I just recently finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I had to wait a few days before writing a review. It was that moving. The book was incredible and disturbing on so many levels. It is as much a damning statement of humanity's appetites as it is a stirring appeal for mankind to open its eyes to the manipulations of those in power. It is both an incredible work of art and a deep lesson of the inherent dangers of unchecked politics. It has been years since I have read a work that I would consider important. The series impacted me in a way that is hard to summarize, but i will try.
First, I would like to explore The Hunger Games as a work of art. It is written entirely in the first person perspective. As a writer, I can tell you that this is a hard thing to do well. Suzanne has succeeded here were few others have. It would be enough to say that Suzanne has made a truly great first person story. She has also, to my surprise, succeeded in putting the entire story in present tense. For a moment that felt awkward to me. Soon, however, I was drawn in in such a way as to experience the unfolding story as if i was there. A truly remarkable feet.
The story is compelling. Her main character, Katniss Everdeen, comes off as a normal girl trying to just get by in a world too hard to bear. It's not a "teen angst" story, as is so popular right now. It is a refreshingly realistic view of a life being lived where she has no control of the events or expectations forced upon her. The larger statements of conscience and morality are played out in the staccato thoughts of her jaded mind. I can't say that the story didn't end in an unexpected way. I can say, however, that the characters were compelling enough that I didn't care. I found that I wanted to experience Katniss' triumphs and heartaches as the character experienced them.
The tone of the story is very dark. The motives of the main character are only for survival and the protection of her family. There are no higher morals for her. Not at first, anyway. Even up to the end of the series, her main motivations are selfish. A fact that she must come to grips with herself. In the end, it is not her struggle to become a better person that prevails, just that she survives and her survival achieves what she could not by adopting said higher morals. The only sense of prevailing hope in the story is found in the epilogue of the last book in the series, Mockingjay. Again, this is more a result of surviving and coming to terms with the results of the tumultuous events of her life many years later.
Though the main character did not have a higher motive, the story did. It was an eloquent portrayal of the stupidity of the masses and their manipulation by those in power. It reminds us all of how fragile our free society really is. Looking back in history, from ancient Imperial Rome to Nazi Germany to the echoes slavery that still haunts our own South, It is a truly frightening thing to realize how easily we can be manipulated when moved in mass. "Panem et Circenses" (bread and circuses) is the basic theme of the story, as taken from Caesar's "circuses" of ancient Rome. "If we feed and entertain the masses, no matter how vicious the entertainment, we can control them." This worked for many generation in Rome. Without going into current politics, this is happening now.
This work is important if for no other reason than to open our eyes to the fact that we have been, are being, and will be manipulated by our leaders. It is only through vigilance that we will avoid the fate of Rome or the fictitious Panem of Suzanne's story. The artistry of the story argues for long copyright periods, to reward the author for her excellent work, but also argues for short copyright periods, as originally designed in the US, to make sure the masses have easy access to important works.
Though I have a hard time recommending this work for anyone under 16, if only due to the graphic scenes of senseless violence and the harshly depressing conditions encountered throughout the series, I must recommend it as a part of the required reading list, along with George Orwell's 1984 and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. In short, anyone reading this blog should read, enjoy, and then recover from this story. It will change your life.