my strong suit, although I have enjoyed several of Tennyson's works.

Anyway, after having my curiosity piqued by an article in Entertainment Weekly, I ended up checking out The Hunger Games from the library.  I confess I had moderate to somewhat-low expectations of the book, given its numerous comparisons to Twilight, but the article described the book taking place in a sociopolitical landscape that sounded fascinating, and it seemed the book examined a wide range of issues, from political oppression to reality television.

I am happy to say that I was very wrong in thinking little of the book, and its two sequels, as they all three blew me away.  After reading the first, I was able to wait about a day for the library to get the next one in, before giving in and buying the ebook version from the Kindle store (although I admittedly read it on the Kindle app for my iPad - full disclosure).  The books were rich in detail, creating a fully realized world, memorable characters, a complicated (but not convoluted) plot, and, most important of all, real, relatable human emotion.

First off, the world.  Well, I was immediately struck by how Suzanne Collins extrapolated the United States (and North America at large) into the future, imagining a decline for its civilization no different from that of the Roman Empire, something alluded to both directly - she got the name for the new nation, Panem, from the Latin "panem et circenses" or "bread and circuses," [which also happens to be a name of an episode of Star Trek for those of you keeping count] - and indirectly, as she draws names for the characters from the decadent Capitol from Roman myth and history - brothers Castor and Pollux, Gamemaster Seneca Crane (Seneca being a Roman playwright of no small repute), Cinna the stylist (poet Cinna was murdered for having the same name as another Cinna, who took part in the assassination of Ceasar - at least, according to some sources, but perhaps made most famous by Shakespeare), the list goes on and on.  I apologize, by the way, for the parentheticals.  It has been a long while since I've been so affected and excited by a book, so I am rambling.

Beyond the Roman allusions, there is also a large influence of the modern world on the books, most notable perhaps in the idea of the Hunger Games, a game in which 24 children are pitted to the death as the ultimate form of reality television.  Some of the most vivid imagery comes from the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen's, experiences in said Games.

Speaking of characters, Katniss was a compelling protagonist, both empathetic and sympathetic - though for me, as a man, I occasionally found her misinterpretation of the various male characters' psychologies to be frustrating.  Well, all the more likely it's an accurate portrayal of a woman's viewpoint, I suppose.  The first-person perspective, used entirely throughout, was very successful to me, and I never once wanted a wider viewpoint - Collins was excellent at creating plausible, and often compelling, reasons for Katniss to know things she couldn't have witnessed, and we very rarely hear a character recap "what happened to me" - though on the few occasions we do, she manages to make it a scene of power rather than an infodump.

I would be remiss in talking about the characters without talking about the two male characters vying for Katniss's affections, Peeta and Gale.  Both were fully realized, similar in some ways and opposite in other ways, and I could understand Katniss's affection for both.  Perhaps adult readers like myself can understand far better than Katniss could herself.  Despite what could be construed as "teen romance," Collins in fact depicts very real, universal problems of love, culminating in a validation of what I consider the most important part of love - that the one you love should always bring out the best in you.  Collins lets Katniss learn the lesson herself, the same way everyone has to: the hard way.  It was here that I found the comparisons to Twilight most dubious, for I found this to be the opposite of the philosophy espoused in Twilight, where, it seemed to me at least, that the main character's love brought out only the most selfish impulses in her.  Then again, The Hunger Games truly starts when Katniss steps up to play in the games in order to spare her own younger sister, so perhaps it's inevitable that anyone else seems selfish by comparison...but I don't think it's just me that found Twilight rather lacking in insight.

The Hunger Games were the first books I've read since The Wheel of Time that made me feel something, deeply and truly, and that is what makes books worth reading to me.  I hope others will find them so as well.  I also hope that the film adaptation manages to retain Collins' vision, because I believe it is her unique voice and insight into the world that make the books ring so true.

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Books: Was totally absorbed by The Hunger Games, and caught off my guard, as it were, by them.  I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I've got a few things coming from the library soon, as well as Tom Sawyer started on my iPad.

Bottles: Picked up some old favorites lately, like Chappellet Signature 2008, but nothing new yet.  I go to Colorado in two weeks, and will hopefully get to experience something new there.

Guitar: Working on "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" - parenthetical not mine.  Also looking at Pachelbel's Canon in D.

Writing: As of this, 93% complete with the first draft of the prose version of Into the Shining Sun.  I have some ideas already of where I want the second draft to go; I can't decide if I want to immediately dive in to the second draft or let this one ferment a little, and let my friends read it.  It's been a long time since I had something to share.