Lessons learned – The Hunger Games 4: the road less travelled

Posted: May 15, 2013 in lessons learned
Tags: , ,

This is my last post on The Hunger Games, for now at least. It’s spoilerific again, so, you know, read the books first then come back and read this. They’re really worth it.

Despite its title, this post covers the most well-worn territory in terms of the lessons I’ve learned from these books. Because ‘don’t do the obvious thing’ is old advice for writers, but Collins does it particularly well.

It would be easy for this trilogy to become triumphalist. The main character is a skilled, wilful young woman, pressed into danger by dark forces and her own desire to do good. Over the course of the trilogy, it turns into a story of defiance and rebellion against an oppressive establishment. The temptation to turn it into a gung-ho action story of good against evil must have been huge.

But that isn’t where the story goes. Everybody in it has their flaws, and the people who stand out against the darkness aren’t always good themselves. Shallow, unpleasant institutions can be turned to good ends, and good intentions can lead to terrible consequences, as shown by the deaths that follow Peeta’s act of generosity in District 11.

The romantic arc doesn’t pan out in an obvious way either. The love triangle isn’t neatly tied off with one party nobly sacrificing himself or finding another love. Feelings are complicated and difficult, love can be a challenge, and in the end Katniss doesn’t fall into a burning well of passion, but into the hard work of building a life together. I was happy with who she finally chose, but couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t a healthy situation for him. The story didn’t show pure, romanticised Hollywood love. It showed a more complicated truth.

Collins’s choices about plot and character arcs often make for an uncomfortable read. But that makes the books all the more satisfying. They feel real. They feel raw. And if I can make such courageous choices, it’ll make my own writing a lot better.

  1. radhicka says:

    hey, nice review here. This is really a special book and people should grab it as soon as they get a chance. Love your take on the whole thing.

  2. […] off to see Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games film. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve written before about how powerful and skilfully written I think the books are, and I think that the first film did […]

  3. Jon Taylor says:

    I reached conclusion of the trilogy a few hours ago. I am still… What’s the right word for it?… Scorched, I think. Hence I am going to comment on most of your posts about it as a form of therapy. You can charge me for it if you like.

    I think you are absolutely on the money with this reflection. I can recall how conflicted I was as Mockingbird raced towards its conclusion. It seemed like that conclusion would be one thing, and part of me wanted it as much as Katniss did. Then there was the other part that knew that endingbwould feel cheap and hollow. Katniss throws the evil emperor into the reactor, the rebels dance with ewoks, force ghosts smile happily. Cut. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    The conclusion of the romantic story was also just right. I’m not even quite sure that I agree that it wasnt a healthy choice for Katniss’ love interest. Most of all it reminded me of one of the best descriptions of love I have heard, which too many hollywood endings are guilty of obscuring. Its all the more convincing when it comes out of John Hurt’s mouth… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifvQ2_bPIiY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Having read some the more negative reviews of the book, I do wonder if the producers of the Mockingbird movie(s?) will be tempted to hollywoodise it. I do hope not.

    • Jon Taylor says:

      Another thought occurs to me, even though it feels a little perverse. If some merchandising execubot hasn’t had the idea of making and publishing the book Katniss makes at the very end of Mockingbird, I will eat my hat.

  4. […] got through really quickly. Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, Gideon Defoe’s The Pirates In An Adventure With Communists (more on that later in the week). […]

  5. […] doesn’t mean that a YA book needs to be as emotionally draining as The Hunger Games. There’s also a place for a something jollier and more light-hearted, something that lures […]

  6. […] annoyed at trend-jumping television then you’ll spend the whole time screaming ‘I read The Hunger Games already!’ Honestly, I don’t even know whether I’m going to stick with this one. […]

  7. […] quite a lot of science fiction that has that darkness to  it. The harrowing dystopia of the The Hunger Games. The post-apocalyptic teen angst of The 100. Hell, I’m still a fan of Games Workshop’s […]

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