What's Wrong With The Hunger Games?
The movie opens tomorrow. I’ve written a lot about The Hunger Games already. You should read the first volume. (This note is fairly free of spoilers, I think, and this isn’t a book where spoilers matter. You know the plot.)
But before we move on to The Winter King and to What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, let’s talk about some of the things that are not quite right.
- Editing: Laura Miller has a good look at the inside of the making of a blockbuster. She thinks Scholastic was entirely behind the series from the start. But if they knew this was going to be a Big Thing, I expect that the first volume might have been more carefully edited. Katness is constantly “loading” her bow, when surely she should be nocking an arrow. There are signs of editing scars, scenes that were cut, that might have been smoothed over. Lots of talk about the moon leads nowhere; did this culminate in an escape fantasy, or something about menstruation, or a lost lunar colony before the fall? Katness thinks that she’s always known that it would come down to her and Cato, but we don’t know that; there must have been a confrontation, perhaps in training, that was cut. What are cars doing in a post-apocalypse ecological dystopia — especially when we don’t use them for anything?
- Thresh: Collins works hard to make Thresh a character and a force. It’s difficult, because he’s literally off camera. It’s dangerous: to pull it off, she has to walk right up to the edge of a pernicious racial stereotype. And it matters, because Thresh embodies an important idea, one that Katness should be thinking of (but doesn’t) and that Peeta is working toward (but can’t quite work out). I went to a Quaker college; the moment when I figured out what Thresh was doing was the moment I realized this book might be serious. The technical problem gets the upper hand and he vanishes; because we never really learn what happens to Thresh, his story is unresolved.
- Clove: Another editorial mishap. As the text stands, Clove’s sadism emerges just in time for us to not sympathize with her, at the moment when she must be deprived of our sympathies. That’s cheap. The problem with Thresh is technical and hard to fix, but this is simply something that needs to be bought in an earlier scene.
- Campfire Girl (Peeta's Victim): Peeta tells the Careers that he finished her off. Is he lying? If he is indeed lying to his allies, Peeta kills no one at all in the entire trilogy. That’s too much, and too important, to discard so casually. If he is lying here, his hands are clean. And if he’s not lying, that matters, too.
- Effie Trinket: I imagine that this silly and unimportant character is a vicious pastiche of someone in the industry, but for the rest of us she’s made of cardboard and she has no role. A few lines of dialog could make all the difference. Make her a real fan of the games, someone who reads Hunger Games Prospectus, someone who watches reruns on cable, and suddenly you have dimension. Or give her political awareness: this is necessary to hold our world together. Or make her Isaac’s father, or Iphigenia’s.
- Age: On the page, Katness is much younger than her stated age. In fact, she’s exceptionally good in being a hero with the flaws of a little girl. Think about it: she’s much younger than Juliet; and if she ever she thinks of Juliet, it's as a role model. She’s younger than Dorothy in Oz. She’s younger than Paul Atreides ever was. She’s about the same age as Oliver Twist, I think. It’s a small untruth, probably commercially motivated and possibly necessary, but it’s still wrong.
- Romans and Celts: The author says she was inspired by Spartacus, but the Rome to which The Capitol alludes is four or five centuries later. That's the distance that separates us from Henry VIII, and the historical analogy goes nowhere much. I find the smattering of classical names jarring, and none of the names really illuminates anything. The Robin Hood subtext, on the other hand, is understated and extraordinarily well done.
Still: a fine yarn, and one which bears more thought than it seems to require.