I was not one of the first fans of the Harry Potter series. Actually, it wasn’t until I started to hear the hype surrounding the release of the first movie that I picked up Sorcerer’s Stone from my school’s library. I had read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series previously, so I was not unfamiliar with stories involving magic. However, I was skeptical when I opened the cover of this book with a boy on a broomstick.
I became hooked by the end of the first page.
Now that the book series has met its completion and there are no more movies to view, I must admit there has been somewhat of a void in my life. Harry Potter was such a huge part of me for such a long time that, while I could go back and reread them again and again, I have felt the need to fill the gaping hole with something else. But to fill it with The Hunger Games? I was even more skeptical than I was before.
The hype surrounding the release of this new Hunger Games movie yesterday has been even harder to ignore. I’ve read that the movie has achieved the 5th best opening-day box office total ever and far surpasses any non-sequel (all the other nine in the top ten are sequels or part of a series). So, why have I been reluctant even now, in the midst of all this hype, to give Hunger Games a chance? Let me count the ways.
1) The hype itself.
While Harry Potter did not disappoint, I am always wary that the hype will heighten my expectations, and that the hyped-about book or film will sadly disappoint me. Poor excuse, I know, but I do hate disappointment.
2) The non-British-ness of it.
My three favorite book series (not necessarily in this order) are: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Harry Potter series, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. All of which are written by incredible British authors: C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and J. R. R. Tolkien. All the film adaptations have had British actors in them: Narnia and Harry Potter almost exclusively, while Lord of the Rings has a few very prominent British actors such as Ian McKellen, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, and Orlando Bloom, among others. Several actors in Lord of the Rings who are not from Britain are from New Zealand or Australia. In fact, Peter Jackson, who is from New Zealand, was at the helm for The Lord of the Rings films, and will be as well for the upcoming two-part film The Hobbit, not to mention the director of the first two Narnia films, Andrew Adamson, is also from New Zealand.
Where am I going with all of this? Well, I have always been fascinated by and generally in love with British culture–and by extension of the Commonwealth and overall history I suppose, the respective cultures of New Zealand and Australia. I have a very close friend who is an expatriate formerly from Minnesota who is now married and lives in England. Had I more guts to leave home, I might have done the same. In digression, I merely have a much higher respect and liking for British culture, literature, and films.
The Hunger Games has none of these things. Suzanne Collins, the author, is American, Panem is set in a place that is formerly America, it stars American actors, and is helmed by an American director, Gary Ross. There’s nothing British about it. Therefore, I am reluctant to give it more than a passing thought.
3) The futuristic setting.
Even though Star Wars–one of my favorite film franchises (though I admittedly like the old trilogy better than the new trilogy)–feels very futuristic, it is actually set “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away”. This stands by the premise that this has happened a long time ago, rather than foreboding what may possibly happen in the future if we aren’t careful. I haven’t read a lot of novels or seen a lot of movies with a futuristic setting, and there’s a reason for that. I like the comfort of knowing that something has happened in the past and can’t possibly affect me, versus something that could happen in the future. It’s the fear of the unknown, if you will.
Granted, I know that these stories are fictitious and come from the imaginations of overly creative authors, but I have always become so emotionally invested with the stories that I read or watch that I sometimes can’t help it. As my mother would say during my Harry Potter days, especially after buying my first wand, “You know that’s not real, right?” Speaking of which, my big three favorites–Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings–are all set in the past, either recent or very distant past.
4) The dystopian setting.
While in college I read 1984 and later Animal Farm (both by George Orwell), though it was by choice and not for an assignment. I didn’t much care for Animal Farm but I particularly despised 1984. It took me several tries to finish it. I picked it up and set it down so many times that I would forget details and have to start over. I eventually did finish, though. While 1984 is almost 30 years past now, it was meant to be a glimpse into the possible future when it was written. That being said, it is very dystopic (the opposite of utopic), and there is absolutely no hope in their controlled, impoverished, miserable society. I had read enough about The Hunger Games to learn that it is also set in a dystopia, a notion that immediately turned me away.
Yes, Star Wars is also set in a very controlled galaxy, but at least a rebellion already exists as the first film opens. At least the story opens with hope. The name of the first Star Wars film is in fact “A New Hope”. Harry Potter opens before Voldemort’s return to power. Narnia chronicles the visit of a perpetually snowy land by four children who are meant to fulfill the prophecy that will break the spell of winter. The Lord of the Rings could not have started in a happier place than the Shire. In all of these stories, the plots got worse before they got better, but at least they started in a place of goodness.
5) Lack of fantasy or magic.
As mentioned above, my favorite series are Narnia, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, and they all have yet another thing in common: all three stories include magic or wizards or witches. I have a fascination for magic (yes, I know it isn’t real), and in part because of it, I love these stories. They are quintessentially fantasy, rooted in the kinds of things that could never happen, even centuries into the future. As far as I know, Hunger Games has none of this magic and is very realistic. This in itself emphasizes the possibility for the future.
6) Possibility of romance.
I have also heard that there is some romantic element to the Hunger Games, either between Katniss and Gale or Katniss and Peeta. I can’t remember which. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to possess a romantic bone in my body. It’s for this same reason that I have also refused to pick up the Twilight saga. Not only because of the romantic element, but also because the main character is female. Don’t get me wrong. I like girls and strong female characters, but I get very easily annoyed and frustrated by weak female characters who simply rely on men to control or lead them. From what I have seen of Bella from Twilight, I can only see her as whiny and weak. I doubt Katniss, from what I have read and heard, is such a character, but I worry that the plot will lead in some sappy romantic direction when I least expect it.
7) Kids killing kids.
This last part disturbs me the most. How can anyone find entertainment in a game in which kids kill other kids? Sure, as a teacher, I get frustrated from time to time by students who don’t do as they’re told, but I would never want to place them in an arena and watch them fight to the death. Anyone who would enjoy seeing that happen is either cruel or crazy or both. When I read that in the story these Hunger Games are televised for people to watch for enjoyment, I couldn’t believe it. There are people reading these books with this premise for enjoyment, which include characters who watch these games for enjoyment? How could I possibly enjoy it?
Because of all these factors, I became about as reluctant to read The Hunger Games as an 18-year-old with 42 tesserae entries is to attend Reaping Day.
In the span of writing this article (a couple hours over two days), I have read the first seven chapters.
And I absolutely love it so far.