Burk mercilessly mocks me for my countless allusions to The Hunger Games series. I deserve it, I do find many opportunities to reference the popular Young Adult books. They are good allusions though, and are applicable in every way (you’ll agree with me by the end of this post). Despite the fact that they were written for a 12-18-year-old audience (many notable literary works were; The Chronicles of Narnia were written for an even younger audience), they are an impressive work with keen insight into culture, and an interesting criticism of much of our society. I’ll get to the dystopian genius later, for now I would like to discuss why my children will read The Hunger Games, and why they will NEVER be allowed to read Twilight or any other such drivel.
The Hunger Games are told from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen; a flawed, passionate young woman; she loves deeply, but sparingly. She sacrifices for those she loves, and doesn’t hesitate to risk her life for them. She is a beautiful picture of a woman of strength and, though it takes time for her to decide, she ultimately acts with integrity and mercy. Then we have Peeta. He loves Katniss, he is selfless, kind, gracious and easily the most noble character in the books; it is his example (combined with the impact of other characters) that urges Katniss out of the circular mindset of protection of self and into that of redemptive love. Real love, one that is not absent of justice, but holds justice and mercy in balance. There are other noteworthy characters throughout the books (i.e. Finnick, Mags, Johanna, Rue, Thresh and Haymitch being my favorites), but I’ll let you discover their value on your own, for now we’ll stick with the romantic aspect (yes I realize I’m excluding Gale, but that element could be a whole post in itself).
The stories contain romance, well-written romance in fact. Romance how it should be, as an aspect of life, not central to it, with sacrificial love that extends beyond a relationship between just two people. Forgiveness and sacrifice are central to the relationship between Katniss and Peeta, and instead of being wrapped up in themselves they are outwardly focused (perhaps because of circumstance, but I would argue that’s not the case), their relationship is a piece of who they are, but it is not their life, and because of how they love one another their relationship inevitably allows them to serve not only one another but also those around them.
I bring up Twilight because it is the perfect anti-thesis to real love. Twilight, though it talks of romance, is really about lust and absolute narcissism; the perfect combination to destroy love. Add to that lovely mix a “heroine” who is suicidal when her “love” leaves her, and a love interest who is domineering and abusive, and you have a guarantee that I’d burn those books on sight. All that aside, they are also terribly written and take the wonderful gothic character of vampires perfected by Bram Stoker and turn them into a hero that sparkles. Yes, sparkles in the sun. The irony of taking the idea of vampires–images of darkness, controlled by lust and thus trapped in an undead hell–and making them somehow into something desirable (and sparkly) is unfortunately lost on this new generation of readers.
But, back to The Hunger Games. If you remove the love story (remove the love story from Twilight and you have a story about a girl who moved to Forks…), you still have a pretty interesting piece of dystopian literature, that I would argue could be placed amidst 1984, Fahrenheit 411, and A Brave New World (which it resembles most). Collins creatively depicts three types of slavery: the typical: those who are enslaved by pure force and are aware of their state (as depicted in the 12 districts, perhaps excluding Districts 1 and 2); the second, as Collins puts it “Panem et Circenses”, enslaved by bread and circuses, a group of people who are so distracted by luxury they don’t recognize being controlled (i.e. the Capitol); and finally slavery by fear, where freedom is relinquished in exchange for safety (a la District 13). Unfortunately, I think her obvious criticism of our own country was lost on many–most ironically by Hollywood, which bears an eerie resemblance to The Capitol–but I hope the theme that is weaved throughout the books is still discovered, this idea of sacrificial love and integrity is not isolated to Peeta and Katniss, it is central to every character we love, and absent in every character we hate; it is realistically shown as a battle to choose others over self and right over ease.
And that’s why my children will probably be forced to write book reports on The Hunger Games (and kicked out of the house if they read Twilight…not really…but seriously).
*If you’re a Twilight fan and I offended you, I’m not really sorry, you shouldn’t be a fan of Twilight. No one should. But feel free to try and convince me otherwise.