The release is August 18. I scheduled my vacation for August 18-25. My April pre-order will be wasted.
Stupid, stupid. It will wait at home, unopened, while I swim and kayak. The cat sitter will put it on the dining room table with the Land’s End catalogues and realtor solicitations. I feel disrespectful.
Here’s the 411: The Hunger Games is named for a reality show in which 24 children each year fight to the death on national television in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The Games are punishment for an uprising against the despotic government based in the distant Capital. The story’s hero, Katniss Everdeen, is an ace archer with a heart forged of both steel and gold. After volunteering to take her younger sister’s place in the Games, she pivots from moral compass to lethal weapon several times. She weeps for some fellow contestants (called Tributes) and murders others. We root for her. We root for her to be the last child still standing.
This book wouldn’t have made it to my Kindle—or my notice—were it not for a detail that usually doesn’t matter at all: the publisher. This book was published by Scholastic. Remember them? The flimsy catalogue sent home in your backpack? The blessed day when your Scholastic order reached your school desk? The Hunger Games made its way from obscure novel to blockbuster film by way of Scholastic. I needed to know what the authors and the publisher could have been thinking, selling this book to kids.
I’ve read it three times. I’ve read the other two books of the trilogy: “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay,” twice apiece. And I’ve been itching for the Blu Ray since the movie receded from even the most remote exurban screens a few months ago. I need this disc. But why?
Strip away the painstaking details about edible plants, the sometimes heavy-handed social commentary, and the obsessive attention to the rich food used to sedate and distract the Tributes before they are sent to their deaths, and The Hunger Games is an orphan story in the tradition of Dickens and Bronte. I agree with the theory that youth heroes are only possible in the absence of parents. There is no other way for a child to be central, triumphant, and powerful under the protection of or in the shadow of a more powerful adult.
The Hunger Games takes the parentless hero to a new level. While typical orphan heroes have no parents at all (To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness—Oscar Wilde), Katniss is a parentless heroine with a living mother. Her father’s death leaves the mother depressed, paralyzed, and powerless. Eleven-year-old Katniss gets promoted over her head to breadwinner and her younger sibling’s only parent. While Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, and Little Dorritt live in miserable circumstances, they can see bright lights, decent people, and warm living rooms from the cold streets where they live. District 12, Katniss’s hometown, is entirely degraded. Only one person has escaped its poverty in 74 years—at the cost of “winning” the Hunger Games, killing his fellow children, and being forced to accompany two doomed tributes per year on the march to their deaths in the Games.
Unlike Dickens’ hero orphans, Katniss may never escape from the impoverished districts to the Capital’s relative safety. Even a Hunger Games victor must still return to her district, where her own children might be selected for ritual sacrifice. Unlike Dickens’ London, there is no respectable, safe place beyond the slums; the evil Capital is populated by decadent fops addicted to plastic surgery and to the annual display of human suffering. It is a hub around a world of misery that is itself bounded by oceans beyond which nothing is written or known. Unlike a Victorian orphan governess who wins the master of the manor, Katniss saves the dying boy who loves her—for complicated and not altogether romantic reasons. There is no father-surrogate husband, no adoptive parent, and no inheritance to redeem Katniss Everdeen.
There is only Katniss Everdeen.
And that is why children endure these savage, brutal books (by comparison to the sequels, The Hunger Games reads like a Family Circus cartoon). This is the story every adolescent wants to write for herself. Adolescence is its own Panem to those experiencing it. Their minds are too young to grasp that years, unlike the District 12 fence, can be scaled and left behind. They read a story of replacing their parents and evading their captors through wit and skill—no uncommon physical strength required.
It’s unfair to ask these young fans whether they forgive Katniss for killing, reassure themselves that it’s morally justified, or whether the fantasy is more powerful because it validates escape by any means necessary. I don’t want to be asked that question myself.
I read and re-read it the book, saw the movie twice in theaters, and will play the disc through late nights when my husband is away on business for much the same reasons as the kids.
You can tell something about the woman who loves The Hunger Games. She wishes she could go back to adolescence and win. She wonders how much therapy she’d need if she’d been Katniss at 16 instead of the ordinary girl she was.
It’s not that I want to be Katniss today. I wish I could retroactively live my adolescence and youth as Katniss. Cunning and poised. Not fearless but effective even when afraid. It is a fantasy so powerful and soothing that it blinds me to the horror of what Katniss did to survive. Adolescent escape fantasies, however old, can be brutal and Machiavellian.
As it is, I remain at the studio’s mercy to await the video release—and my own.