Did I mention that I finished The Hunger Games trilogy recently? I finished The Hunger Games trilogy recently. And as you may infer from the title of this post, I did not enjoy the second and third installments, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, quite as much as I did the first. I might mention some plot details as I go on, so consider that a spoiler warning if you care about that kind of thing.
Generally, I did enjoy reading the series and it was always compelling enough for me to push through the bits that felt repetitive or less interesting. Suzanne Collins is very good at constructing a heartbreaking ethical situation and then setting things in motion while leaving room for surprises. After the tension of the first book, it was a bit of a bore to read about the “victory tour” in Catching Fire, but the concepts of the Quarter Quell and of putting two dozen survivors back into the games was brilliant. Collins found a way to structure her trilogy so that the plot is essentially repeated three times, with the stakes higher for each iteration; unfortunately, despite this, I felt that the tension generated in the execution was lower. Indeed, I don’t think it would work at all were it not for the magnetism of the narrator, Katniss, and the wise decision to limit Katniss’ awareness of what is happening outside of herself, forcing her to constantly turn her attention inward. Due to the trauma of the games, she becomes an increasingly unreliable and correspondingly fascinating narrator.
It is disappointing to me that ultimately The Hunger Games is another young adult fantasy story that could not be left alone with a single outstanding volume: the standard in fantasy writing for some time has been the trilogy, breaking up and awkwardly repeating the heroic journey structure for commercial reasons and in some kind of misguided tribute to Tolkien; ironic, given that The Lord of the Rings was originally split into three volumes due to postwar paper shortages. This combination of reader habit and editorial pressure often leads to lackluster outcomes, such as in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials or Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn. In the case of The Hunger Games, if it was indeed necessary to tell us about what happened to Katniss after the end of the first novel (and I am not convinced it was), I think the series would have been better served by combining the latter two books and cutting out the repetitive material, and especially cutting out or at least reducing the discussion of who Katniss should choose as a romantic partner. A better option might have been to have shorter one-off sequels set in the aftermath of the original story, as Pullman did with “Lyra’s Oxford.”
Attention has turned now to the films, of course, since the first (presumably of 3) comes out next week. Perhaps some of the concerns I have will be addressed in the screenplays, the way that they were with the Lord of the Rings films.