Cooling Fire

It’s no secret I liked The Hunger Games – really liked it.

I was introduced to the novel by friends who like books – real books, not just glowy vampire type books. So I was expecting it to be a little more than a standard teen romp; but still I read the book in a “well, I guess I better find out what the hype is all about” sort of way.

And it surprised me. Moved me in points of the story where I did not expect to be moved; made me think in ways I did not expect to have to think.

I was drawn in by Katniss’ wishy-washy nature – a part of the narrative that drove others crazy resonated as real to me. Katniss does not come into the story fully formed, knowing the right answers, ready to do the right thing.

Instead she finds her way, stumbling from event to event, trying to figure it all out.

And her thought process was real to me because it wasn’t always true.  It was what she was thinking in the moment, uncensored, unformed. Sometimes it was false because of facts – she misconstrued someone’s intent or misinterpreted a situation.

But what I’m talking about is when she was lying to herself – often to be reasonable or “right.”

To me Katniss is a hero because despite what she thought, what she did was often the heroic thing. (Shades of Huckleberry Finn here.)

For example, she tells herself that she will kill Peeta – she has to, right? It is the logical conclusion, the right conclusion.

But she doesn’t.

She won’t become attached to other players. She won’t get emotional. She will play by the gamemakers’ rules.  Even as she thinks them, we as the reader hope she doesn’t follow through on those thoughts.

Complex, twisty-turvy, real. Dealing with themes far beyond Katniss’ ken. This is why I liked the book.

And the movie – I liked it too! Whew!

But…

Then I got scared; my friend Linds had a facebook post negative to the series.

That scared me because Linds is one of those people that is not only smarter than me, but culturally more savvy. We disagree frequently, but not like this, not on this scale.

Convinced that Linds just didn’t get it, I defended Katniss to her; and her reply was basically,

“Oh, you haven’t read the rest of the books, have you?”

So I read book two with fear and trembling.

And again, I really liked the book.

It surprised me in good ways. It felt like a middle book, sure, but that’s cool. I like The Two Towers, and The Empire Strikes Back is nothing to sneeze at. And the second book did not negate the themes of book one.

So I started to doubt my trust in Linds’ cultural savvy.

And then I read book three.  No problem; page turner; starts slow, picks up the action rushes to a climax and-

Wham – Suzanne Collins lies.

She lies. She fabricates.

She breaks the reality of the world she created and forces the action by inserting a tragic event that just plain doesn’t fit.

(I don’t mind so much having a character lie to me, but authors should know better!)

[For those that have read the books, you know what I’m talking about. For those who haven’t, I’ll let you find it on your own.]

Why she does so is evident: as the story was progressing, Suzanne didn’t have a conclusion. She didn’t know what Katniss was going to do; how our heroine was going to fulfill her role as Mockingjay for the reader.

How was she going to pay off all those great setups – the deaths, the betrayals, the turning of the screws? It was all leading to this – Katniss had to take action in a way that improves on her defying the rules in The Hunger Games and the outside the box conclusion to Catching Fire.

Katniss does that action – but not as a natural result of the story she lives through.

Because Suzanne didn’t know where to go. So she lied; created a false motive for Katniss, and a false climax for the trilogy.

The worse part is that the scene fabricated from nowhere negates the entire journey of the third book. Rather than unifying the action, the false scene makes everything that came before pointless.

As I finished the trilogy, I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter, and his walk into the forbidden forest to die at the hands of Voldemort. Everything built to that moment, from the first owl delivering his acceptance into Hogwarts to the death of loved ones in the battle just hours before.

But not for Katniss…

I still really like the first book. And I still will defend the book, and Katniss.

Books & Culture has a wonderful introspection on the trilogy by Paul Miller that highlights much of the strength I saw in the books – as well as giving me insight into why the trilogy doesn’t pull off its full potential and promise.

Professor Miller captures the real depth to Katniss’ superficiality – realizing how impossible it is for her to be honest in her own thought processes as everything she does is made for TV. She is watched in every moment, and aware of it, so in addition to trying to figure out who she is, she is also scrambling to figure out who she is meant by others to be.

Miller says:

She is the spiritual heir to people who share their entire lives online by uploading photos to Facebook and recording what they had for lunch on Twitter.

And:

Katniss can’t even understand her own feelings towards Peeta and Gale, her would-be boyfriends, because she can’t distinguish between what she feels and what she thinks the audience wants her to feel.

Thus Collins puts us in the head of a girl maturing under the microscope, and we experience the cost of losing personal identity to public persona.

Katniss shines when she forgoes the public and acts out as herself – paying tribute to Rue, firing her arrow at the gamemakers, choosing death over victory.

And Collins was this close to allowing Katniss to find and reveal her real self in the stories’ finale – an action that would have resonated out of Panem and into the real world.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

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