After I read the popular series The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, I told my parents they needed to go see the movie. Immediately. My dad, being the jokester he is, said, “Well, we might go see it – although it will be funny to go see it among a whole lot of pre-teens.”
But Dad (and all hesitant enthusiasts), this isn’t a pre-teen phenomenon. It’s a dark series – one that is set in a post-apocalyptic world and rooted in themes that run deeper than good vs. evil (Sorry Harry P. and friends! But you know what I mean). It’s like 1984 meets Lord of the Flies, with a Twilight-esque romance thrown in.
Collins, like some of her literary counterparts, follows what I call the pillars of a successful series.
#1: A kick-ass heroine. In this case, it’s Katniss Everdeen. While Hermione is the brains behind every operation in Harry Potter, the series is still based around the BOY who lived. And while Twilight protagonist is a female, Bella clings to Edward as if he were life itself (you know, since he’s a vampire and all and their love can be eternal). But Katniss is not boy crazy. She’s not behind the scenes. She’s front and center, like a powerful female lead should be. For once, a kick-ass female lead does not need to bear her cleavage to the audience for the film to be well received. And for once, a female does not have to be vulnerable to be loved. No – she just has to have guts. And a lot of ‘em.
#2: Males who dig independent females. Before you scream “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale” while flailing your arms around like a fan girl, remember that the point of these books is not Katniss’ love triangle with these (beautiful) men, but rather her survival. But because everyone knows an audience loves to fall in love with a love story, Collins carefully made Peeta and Gale part of the plot while maintaining Katniss’ dominant role. Rather than make Katniss long for these males, she makes them pine for her. Peeta follows Katniss’ lead. Likewise, while Gale is the one who taught Katniss how to hunt, she is ultimately strong enough to face the Hunger Games without him by her side. And oh how they (and we) love her for it.
#3: Comedic relief. It’s hard to make jokes while you read about (and now watch) kids fight to the death – but thankfully characters like former District 12 Hunger Games champ / current mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), eccentric District 12 escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and journalist/announcer Caesar (Stanley Tucci) add one-liners that make a dark scenario slightly humorous.
#4: Real people in fantasy world scenarios. Whether it be presented to us on the big screen or in long-winded conspiracy theories (isn’t 2012 the end of the world or something?), we’ve all thought about what would happen if the world fell apart. The combination of relatable characters and fantasy worlds that we may or may not want to escape the Hunger Games helps to creates a deep connection between the viewer/reader and plot.
#5: A wise mentor. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) is the stylist who makes Katniss both look and feel like the “girl on fire.” He has faith in her that many lack. He styles her to stand out. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Cinna turns an end-of-the-world scenario into something that seems conquerable (by the hero or heroine, of course).
#6: The Underdog. We bite our nails and clench our friends’ sweaty palms as we watch or read the underdog’s struggle to survive. We look to them for inspiration. We look to them for strength. We look to them because we want them to prevail. In Katniss we trust.
But pillars aside, I urge you to jump on the bandwagon and get your filling of The Hunger Games, which hits theaters in the U.S. today (March 23). And remember: “Happy Hunger Games. . . .May the odds be ever in your favor.”