exsequar: (FF Tams blood is thicker)
posted by [personal profile] exsequar at 03:01am on 20/03/2012 under ,
I would like to talk about The Hunger Games.

It took me a week and a half to read the trilogy. It would have been a week, but my copy of Mockingjay (the third book) was stolen when I was a quarter of the way through it. Seriously! I got my friend's copy Saturday and finished a couple hours ago.

I expected to hate the ending, or at least feel dissatisfied. People spent all week making warning noises, cringing whenever the ending was mentioned, suggesting I have hard liquor at hand, looking at me almost pityingly. I assumed that it was done poorly, the ending botched and unsatisfying.

What I didn't expect was to love it.

I wasn't sure how to feel about the series until I finished it. I spent the whole thing waffling between the two parts of the story. On the one hand, it was an incredibly vivid portrait of oppression and rebellion and the innumerable consequences of war, both psychological and physical, cast through the lens of a nauseating manifestation of human-on-human cruelty: the Games. On the other hand, it was a slightly juvenile romantic triangle that at times felt clumsy and incomplete. I felt like the series couldn't quite decide what it wanted to be.

In the end, I knew. And the answer, unexpectedly, was what I didn't dare hope for. The ending was exactly as bleak and unforgiving as it needed to be to do any justice to the half of the book that sought to be a portrait of the very worst of humanity. There were no easy fixes. In the end, there was a peace of sorts, but Katniss and innumerable others had to give their everything to achieve it. In life, this is true - overcoming evil requires unimaginable sacrifice. It is only when the best of us stand up and take on that burden that anything good can survive to see the light of day.

I felt from early on, despite the teenie hysteria and "Team Peeta" and "Team Gale" nonsense flying about, that the question was never about them. It was always about Katniss and who she needed to be. It was about her coming to an understanding about herself and what was needed to complete her. I myself wavered back and forth with Katniss, at times craving Gale's strength and ferocity, at others Peeta's calming warmth, just as she did. She never intentionally "led them on" - and they both loved her truly and generously enough to see that. Gale's comment that "she'll pick who she needs to survive" was spot on, but not in the harsh way that Katniss interpreted it. It was said with love and a recognition that Katniss was deeply damaged, and it was not up to the men to decide what she needed - only she could choose the love that would keep her afloat after all she had been through. It's quite clear now that it was always Peeta, but I appreciate in retrospect how muddled and fumbling it all was, because Katniss's emotional journey was nothing but muddled, and needed to find its natural conclusion.

As for why I personally loved the ending, I have always favored the kind of storytelling that can rip out my insides and leave me gasping and bleeding and utterly raw. At the same time I need some kind of emotional closure or at least coherence to wrap my head around. I was terrified of several things: that either Peeta or Gale would sacrifice himself in a blaze of glory and Katniss would be left with the other, always wondering; that Katniss herself would die and the book would end abruptly with that; or that there would be some overly romantic resolution to the triangle that rose from the ashes of a successful rebellion. I thought it would be either ruthlessly, senselessly tragic or unbearably schmaltzy. Instead it walked the line gorgeously. It remained entirely about Katniss, her self-doubt and her fire. That sequence starting with Boggs getting blown up right through Prim's horrific death was an incredibly gripping, scathing climax. Sometimes final action sequences are too brief and unsatisfying; this one took an emotional and visceral rollercoaster that (intentionally) paralleled the drama of the arenas from the previous two books and left me breathless and STILL unsure where everything was going. The relentless march of death around Katniss, particularly Finnick's, kept the stakes exactly as high as they needed to be. The imaginative "pods" kept the horror at a shrill, appalling pitch. And Prim's death was exactly the numbing, unspeakable shock that needed to happen to lend everything the appropriate gravitas. Nothing, absolutely nothing was anything approaching easy. Katniss effectively lost her mother as well. Gale and Peeta survived, but somehow that only barely felt like a victory. In the end, the triangle resolved itself, settling into what Katniss needed, not taking center stage away from the true message of these books. And, for the most part, that is: people can and will inflict unspeakable evil on one another.

But the other message, the one that saves the story from crushing nihilism, is that from the darkness, a flower blooms. Peeta. The boy with the bread. Tortured, altered, suicidal. He finds his way back to the light. He is the flower in Katniss's darkness, as he was in the very beginning. Life - Katniss and Peeta's children, the grass in the Meadow - literally springs from the ashes. Katniss, who by all rights should be a mute shell, manages to find joy in holding her newborn children, in loving Peeta. And she is the one that gave the most, down to the deepest reaches of her soul. If there is hope for her, there is hope for all of us.

I thought the entire ending was genius. Katniss shooting Coin was a perfectly shocking yet logical ending. I personally didn't see it coming, but it also fell in perfectly with all that came before. And the death of Prim, while utterly brutal, was, as I said above, really the only way to hammer everything home. Prim was set up from page one as Katniss's compass, but she was also her blind spot. Her death (and, horribly and brilliantly, the revelations of Snow) cleared Katniss's eyes to finally see the whole truth and do what needed to be done.

There's no mistaking it. This is about as brutal of a series as I've ever read. It ranks right up there with A Song of Ice and Fire. The fact that this is a "young adult" series that has twelve year old girls screaming both boggles and irritates me to an extent, but if some of them absorb anything outside of the romance, then perhaps that is a good thing. It asks difficult questions and doesn't really pose any answers. It's violent, unrelenting, and told through the eyes of an extraordinary young woman who doesn't think of herself as anything special.

I'm really glad I jumped on this particular bandwagon. It wasn't anything like I expected, but what a hell of a ride. I'll be thinking about it for a long time to come.

I can't wait to see the movie. But every time I say that, and hear about the hysteria surrounding it, I get rather uncomfortable. It feels too much like the citizens of the Capitol getting all buzzed about their yearly Games. Of course we're not cheering real deaths, but this movie is going to be largely about a group of children killing each other. That is profoundly disturbing. My excitement is about meeting Katniss and all the rest, about seeing this terrifying dystopian future brought to life. I don't know how the last movie will remain PG-13/aimed at young adults, but I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish on the big screen with a story so huge, daunting, and important. And with such a kickass girl at the heart of it all.
Mood:: 'drained' drained


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