For a long time, I was resistant to reading the Hunger Games. By the time, I read the Hunger Games, most people had come to love the heroine of the stories, Katniss Everdeen, many years ago. Still, I resisted reading the books. I didn’t want to read another story about a dystopian future, particularly one that was full of violence against children. Yet, so many people told me how much they liked the writing in the books that I decided to begin reading the trilogy last December.
Like many other readers of the book, I found the Hunger Games story fascinating, and hard to put down. When I ordered the second book from my local library online, I noticed that there was a book about Suzanne Collins by Elizabeth Hoover, and so I read that book too. The biography seemed to be written for school kids, but I found out it a lot of fun to read because it talked about Collins’ approach to writing and pieces of her personal history that influenced the creation of the Hunger Games. Hoover writes about how Collins’ father, a veteran of the Vietnam war suffered from nightmares all his life, taught her how to survive in nature, and to take seriously the consequences of war.
Collins had been writing for quite a long time before the success of the Hunger Games. She has a degree from NYU in screenwriting, and worked for many years on writing for television shows. Before the Hunger Games, she had created the Underland Chronicles, which was also a critically acclaimed series for middle grade readers. She had her first novel published at the age of 41. I have not read those books yet, but intend to read them sometime later this year. According to Wikipedia, in the Underland Chronicles, Collins was praised for covering political themes, such as war, genocide, and chemical warfare, while still entertaining readers with an adventurous story.
In the Hunger Games, Collins once again deals with the atrocities of war, in addition to the ways societies control food supplies to control their people, and the frightening aspects of reality television. She uses all of her skills as a dramatic writer to organize a very well planned series of books. According to Hoover’s book. Collins used a three act structure in each of the Hunger Games novels. As you read the books, you can see how well she structured the stories to heighten the drama of her story.
I was also impressed at Collins’ skill in creating unconventional scenes. Here is an excerpt from book 2 of the Hunger Games trilogy – Catching Fire where Peeta is comforting a dying contestant (a morpling) of the Hunger Games:
Peeta crouches down on the other side of her. When he begins to speak in a soft voice, it seems almost nonsensical, but the words aren’t for me. “With my paint box at home, I can make every color imaginable Pink. As pale as a baby’s skin. Or as deep as a rhubarb. Green like spring grass. Blue that shimmers like ice on water.”
. . . The morphling stares into Peeta’s eyes, hanging on to his words.
“One time, I spent three days mixing paint until I found the right shade for sunlight on white fur. You see, I kept thinking it was yellow, but it was much more than that. Layers of all sorts of color. One by one, ” says Peeta.
The morphling’s breathing is slowing into shallow catch breaths. her free hand dabbles in the blood on her chest, making the tiny swirling motions she so loved to paint with.
There is a poignancy to the way that Collins develops the Peeta character throughout the series. He is the pacifist by nature, who loves Katniss and will do anything for her.
Throughout the three novels, Collins imagines a world that is unfortunately, not so unlike our own, and perhaps that is the function of dystopian novels, to help us see the horrors in our own lives that we don’t want to see.
In another scene, in the final book of the Hunger Games, Collins has Peeta and Katniss attend a party where they are encouraged to eat more than their body can handle, and take pills to make them vomit, so they can keep on gorging themselves. Reading this passage it’s easy to see our society reflected in that scene with all of the ways we numb and hurt ourselves through unhealthy eating.
While I still think our society has too many dystopian stories and a distrust of anything vaguely utopian, I have to admit there is a place for well-written dystopian stories that challenge us to look at our lives differently. After reading the Hunger Games, I felt so grateful for all the abundance in my life, and committed myself to at least donating some money to programs that work to end hunger.
Part of our shared enchanting adventure on earth has to include finding a way so that all people can eat well and sustainably. Next week, I’ll be writing about the topic of local food, and a new book by Vicki Robin, Blessing the Hands That Feed Us.
Have any of you read the Hunger Games or other books by Suzanne Collins? I’d love to hear your thoughts about her books or any other ideas this post might inspire in you.