Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Trilogy complete, mind blown, spoliers within

After I wrote the last post, I ran out and bought the other two books. I returned home at 10:30 p.m. and started reading "Catching Fire." By morning, I was into "Mockingjay". By Sunday night, it was all over...and it took me this long to be able to articulate more than "wow...fucking amazing."

I'd wondered where the series would go after the first book. I wouldn't have really said it ended on a cliffhanger. Katniss won the Hunger Games, when the Gamemakers sadistically forced her and her District 12 partner Peeta into an alliance, then shattered it at the last minute by renegging on their promise to declare co-victors. Katniss and Peeta were ready to kill themselves when the Gamemaker frantically ordered them to spit out the poison, they could be co-victors after all.

Well, it turns out that didn't sit well. You're not supposed to beat the Games, you're supposed to beat the other competitors. Katniss winning in the way she did was the worst possible thing for the Capitol. It gave hope to the districts, and the Hunger Games are designed to quell hope. The next two books deal with the fallout from her subversive victory.

My sister teaches this book to her classes sometimes, and she said on her blog post that one of the main things about it that students always notice is how violent the books are. Every death means something, there's no gratuitous violence here. Either the deaths happen offstage, or they happen as you stare into the eyes of someone with a name, a family, a backstory as they take a spear to the core or melt or get attacked by a monkey. It's enough to make you wish for some gratuitous violence, actually.

The books don't make you feel like a horrible person for enjoying them, however, because they really do make you think. It made me think a great deal about what life under a totalitarian society would be like. As the trilogy wears on and the rebellion's spread, it becomes clear that no one's safe. Members of the victor's prep teams (Capitol citizens all, at the top of society) are murdered. When the rebellion reaches the Capitol, their society disintegrates. The poor citizens of Katniss' home District 12 don't escape notice either.

Being a victor won't even guarantee anything: win in the wrong way, like Katniss' mentor Haymitch, and they kill your whole family. Have the misfortune to be attractive, like Finnick, and you become a sex slave, a reward for good behavior, and if you refuse, they kill your family. And there's the psychological fallout that leads many down a path of addiction and insanity.

I also thought it was clever how the characters keep shifting. When you first meet Haymitch, the only other victor in history from Katniss' district, he's sort of a pathetic and laughable character, showing up an hour late to dinner and puking all over their prim escort because he's drunk. Get to know him, though, and he's clever and tough. The aforementioned Finnick is a flirty, sexy career tribute at first. After a while, he's revealed for who he really is: a loyal guy, in love with a badly damaged girl from home, who screws everyone they tell him to in order to protect her. Beetee transforms from an older, burnt-out Victor to a wily hacker, indispensible to the revolution.

I'm not sure how much my sister liked Katniss at the end of the books. I still liked her a great deal. I still feel she's an excellent female role model with many, many fine qualities, even if she is guilty of selfishness. Her two love interests, I'm less sure of. Peeta is the only character who really doesn't change. He's still the boy next door, goodhearted and in love with Katniss, the same boy you meet on the train to the Capitol as a scared tribute. Gale hardens, although you know him less intimately at first. Once he hears of the rebellion, he's all about it. He has no problem sacrificing ohter people's lives for it, either. I thought the resolution of the 'love triangle' was a bit of a cop-out, although at least no one died.

If you made it this far, you've probably already read the books, so I'd like to know, what did you think of them?


kittens not kids said...

the undergrads also LOVED Hunger Games; many went out and read the rest of the trilogy. And these are kids who are in the middle of school semesters, when pleasure reading is a nonexistent thing.

I need to read the series over again, start to finish, to rethink how I feel about Katniss.

One of the things that Collins does, that I love, is to challenge the reader-as-spectator. One of the things about the Games is that they're a HUGE tv event. Everything is packaged and processed and recorded and broadcast (and re-run). And in a way, as readers, we become part of that "viewing audience." But because Katniss is our narrator and focalizer - in present tense - we get a little bit of relief, a little bit out of the media loop. But she also makes it clear that watching the Games is pretty much mandatory, however you might feel about them. And so, even as we cheer Katniss through as she hates & opposes the Games, we're also watching almost as eagerly as the Capitol people, to see what happens next. It's really interesting, the way the reader gets implicated in the reality show of the Games.

The only relief really is Katniss's first-person narration (another reason why I love teaching this book; it really forces you to think about how the story is told). If this was third-person, even omniscient, we'd be really no better than the Capitol people at all.

glad you liked the trilogy ;)

chris said...

I loved the trilogy. The third book wasn't my favorite, but I feel it was necessary. Personally, I loved the way that Collins dealt with the impact of war on people directly and indirectly involved. I love that Katniss is forever changed because of her experiences. There is hope, yes, but it is not that everyone returned to "the way things were." Instead, they attempt to build normalcy despite their experiences. Really amazing trilogy that I will definitely read again.