I had the chance to watch Catching Fire last night. Vladimir asked me if it was better than the movie version of Hunger Games. He didn’t actually like Hunger Games the movie (he didn’t read the book), and on some level I don’t blame him.
Hunger Games starts off dreary and ends with children killing children until only two have survived, against all the odds.
I wasn’t sure what to tell him last night. Is it better in what sense? Is it a better rendition of the book, or is the story itself better than the first installment of the trilogy?
It’s been a few years since I read the trilogy, so I’m not exactly sure if I can say it was a better rendition. My daughter said it left things out that she would have liked. It certainly is eye candy, it was well paced and acted and brought some of the important themes forward. Remember who the real enemy is (hint: probably not the ones you’re fighting right now). Hope can overcome fear and despair.
Catching Fire is my favorite of the book trilogy. This is unusual for a middle book, which usually suffers from being in the middle of a plot with no real resolution of its own. But Suzanne Collins was smart, perhaps too smart. It may be that she accidentally ended the story there, but for a couple of ending chapters that wrap up the revolution. She decided (and I’m pretty sure it’s purposeful) to focus on Katniss’s coming of age. Her origin story.
But wait! Wasn’t Katniss already an adult? She was taking care of her family, by herself at the beginning of the first book! She volunteered to take Prim’s place.
Going through the day to day tasks of what it takes to survive doesn’t necessarily make one an adult. Grown up maybe, but not selfless. Even doing it for those you love can be seen as a selfish act. When Katniss volunteered for Prim in the first book it was because she judged life to be worse without her sister than death would be. That makes it selfish.
She survived the first book, but she was still selfish. Concerned only for herself and those closest to her.
But in Catching Fire, she finally turns from the fear of losing her life or family to fighting for a higher cause.
I have to admit, in the middle of reading it, I rolled my eyes. She’s dragging out the games again? Can’t get an original idea? But this time it wasn’t children caught up in the lie. This time, most of the contestants were adults who had moved past the lie and found some way to cope, but now are faced with the horror again. This time, they know who the real enemy is and band together against it.
At the end of Catching Fire, everyone who is close to her is safe. It is her community that has been destroyed. Her district becomes the symbol of all Panam. The whole book is leading up to her realizing and then coming to own her role as a symbol of hope. At the end of the book, we know she will no longer run from what she fears, but will face it down. Her goal is no longer self-preservation, it is the cause of freedom.
The third book then, though striving to be “real”, falls into a mess of revenge and disillusionment. Collins seemed to be trying to give us the message of hope and acceptance of others through the first two books, but she ends with the message that it doesn’t really matter. Your friends will betray you (willingly or not) or get killed and there will always be a despot to take the place of the one you pull off the throne. All we can do is take comfort in the small things and hope that no one realizes what a monster we are.
The only real resolution of the series is the weakest and most selfish of the subplots, the romantic triangle. Don’t get me wrong, I like romance. Romances (the good ones) are the origin stories for families (and at least it got the family part right.) But this could have been much more than a dystopian science fictional romance. It could have been a call to hope and stand up for truth and freedom as well as the preservation of family. That the psyche of our soldiers are ruined for life is so often true should not have led the author away from achieving those ideals of civilization.
But maybe, in this day and age, it’s kind of hard to see the ideals of civilization through all the murkiness of post modernism and marketing and media.