THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY
SURVIVING THE END OF THE WORLD
In dystopian post-apocalyptic novels, a remnant of humanity survives against the odds in situations ranging from nuclear wars to environmental meltdowns; invasions by aliens, zombies, and other monsters; plagues; chemicals; genetics gone wild; supermassive black holes that devour us; earthquakes; volcanoes; and even human-eating plants. Many of these scenarios are man-induced horrors: the nukes, biological and chemical wars, genetic engineering, global warming, pollution, corporate and government greed. In the real world, if a few people survive such an apocalypse, then there’s only one way to completely obliterate the human race: The survivors must kill each other off.
Enter author Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and its two sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. While the first two books in the series focus on annual gladiatorial Hunger Games and then the Quarter Quell, the third book is essentially about war. Originally aimed at teens aged twelve and up, the series quickly grabbed hold of everyone: twelve, thirteen, fourteen, twenty-five, thirty-five, fifty. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, the messages are the same. If humans aren’t careful, we may blow ourselves into oblivion by wars, cruelty, the lust for power, and greed. Children are the future of the human race. If we kill our children, who will be left?
What better way to make these points than to postulate an apocalypse followed by war and rebellion, and then to pit the losers’ children against each other in the Hunger Games—annual battles to the death? As if the Hunger Games don’t kill enough children, the Capitol then pits the survivors against each other in the Quarter Quells.
In general, dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction is wildly popular these days. The novels are bleak, dismal, poignant, sad. These aren’t comedies. The genre tends to send the warning that, if we don’t wake up and stop killing each other, if things don’t change—and soon—we might face the nightmares of the characters in the books.
Suzanne Collins’s warnings are dished out to us up front and close as if through a magnifying lens. She gives us a heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who is remarkably like many young girls hope to be: She’s brave, considerate, kind, intelligent, quick-witted, courageous, and very resourceful. Yet she lives in a world where all hope has been lost, where people eat pine-needle soup and entrail stew just to survive; where Peacekeepers beat and whip her neighbors and friends for nothing more than hunting and sharing much-needed food; where children are selected each year by lottery to slaughter each other in the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial arena that merges the ancient Roman games with reality television. Truly, this is a world in which the term, “survival of the fittest,” has immediate and lethal meaning.
The books are international bestsellers, and Suzanne Collins has been applauded by everyone from Stephen King to The New York Times Book Review to Time magazine. As of this writing, more than 8 million copies of all three books in the trilogy are in print. The first novel, The Hunger Games, has been on The New York Times Bestseller List for 130 weeks. Suzanne Collins is one of Entertainment Weekly’s 2010 Entertainers of the Year. The books are #1 USA Today bestsellers, #1 Publishers Weekly bestsellers, and top many other prestigious literary award lists, as well.
By the time you start reading this book (the one in your hands now), you’ll be anxiously anticipating the first Hunger Games movie. You may read The Hunger Games Companion multiple times, especially after March 2012 when The Hunger Games film is in theaters, with Lionsgate at the helm, Jennifer Lawrence starring as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne.
This book, The Hunger Games Companion, is an unauthorized guide to Suzanne Collins’s excellent trilogy. It examines all the subjects that I find fascinating about the books, topics not covered anywhere to date on the Internet or in any other book.
I assume that readers of this book have already devoured The Hunger Games series—many of you multiple times. I assume you know the plots, you know about Katniss and Peeta and Gale, about Buttercup and Prim and Rue, and so forth.
My goal is to generate discussion about The Hunger Games trilogy: the characters, the settings, the storylines, and also about subjects ranging from war to repressive regimes to hunger to the nature of evil itself. Every topic is set against the backdrop of and intertwined with The Hunger Games books and characters.
For example, chapter 2 parallels the Capitol of Panem with repressive regimes in our real world. Along with detailed examples, I pose the question: Could the world depicted in The Hunger Games really happen? Are we facing Big Brother, the end of privacy, dehumanization, and too much government control over our lives? Have the rich become too rich, and are most of us much too poor? You’ll be surprised at the answers.
Another example: Chapter 4 draws direct and in-depth parallels between the real gladiators in ancient Rome and the tributes of Panem. While the Capitol is indeed evil to send twenty-four children into the arena every year, the ancient Romans were much worse: They killed many thousands of men, women, children, and animals at a time using torture techniques that go well beyond the horrors of The Hunger Games trilogy. Their orgies and banquets were on par with the Capitol’s: They feasted and laughed, drank wine and fussed with their clothing and hair while watching wild beasts rip the genitals from naked men and women. And they had their own Finnicks as throwaway sexual playthings.
And how about hunger? Is the starvation in all the districts of Panem any different from starvation in our own, all-too-real world? Is it possible to live on meager amounts of grain and oil? In chapter 3, you’ll learn how long a typical person can exist on such small allotments of food and the effects on children of this level of malnutrition and starvation. If the Capitol needs the districts to provide it with textiles, food, coal, and other goods, shouldn’t it feed its slave workers sufficiently to enable them to work?
As for reality television, public relations experts, paparazzi, fashionistas and stylists, and obfuscation of the truth, chapter 9, “Hype Over Substance,” shows you how The Hunger Games is a mirror of modern times.
In this book, you’ll learn about the muttations and how they might be engineered, the mockingjays and how they might mimic elaborate melodies and sounds, the trackerjacker poison and how it might work, and many other topics.
To open discussion among fans of The Hunger Games, this companion guide offers opinions about matters relating to the characters, their relationships, the storylines. For example, I thought long and hard about Katniss’s vote of “yes” for a Capitol children’s Hunger Games at the end of Mockingjay. Later in this book, I’ll provide my conclusions and the reasons for them.
As another example, we’ll discuss why Katniss becomes suicidal and hooked on morphling in Mockingjay: Does it make sense in the context of her personality in both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and if so, why?
Before you dive into the rest of this book, pause and indulge me for a moment or two. Let’s start our entire Hunger Games discussion with a look at the apocalypse that presumably occurs before the opening chapter. How could The Hunger Games apocalypse have happened? Where are the people from all the other countries? Also, how far into the future might The Hunger Games be?
These are the clues from Suzanne Collins: The seas rose dramatically and “swallowed up so much of the land” that people went to war over “what little sustenance remained” (The Hunger Games, 18). District 13 was leveled by “toxic bombs” (The Hunger Games, 83). Fearing war or complete destruction of the Earth’s atmosphere, the government leaders planned to race to their underground city (now District 13) (Mockingjay, 17).
My guess is that the author might be suggesting that an environmental disaster caused the apocalypse. One possibility is the melting of the ice caps. Various scientists believe that the destruction of Earth’s atmosphere and the rise in carbon dioxide and other pollutants may very well cause the ice caps to melt and the world to flood.
If the world floods to this extent, then people in high areas such as mountains might survive. Pockets of survivors may be in the Himalayas, the Alps, the Andes, and elsewhere. They may be in lower-lying areas such as the portions of North America that survived the floods.
The Hunger Games shows us no Internet capability, no satellites circling the globe. Due to the global war, I assume that the satellites cannot be maintained. I assume that survivors in other countries cannot communicate with Panem, that the floods have destroyed the required infrastructures, that shortwave radios possibly exist but little else. If we remember that the Soviets jammed shortwave radio transmissions from the United States during the Cold War (so its citizens couldn’t communicate with the outside world), then it’s an easy jump to think that Panem has done the same thing. It’s possible that the survivors in other countries don’t step in and help the citizens of Panem because they have their own problems due to the environmental apocalypse.
How long might it take for the ice caps to melt and flood the Earth sufficiently to cause an apocalypse of this magnitude? Maybe five hundred years from now? One hundred years from now?
Scientists don’t really have a definitive answer about global warming and the melting of the ice caps. According to Time/CNN, “By some estimates, the entire Greenland ice sheet would be enough to raise global sea levels 23 ft., swallowing up large parts of coastal Florida and most of Bangladesh. The Antarctic holds enough ice to raise sea levels more than 215 ft.”1 Explains Spencer Weart, former director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics:
Specialists in glacier flow worked up increasingly elaborate ice-sheet models.… The models failed to answer the question of how fast a major ice sheet could surge into the ocean. The improved models did show, reassuringly, that there was no plausible way for a large mass of Antarctic ice to collapse altogether during the 21st century. According to these models, if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet diminished at all, it would discharge its burden only slowly over several centuries, not placing too heavy a burden on human society.2
So let’s suppose it takes a few hundred years for the seas to rise 238 feet (23 feet from Greenland plus 215 feet from Antarctica). If these speculations are accurate, the world of The Hunger Games might take place several hundred years from now.
Keep in mind, of course, that other scientists provide varying speculations about whether global warming will cause this catastrophe at all, how high the seas might rise, how long this could take, and what the consequences could be. Debates rage all over the world about these subjects.
So hypothetically, in a few hundred years, we could have a society with advanced technologies such as muttations, force fields, and high-speed trains; but with the world basically flooded.
The war after the apocalypse may have decimated the cities and suburbs, as we see no evidence in The Hunger Games books of skyscrapers, mall strips, gas stations, and other buildings beyond the village square, the mayor’s house, and the Victor’s Village. We also see no rubble from crushed buildings. It’s possible that the trains have been routed around the rubble, so tributes don’t see cities where people back home could possibly hide and later rebel. This, again, is all speculation on my part.
Having addressed the question of what might have caused the apocalypse preceding The Hunger Games (and only Suzanne Collins, her agent, and her editors know for sure what she had in mind), I’d like to close this introductory chapter with a few speculations about the end of the entire series: What happens long after the Mockingjay war? Specifically, why does Katniss marry Peeta and have children? This ending surprised a lot of readers, myself included, and so I’ve given it a lot of thought.
We first meet Katniss as a kindhearted and strong-willed girl who must provide for her family: her mother, little sister, Prim, and even (after an initial near-demise of the cat) Buttercup. I like Katniss from the first page, and when her best friend Gale is introduced, I also like him. Similar to Katniss, Gale provides for his family, and the two of them join forces to bring food home.
After being thrust into her first Hunger Games, Katniss must pretend to share a romance with another boy, Peeta, and this charade continues throughout Catching Fire. Peeta is basically a selfless romantic saint with a backbone. Other than when his brain is hijacked, he’s completely devoted to Katniss and her well-being.
Katniss and Gale remain good friends, but everything changes after Katniss experiences the gruesome reality of the Games. She’s caught between the two boys—Peeta the super-sweet, uber-devotional baker and Gale the super-macho, childhood friend.
But in Mockingjay, Prim is killed by bombs, and we also learn that Gale has become a bomb maker. Hence, it seems that the author has set up a scenario in which Katniss can never choose Gale as her lover-husband. The choice is made for her: Peeta, or nobody.
I believed in Katniss as a three-dimensional (i.e., real) character throughout the trilogy. She develops over time from a fairly innocent and sweet young girl into a warrior who tries to save herself and Peeta, to one who tries to save everyone in all the districts. She is forced to become a killer of other children, which permanently alters her personality, as it would anyone in the real world subjected to the Games. She hardens herself sufficiently to take on the role of the Mockingjay to save the people of Panem. She does what she has to do. But it all takes a serious toll on her, just as war takes its toll on many soldiers. A teenager enduring what Katniss endures might very well suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, and drug addictions. In the end, when Katniss realizes that President Coin is no better than President Snow, there’s no way she can do anything other than kill Coin. Her life has not been pretty.
When Katniss marries Peeta and has children, the one thing she swore she’d never do, is this Suzanne Collins’s way of telling readers that there’s always hope at the end of even the darkest tunnel? This is possibly the one bright spot in an otherwise extremely bleak world the author paints for us.
The bottom line is that The Hunger Games series is powerful and brilliant. From the beginning, the prose is luscious: “Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named” (The Hunger Games, 3). The action is fast, the pace even swifter. Reading the first book is like catapulting down waterfalls at top speed. Katniss is drawn with precision clarity; possibly, more distant in Mockingjay than in the first two books, but ultimately, as mentioned above, very believable and intensely sympathetic. The zaniness of the stylists and fashionistas gives the reader a little relief from the horrors, but overall, the books maintain a grim look at the ugly face of humanity. There’s no way that sprays, spritzes, dyes, and plastic surgeries can erase that ugliness. The juxtaposition of Capitol excesses against the impoverished, starving masses is brilliantly drawn time and time again through Katniss’s eyes.
In short, these are some of the best books I’ve read in a long time. They make me think about the human condition, and that’s the mark of fine literature.
If you’re reading this book, The Hunger Games Companion, then I suspect you feel the same way.
2800 BC, Assyria
This may be one of the earliest examples of prophets foretelling the end of the world due to moral decay. An Assyrian clay tablet from approximately 2800 BC bore the doomsday prophecy that “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.”
Copyright © 2011 by Lois H. Gresh