The Hunger Games

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.

**End Spoiler-ish**

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.


Epic Mickey: Disney’s Dystopia

I know I’m a little late on the bandwagon, but I finally started playing Epic Mickey last month. This is a Wii-console game (only) about a land constructed by Yin Sid for the forgotten Disney characters. Except that it’s called Epic Mickey and not Disney’s Forgotten Characters. So here’s the plot: Mickey Mouse is playing around in Yin Sid’s lab (an homage to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and spills a magic paint into the model land, causing the Blot or Thinner Disaster. Mickey is then pulled into this wasteland by the Mad Doctor (another tribute to an old Mickey cartoon), who almost cuts out Mickey’s heart, except that Mickey escapes. He picks up his magic paintbrush and is tasked with restoring the wasteland.

What follows is a tribute to Disney. Areas of the game occur in places inspired by Disneyland areas and attractions. Transitions between the game areas are inspired by old Mickey Mouse cartoons. Mickey becomes friends with Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, his predecessor, and is reunited with friends he hasn’t seen since the first Mickey cartoon days. All along the way, Mickey battles paint splatters and mechanical creatures, solves puzzles, and rescues the Gremlins that keep this wasteland running.

But what is interesting with the dystopian theme of the entire game. Real-life Disneylands and Magic Kingdoms project a utopian ideal. These are places where everything is clean, believed to be safe, and mechanics are running properly. Epic Mickey’s wasteland is full of deadly paint thinner, is dangerous, and nothing is running properly. One of the first areas you encounter outside Dark Beauty Castle (based on Sleeping Beauty Castle) is a sort of Fantasyland with the spinning tea cups, flying Dumbos and It’s a Small World—except the tea cups jerk around, the Dumbos don’t fly (and have a mad elephant look in their eyes), and the Small World dolls look like something from it and Small World attraction is likewise broken. The music is a slowed-down bummer remix. This wasteland is anything BUT the Disney ideal. Even for all of Mickey’s repairs, this land never gets up to the Disney-standard, which makes sense since it is the land of the Forgotten Characters (unless you’re a Disney-geek, like me, who has never forgotten).

But, in the vein of that show Life After People, I’ve often wondered just what a run-down Disneyland would look like. This game gives this imagery very nicely.

So now, what does it mean? Disney has been plussing the parks lately. Some notable new attractions or reduxes have happened within the last 10 years to the present, from adding Jack Sparrow to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction to the Star Tours redux or the Little Mermaid attraction. Disney parks rank among the best theme parks in the country (if not the world). But they do come under the criticism of being the happy side of a mythic spectrum, ignoring the shadow, or that counter element to any mytheme (Jung coined to term to describe unconscious elements that get filed away as we go through the course of identity formation). Everything in Disneyland is supposed to be perfect – this is a part of the utopian ideal. We enjoy going to Disneyland because we want to experience utopia. A key component of the American myth is the constant quest for a utopia. We need it, we hunger for it, we want it, but we can’t make it happen in our real lives, no matter how hard we try. The constitution and its constituent parts is utopian philosophy.

Not everyone wants the escapism of a utopia. It’s not realistic. The modernist and post-modernist world has filled us with dystopian imagery, so what better place to explore this dystopia than in the place of utopia?

But the whole point is that Mickey is cleaning it up. In the past, I’ve written about the idea of Mickey Mouse as Everyman. So it is in the hands of Everyman to clean up our present state of dystopia. But we can’t return it to the polished state of utopia. Once something has been damaged like that, it’s in the past. When we rebuild, we build something new. But if the goal is not rebuilding, as Mickey is just repainting, there will always be a dingy reminder of the dystopian past. This is a statement about the current state of America, and a reminder that we have to tend to the utopia ourselves rather than hope that someone will make it happen for us. There’s a lesson to be learned from this game, not just a really fun time to be had or Disney tribute to experience.