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I recently stumbled upon the Hunger Games when I saw a trailer for the film, I hadn’t come across the books before, but I bought the first and devoured it within days. The other two followed quickly, although, as so often, I didn’t think they were as good as the first. As with any new world setting, this is often the case, potions classes and wands and pointy hats lost their charm after the first Harry Potter book, especially when sequels have to spend a chapter carefully finding an interesting way to describe what is necessary for the poor newcomer to understand about what has happened so far. Eragon deals with this by having a prologue explain it all, whereas JK Rowling has some unfortunate new kid question the offside rule in Quidditch.
Anyway, as you’ve probably heard, the Hunger Games is set in a futuristic dystopian society, bringing together post nuclear/ dictatorship lifestyles in a way that echoes Brave New World, the handmaid’s tale and other similar stories. The different districts of this country Panem (there are Latin references throughout the book,-as with Star Wars incidentally, for example the capital is the Capitol , and the characters have names such as Cinna,) are all responsible for various production, coal for one, cereal for another, just as was the case with the USSR.
There are also many references too reality TV, the whole competition is filmed, the candidates are called candidates, not sacrificial victims and receive makeovers, and the obligatory nature of the broadcasts reminds us of 1984.
If all these elements have been done before, then you may ask what the appeal is, well, there’s the never been done together way, but also remember that these books are aimed at the teen market, who are unlikely to be familiar with Winston Smith or Offred, and who were born after the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991.
I found the books real page-turners, and eagerly awaited an opportunity to see the film, which was not disappointing as can often be the case. The main reason I waited to see it was my reluctance to take my children, and this is one of the debates concerning the Hunger Games that interests me. Without ruining the end I can tell you (and you probably already know) that the story is based on the harvesting. When two youngsters aged 12 to 18 are taken from each district, of which there are 12 in all, to fight to the death in an artificial landscape called the arena.
The idea of children killing each other is pretty gory I admit; and so I haven’t taken my children to see the film. I do think however, that the really scary part is seeing the parents standing there, helpless, watching the ceremony as the children are chosen from amongst their peers to be taken to semi-certain death, and that reminded me of a scene in the French film La Rafle, where Jewish children were separated from their parents during the war.
Children don’t relate to this part, they see themselves as the contestants, and being reality TV natives, they have no trouble using this kind of vocabulary, my daughter, aged 12, is currently reading the first book, she’s finding it an unputdownable as I did, and she’s certainly not being frightened by it.
I just still haven’t decided whether to let her see the film yet, what do you think?