Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I try not to read other people's work when I'm invested in a manuscript. It throws off my concentration, sometimes makes me doubt the direction I'm going in my own work, and I constantly stress that an idea, a thought, a line from the piece I'm reading will inadvertently enter my subconscious and find it's way into my piece. As a result, I missed many great books written during the last eight years, so I'm probably one of the last people on earth to read "The Hunger Games."

Like most of the literate universe, I loved it, and hated it, at the same time. The concept and action riveted me and captured my attention during a five-hour flight. I didn't even hear the flight attendant come by for my beverage order or her snack offerings. At the same time, the concept and action disturbed me greatly. Perhaps it's the mother-thing. This book pushed every one of my maternal buttons with a sledgehammer.

I read through a host of reviews of the book on Goodreads, and I noticed that among the complaints listed was the simplistic writing style of the author. I beg to differ. Part of what made the topic and delivery so disturbing for me was Suzanne Collins's tepid matter-of-factness in regards to how life and death, want and plenty, civility and barbarism, were manipulated by the Capital.

I found that particularly chilling.

I've also heard several religious and philosophical arguments ensue over this book as commentators throw out broad questions regarding the its underlying message. Does it have a political agenda, illustrating the dangers of a too-large and too-powerful national government? Is it a commentary on the numbing effect violent media can have on ostensibly civilized people? Is it a warning about about what can happen when faith and religiosity are removed from a society? I'd love to ask Suzanne Collins to spill the beans on her own message.

The creepiness of this book breaks down to two major issues: the idea of a government that oppresses and then brutalizes its people to remind them of its unbridled power; and the idea that a citizenry could not only accept this concept, but actually turn it into a sport where bets are made and warriors are sponsored. Rome was guilty of both atrocities. Could it happen again? Is something equally vile happening anywhere right now? Headlines tell us it is in some totalitarian nations. Could it happen here? Some fear any erosion of freedom and liberty as a step towards a darkness from which we fought wars to save other nations.

The issue of a people who descend into such practices is more worrisome, requiring us to evaluate some of the more disturbing societal changes in our own day and sphere. Lately, so many child-kidnappings and mother-abductions have occurred that they appear to be appearing on our TVs and computers almost daily. Do we even notice any more? Or do we offer a few tsk tsks and hurry on to check our email. Are we becoming numb?

One theme of "The Hunger Games" was the idea that when everyone was safe, when they weren't hacking someone or being hacked, the audience would grow bored and a new dangerous element would be introduced. Does emotional numbness cause people to seek extremes because anything less bores them? What of publicized cage-fighting where men are penned up together so they can beat one another to a pulp? What does that say about our sensibilities?

On a less physically dangerous level, I remember the first time I saw an ad for the show "Jackass." I was absolutely stunned that anyone would set themselves up to be injured for fun. And I'd love to know how many clips from "America's Funniest Home Videos" resulted in an injury before the victim decided to post their accident on TV for money and attention. And what of all the televised courtroom dramas like Judge Judy, or the medical shows like Dr. OZ where people flaunt their most personal matters publicly, or the shameless talk shows where people appear to share their sometimes disgustingly vile personal secrets? Don't we already debase ourselves and others for entertainment? It's a slippery slope.

So here's to "The Hunger Games" and all the other dystopian novels that scare the beejeebers out of us. As brilliant as I think the book was, I'll be interested to see the impact this dystopian craze will have on a generation gorging themselves on books that depict a dying world where a few ruthless leaders oppress the masses. There is a glut of them on the market now. Some say that craze has peaked. I guess only time will tell if "The Hunger Games" movie mania will make readers hungry for more.


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I haven't ventured into "Hunger Games" territory as yet. Now, I'm not so sure I want to.

    The older I get, the less I want to read about the ugly underbelly of society, however fictionalized. I accept the need to be warned about the potential for disaster. I prefer to find that warning in other sources.

    While I love the fantasy/science fiction genre, I increasingly tend to compare current books to the classics (Tolkien and CS Lewis) and, at least for me, they come up wanting.

    So often now, the "dark" stays dark, never giving way to the "light". Lessons aren't learned, people fail to rise above their circumstances to the nobility of a Frodo or an Edmund. Heros are fatally flawed in the name of "realism."
    Boy, I am I sounding grim. Maybe this doesn't describe "The Hunger Games" in which case, ignore all of the above. :-)

  2. Thanks for posting, Chris. "The Hunger Games" is book one of a trilogy, and having not read the other two I can't say whether hope beams brightly at the end, but I'm glad to know that many of these dystopian novels are being written by laudable LDS authors who mirror Gospel themes, pitting good against evil where goodness and hope do triumph. I can't speak to the rest of the genre. Like you, I perfer stories to end with hope.

    I volunteered at the Middle School library some years ago and the Librarian told me the most popular books amongst that age group were "the death books"--books where someone close to the main character, or the main characters themselves, were dying. At that age, youth were beginning to grapple with the realization that bad things happen to good people, and these books were somehow cathartic. Perhaps that's the appeal of these dystopian novels. Perhaps a completely broken, corrupt society makes ours appear more bright and redeemable in the end, giving relief to the readers. Who knows?

    Thanks again for the comment. I'm going to pull the covers up closer to my chin now.

  3. I loved reading your perspective, Laurie. Thank you for sharing. I, too, was both mesmerized and horrified by the books. I've finished the entire series, so don't read my review http://www.allarminda.com/the-hunger-games-trilogy-a-review/ until then (spoilers), but you may enjoy my review of the movie http://www.allarminda.com/the-hunger-games-movie-review/, which really impressed me with its adaptation.

  4. Just wait until you read the rest of the trilogy...

    You have alot of excellent comments in here. I only want to remark on one of them. You wondered if Ms.Collins had a hidden agenda. I hope we never know. Sometimes a writer has an idea and runs with it without an agenda. I hope that's where this one came from. It would sort of ruin it for me if she wrote it as a 'message' book, even though there are several messages within.

  5. Just wait until you read the rest of the trilogy. Although you can expect to have all your maternal buttons ruthlessly pushed to the bitter end.

    One comment, I hope Ms. Collins never tells us if this was an intended 'message' book. It would sort of ruin it for me. Sometimes a writer has an idea and just runs with it. There are messages in this book, but I like to think they were an unintentional byproduct.

  6. Thanks so much for your comment, Lisa. The release of the movie has triggered what I suppose is a second wave of questions about the book's underlying themes, and I supposed only the author could speak to those. I appreciate your position. Sometimes we just need to let a book be a book. Thanks for weighing in.