The fight for your life

Carol Wright

By A Contributor

“THE HUNGER GAMES” by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press, publisher. 2008, first edition. 384 pp. $17.99, in hardcover.

A fire has been spreading throughout the land. The flames have many trapped in a most peculiar and pleasurable hypnotic state…so much so that it is almost impossible for them to divert their attention elsewhere.

What is this fire that causes the young and older generations to ‘burn’ deliriously? Who set the fire and who is responsible for the possibility of allowing it to get out of control?

All of the frenzy is a result of a bestselling novel, the first in a series of three, by Suzanne Collins, titled “The Hunger Games.”

Lots of fans have read book two, “Catching Fire,” and the third, “Mockingjay.” They are thrilled with the trilogy, and more people are discovering the influence Collins can have on getting everyone together again in the reading circle.

Fans have been raving about “The Hunger Games” for several years now. The first hardcover edition was published in 2008. It was a huge hit. The novel has been translated into 26 languages and has been lingering on various bestseller lists for nearly three years.

Currently, it assumes a variety of format—paperback, Ebook and CD audiobook—all with different price ranges in stores and online.

And the frenzy extends to jewelry (the “Mockingjay pin,” for one gem), velvet pouches, out-of-this-world costumes, outdoor gear, frills, high-heels and boots (picture some of the elegantly-bizarre fashions worn by Lady Gaga, and there you have it) that can be purchased online for a hefty price, or just ripe for bidding on eBay.

Indeed the soundtrack to “The Hunger Games” features a number of artists.

There’s so much interest in “The Hunger Games” that a teacher of secondary education (somewhere in the United States) developed or adopted a lesson plan unit for other teachers to follow should they decide to incorporate “The Hunger Games” and the sequels for classroom discussion and creative activities. In addition, some college professors have included “The Hunger Games” on students’ reading lists in English courses, as well as other courses in government/politics, history, mythology, philosophy and ethnology.

Low and behold! Is it any wonder then why a movie based on Collins’ novel is sending folks in a whirlwind? Yes, “The Hunger Games,” directed by Gary Ross, which opened in theaters March 23, continues to draw hundreds of movie-goers and lovers of Collins’ books. (“Catching Fire” is tentatively scheduled for movie release in Nov. 2013.)

People just can’t seem to get enough of ‘the fire’ and Katniss Everdeen (played by Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence.)

Katniss, who lives with her mother and sister, Prim, in the desolate, despairing District 12 of a country called Panem The country has risen from the ashes of North America after natural disasters and warfare took their toll. It is the only surviving country, no longer what most people would recognize Prim is the 16-year-old heroine, often mentioned in Collins’ book as “the girl who was on fire.”

To save her younger sister, Katniss bravely volunteers to take her place to fight in “The Hunger Games.”

Katniss acquired excellent hunting skills early in life from her father who later died in a coal mining accident. She thinks of her father often and reflects on the occasions when they hunted game with bows and arrows. Katniss is an expert with the bow and arrow and seldomly misses her target. She is almost likened to the Roman goddess of the woodlands, animals, the hunt and the moon.

Life in the Totalitarian state is one of misery, starvation and misfortune for the young and old, particularly stressful and agonizing for those in poorest District 12. Years ago there was an uprising and the district rebels had the courage to stand up to The Capitol, thus obliterating its once wealthy and stern-dictating District 13.

Since the uprising—and as a punishment for the rebels’ actions and the 12 districts—The Capitol forces everyone at age 12 to register for the “reaping.”

Every year in this bleak, Dystopian society, the name of a boy and a girl ages 12-18 from each district is drawn from lottery-like bowls during a big shindig known as the “reaping.”

Groups of fearful and nervous, yet brave, young people gather at the reapings each year waiting to hear (or hopefully to not hear) their names called.

Parents, friends, shopkeepers—every member of each district-pray that their child-teen will not be chosen to participate in these bloody, inhumane deadly ritual battles that take place in a type of arena (miles and miles of forestland) comparable to the Roman arena where slaves, gladiators and starving wild beasts served as entertainment for the masses that heckled and cheered at the contestants, who often never had a chance to make it out of the arena alive.

The Games are a perfect population control method, according to the rulers of The Capitol.

And also to the people and leaders living in the glittering city of The Capitol, the reaping and what follows is like a tremendous ceremony or celebration in which the chosen teens will be forced to fight to the death in barbaric-fashioned scenarios, called Hunger Games, devised by Gamekeepers who seem more intent on telling jokes among themselves and boozing it up rather than observing the skills and strengths of each “tribute” or teen contestant as they demonstrate their abilities, be they skilled at knife-throwing, wrestling, hiding in trees, swiftness, cunning intelligence, striking their opponent forcefully to perfection with a mace or demonstrating other remarkable/useful feats.

Ironically, the teens that are “chosen” to fight these battles are whisked off in a speeding, 250-mile-per-hour former coal train to an elegant facility in The Capitol where they are wined and dined to the max.

Cookies are a luxury, as is coffee, hot chocolate and wine. The teens drool over meals they had never had the opportunity to savor beforehand.

Back at District 12, it was forbidden to hunt in the woods, but

Katniss and another young man, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth in the movie), paired as a hunting team and shared their skills to risk bringing food back to their families.

Katniss also recalls the time when Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker boy, took a gamble (and suffered a beating from his mother) when he tossed burnt bread (intended for the pigs) in Katniss’ direction while she hid close by in search of food. Peeta sadly turns up just another participating victim in the Games.

The Capitol has also enforced a law that informs District 12 how if caught stealing, this offense was punishable by death.

The teens can’t believe their eyes and taste buds as they gorge themselves on all kinds of foods during the feast at the facility in The Capitol.

Meats, greens, fruits and desserts are fed to them in a huge community dining hall, similar to the elaborate room known as “cena,” or the main meal of the day, that was in ancient times served to the wealthy Romans.

The teens are constantly “prepped” by their team coaches. Katniss is relieved to have Cinna, her stylist (fashion guru/hair expert) on her side, who, in the movie, is played by Lenny Kravitz.

The teens must shine—literally—and prove themselves more outstanding than anyone else involved in the Games. If they perform well during televised interviews (before a live audience gathered greedily at The Capitol’s ceremony), during whimsical and outlandish parades and proving masters at weaponry and survival, they are guaranteed “sponsors,” or wealthy fans, who will help them succeed with their trials along the way. In the end, only one teen is allowed to survive the Games.

Katniss and other young contestants must be on guard at all times because they are on camera all of the time…almost. When it is uncertain if one is on camera, it is better to act as if one is on camera. All of the Games are captured on camera for the crowd’s amusement, shock, displeasure—the oohs and ahhs, and AAHH-moments-just down right great entertainment.

But the Games are horrific to the family and friends who are left behind back home while they watch their loved one’s struggle to stay alive.

“The Hunger Games” is a very, very good book. Collins is a fabulous writer. It seems as if she not only enthralls a younger generation, but she has managed to grab the attention of adults and even senior citizens. (A side note: actor Donald Sutherland portrays the president of Panem, “Coriolanus Snow,” in the movie.)

Older people are showing more interest now in reading Young Adult literature. The story line, the plot, the characters in Collins’ novel truly get everyone right into the action from the very first sentence of the book right up to the end and into “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay.”

Of course, parents, teachers and kids might want to discuss “The Hunger Games” prior to reading the book and/or viewing the movie.

Several good websites encourage parents, teachers and students to form their own opinions regarding “The Hunger Games” without the websites being judgmental.

While Collins tends to remain rather elusive and, she has told few television and print journalists that she is pleased with the success of the series and the movie, and adds that she encourages frank discussion of her books among people of all ages.

Throughout “The Hunger Games” and the sequels, people will find all kinds of references to Roman/Greek mythology, political oppression, the courage to follow one’s beliefs, the courage to believe in oneself, trusting (and not trusting) and remembering the faith and the love a father or mother or sister places in a youth to help boost self-esteem and growth.

In “The Hunger Games,” readers might discover a similar plot in other books, such as George Orwell’s “1984,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” and possibly “Babbit,” by Sinclair Lewis and “The Jungle,” by Upton Sinclair.

It might be hard for some people to read this novel and/or finish the entire series. The idea of sending kids off to battle, though depressing, is a reality. Children taking care of children, parents and grandparents has been a theme in literature as well as something very real in certain societies. Today, much fiction is fast-paced, and “The Hunger Games” is no exception.

Collins is such a good writer, and I, for one, am intrigued by her writing style.

Never at any point in her novel did I find myself drifting.

There are episodes that broke my heart, but there are also dozens of moving and beautiful passages.

Just to hold on to her words is both a sad, yet joyful emotion for me. I hope that I will never forget the power of her words.

Carol Wright is a freelance writer and resides in Winfield.









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