I read the first book of the trilogy back in 2010, mostly as an exercise to find out what the hype was all about, but also to prepare myself for writing my dissertation. Sometimes some good fiction is a nice mental cleanse. I thoroughly loved the first book: the dystopia of Panem mirroring the dystopia of America, a nod to Theseus and his own Hunger Games as he took down the Minotaur (Peeta even played the Ariadne role), and a level of writing that was neither too young adult nor too adult that kept the book flowing with some openings for the imagination. Here’s the catch: the book felt so complete, as though Collins hadn’t yet secured the contract for the entire trilogy, that I didn’t feel compelled to hurry up and finish it.
So then I got a Kindle as a self-graduation present after defending my dissertation. This itself is insignificant, hut I was motivated by the Prime users lending library to read the remaining two books. Catching Fire was hands-down brilliant.
**Begin Spoiler-ish. Skip ahead if you don’t want to be spoiled-ish.**
The idea of a second Hunger Games, the growing discontent in the districts, Katniss’ own teenage rebellion all helped make this an engaging read. This book helps take the plot away from Katniss’ own struggles with taking care of her family in a poor district and puts the struggle into all of Panem, which is the foundation for Mockingjay. This last book is heavy and written with the tone of “let the adults handle the politics. You just do what you’re told.” It does get whiny, because Katniss gets whiny about having to be someone’s pawn (she had enough of that in the Games, thank you very much). She also gets progressively more injured, mentally and physically, which takes her further and further away from the frontlines. In the end, she rebels and almost all of those closest to her dies. Then she chooses her lover and lives happily ever after. Yep, just like that.
I was okay, tolerant, of Mockingjay right up until the epilogue. I admit, it’s nice having the happy ending secured for Katniss, but honestly it felt a little forced, the way the Harry Potter epilogue felt forced. I feel that epilogues of this sort take the duty of explaining too much to the reader, as though we’re not smart enough to imagine a happy ending for a character we’ve come to know intimately over the course of this epic adventure. A friend wrote about this phenomenon of Authorial Intrusion. Rather than include this epilogue, why not just leave that story for fan fiction or the author’s blog or tour? As we know from Rowling and the Potter fandom, anything the author says in passing becomes canon. Why not leave it there?
Epilogue aside, the trilogy follows what I call–for a lack of better terminology–the Star Wars structure: the first is complete and can stand on its own while simultaneously setting up the rest of the trilogy, the second is dark and perfect, and the third brings the trilogy to an end perhaps a little too anticlimatically.
Young adult fiction has taken a very dystopian tone as of late, but what makes The Hunger Games stand apart is that it’s really not a savior hero story. Katniss only thinks she’s the hero–it’s her story after all–especially after she consciously agrees to that roll. But she’s not Harry Potter. She’s not a Chosen One. Compared to other YA heroes, there’s not much that’s special about Katniss Everdeen. She is an accidental celebrity. No magic powers are bestowed on her. She’s not a Campbellian hero either. She does come back from the underworld with her boon, but never does anything with it. Not even breathing an air of freedom. She just does what she always does: survive.