It was several years ago that I read the first Hunger Games book. It was such a quick, electrifying read, that I didn’t know if it was actually good, because I was certain that it was structured incorrectly. I wrote a post similar to this a few years ago on my old blog, but one question has kept prodding me. I still don’t understand. Is it really vital to your everyday life? Probably not. Do other people tear apart their entertainment to shreds like I do, dissecting every meticulous detail? They’re rare, and obnoxious, kind of like Comic Book Guy, on The Simpsons. And this post has nothing to do with my budding dream to be an author and graphic novelist. But I demand to know, despite there not really being a consequential reason for my dissatisfaction: why didn’t Suzanne Collins kill Peeta at the end of the first book?
Is a truth, universally acknowledged and accepted, that the three best movies of all time are…
Mad Max: Fury Road
and obviously, Pride and Prejudice
Seeing as how The Hunger Games is a rebellion story, we could look at Braveheart as the ideal template. William Wallace is a protector, just like Katniss Everdean. In the beginning, they are both reluctant heroes. William wants to be a farmer, and Katniss just kinda doesn’t like how things are going, but she’s pretty good at hunting.
The Call to Action
Braveheart: There has been some squabbling between the Scottish and the English. The English are bullying his fellow countrymen, and some of them are pissed. You’d be pissed too, if some crumpet-sucker was telling you he was entitled to sexual rights with your women. They don’t want to be under some limey blokes’ thumbs anymore. And they’re like, “hey William, since you’re back home, do you want to kill these teabags with us?” And William’s like, “nah, I’m good,” since the only thing he’s ever desired is Maren.
The Hunger Games: I actually have no issues with the call to action in The Hunger Games. It’s compelling, and it backs our characters into a corner. Katniss explains how the drawing works. One girl, one boy, from each district is sent off to the Hunger Games, where they are pitted against each other, gladiator style. ONE SURVIVOR. (24 may enter..2 may leave, because Suzanne Collins relies on Deus Ex Machina instead of abiding by her own world construct.) Katniss’s sister’s name is drawn from the hat, and Katniss volunteers. It demonstrates that Katniss is a good person, that she is competent and compassionate.
Our Leading Ladies…
Both stories establish the protagonists’ connections with significant others early on, in less than ideal circumstances. William meets Maren at the least romantic place: his father’s funeral. She hands him a purple thistle, which is an invasive species. Anyway, if I had written Braveheart I would have picked a better flower, like a rose because they’re a plucky species, but there’s probably some sort of Scottish mythology about the purple thistle that makes it a symbolic gesture. In either case, the gift establishes Maren as this goddess archetype,, because she gives a gift-empathy, connection; it establishes a relationship between these two characters that transcends words.
Anyway, Peeta and Katniss meet in a similar situation. Katniss is all sad and starving in the rain due to the Capital’s reign of terror. She’s doing all she can. She’s got a piece of crap mom who can’t keep anything together since Katniss’s dad’s death in the coal mines. Peeta tosses her a piece of bread, because as the title of the book /movie insinuates, everyone’s hungry. So that’s thematic and pretty cool. I like it when things come full circle. It makes me feel smart when I recognize it.
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Speaking from experience, as a writer, it’s really not that hard to establish themes as long as you’ve got a good plot and structure. If a thematic element presents itself, it’s exactly that. For me, 95% of the time, it’s coincidental. Does that stop me from celebrating myself for coming up with it? No. Should it stop me from celebrating myself? …. I don’t really want to talk about it.
Now then, speaking of plot and structure. I think The Hunger Games has really great plot, and less than adequate structure. It’s just like The Walking Dead in that aspect, except not nearly as poorly written, and it actually has charismatic actors, like Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchinson and Liam Hemsworth, playing the leading roles, as opposed to the dude who plays Rick. Why would he be their leader?! Because he constantly chooses to do the wrong thing? Because one moment it isn’t a democracy and then the next, he’s asking for everyone’s input?
One thing The Hunger Games did right was establish archetypal characters, as opposed to The Walking Dead. What is Maggie’s personality again? Hot? No, wait.. that’s Rosita’s personality.
The fact that I called Peeta a leading lady might lead people to believe I’m sexist, that I only think men should be aggressive, pain issuing gladiators who are not emotionally available. However, I like Peeta’s personality. He is strong, both physically and spiritually. Maren is a strong character too. Peeta can lift heavy objects, and he wishes he could show the capital that they don’t own him. That should have been Katniss’s calling card. That should have been what stuck with her when Peeta was killed at the end of the first movie. But instead, we have to watch Katniss never experience a watershed moment, like William Wallace did when those English officers murdered his wife. We are still reduced to this garbage when the second and third movies come around…
“I’m not good at that.”
That’s all we ever hear Katniss say. That is a perfectly congruent piece of dialogue with her character. She’s not an extrovert. She’s not good in the spotlight, despite having a super talented makeup artist. Why did her makeup artist have such a big part to play? I’m not sure. Maybe because Lenny Kravitz is commerical.
Just so we’re clear what the mockingjay is, in the second and third books, a symbol of rebellion and hope for the people. Peeta should have been the mockingjay, the charismatic messiah savior, and Katniss should have been what her character was formulated to be. It’s true that we can have transformations. I wanted Katniss to have a change of heart from the reluctant hero into a fiery heroine that Suzanne Collins tricked us into believing she was. But in reality we can’t really change the core of who we are, just how we shine our light on the world. Instead, Katniss never changes, and she just has a really good team of media whores who make her look better than she is. She might not naturally be comfortable in the limelight, but she is strong. She is the protector. Instead of watching someone blossom, someone find the role that they were meant to play, she is reduced to a doll that can be played with. Instead of leading the action that makes The Hunger Games appealing to begin with, she is a symbol for it. And that makes for a boring rebellion story in the third book. And the Mockingjay movies are especially boring, because they stretched a 390 page book into three 2 hour movies. WTF?
GIVE ME THE ACTION!
William Wallace maced a Scottish lord in the face. And in Mockingjay, we had to watch Katniss struggle with her voice.
I might as well be watching the first 3 Star Wars episodes.
Instead of killing Peeta when she should have Suzanne Collins kept him alive so that the dramatic tension would arise elsewhere, as in a love triangle.
Also, I would like to mention how arbitrary Suzanne Collins rules are. The fact that they even have a hunger games where children die annually doesn’t incite a rebellion, but that both Peeta and Katniss choose to eat some poisonous berries does? Given that line of reasoning, it isn’t in the capital’s best interest to squash their hope, as the evil President Snow says, but to give them hope. That’s the point of capitalism.
“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” – Ronald Wright
Given these factors, it is my conclusion that The Hunger Games would be a lot better if it was a little more like Braveheart and a little less like The Hunger Games.