After lots of insistence from my daughters and friends, great readers all, I just finished Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and intended to leave the usual one or two paragraph Goodreads update, but it turned into this:
Wow. Conflicted on this one. Really gripping and enthralling read, but deeply disturbing. Maybe it’s more so for the parents than for the kids who read it; I know my mom has said she won’t read it no matter how many times it’s recommended to her – she just can’t stand the idea of violence done to children, even if it’s among themselves (a la Lord of the Flies, which though similar is a very different story with completely different motivations for the kids’ violence.) I’m of the same mind, but wanted to see what all the fuss is about.
I’ve read plenty of dystopian dramas, each of them disturbing in their own way because, for the most part, it wasn’t a great stretch to imagine such near-future worlds, worlds that we’d screwed up somehow. Usually it was the result of war, or pollution, but in some cases it was nature (like the comet that ended the world as we know it in Lucifer’s Hammer, one of my favorites of that genre) or even inexplicable circumstances like The Change in Stirling’s excellent series.
This one was much more uncomfortable, though, again probably because I have kids (both girls, no less!) and when I imagined them in that situation, in the actual Games, I got the same sort of sensation I get when I’m standing in a high place and my knees go weak. Gravity changed when I read those parts. I just couldn’t imagine what I’d do as a parent in that situation. Probably, like Katniss, if I lived in that world I would never have kids, for exactly the same reason. Which in itself would be another form of torture, and which makes the Capitol’s Malthusian solution so very insidious. Not only does everyone from every district have to watch their own lottery “winners” in the Games, the only way to not have a stake in them is to not reproduce, making the districts weaker and ever less populated as time and starvation and sickness and the Games themselves winnow them further and further down.
I can imagine lots of heady philosophical conversations around this one, especially among the kids who’ve read it and those who will think about it as they finish high school and go on to college. O, the papers to be written…
One of my worries is that, like so many of the BIG stories such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and their ilk, there are large parts of the readership that will always think the evil stuff is the coolest – the badder the better. I can cringingly picture a certain sector of them thinking to themselves, “Cool…” as some of those horrors are perpetrated, or talking to themselves or to each other and saying things like, “He was so stupid there – all he had to do was grab the X and kill the ones around him first. . .” like it was all a first person shooter on their game console and not a group of real, living kids, which – kudos to Collins – is how it felt to me when I was reading it. I felt every death, even those of the so-called bad guys.
I liked reading it- there’s no denying the edge-of-your-seat-ness and “what next?!” aspects of it, and it’s a tale well told, for sure, and I’m sure I’ll read the others, but when it comes down to it I kind of agree with my mom. It’s hard to read about and so vividly imagine such a world with our children in it.
Maybe that’s the best point we can take away from stories like this one, and all of the other great speculative dystopian fiction out there: we need to do everything we possibly can to make absolutely sure those worlds never, ever come into being. And if reading stories that make us uncomfortable help that process, bring ‘em on.