I just had the pleasure of reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and I do mean pleasure. It was such a joy to finally get my hands on a book that actually drives me to turn the next page, always wanting to find out what happens next. It’s such a relief –after forcing myself to read all these “important” novels where each page is like taking a spoonful of medicine– to find an author who actually knows how to tell a story, who can keep a nice pace going while also taking the time to create her characters and the world they inhabit. And what a world Collins creates! Creative, logical and consistent– all the things that separate the decent world-building authors of fantasy and science fiction from the outstanding ones. Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling… they all create worlds with depth and history that seem real to us while we inhabit them. Add to their ranks, Suzanne Collins.
I haven’t looked at the literature produced concerning The Hunger Games (I’m sure its voluminous), but I get the feeling from what I have seen that, critically speaking, the book is underrated. This is due, I’m sure, almost entirely to the tendency of critics for the last several decades to discount stories that appeal to children as well as adults. But how can anyone forget that some of the greatest tales of all time are also so-called “children’s stories?” The tales of Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm come immediately to mind. And don’t forget Aesop’s Fables, marvelous nuggets of wisdom that are now, unfortunately, relegated to children’s tales, their morals neglected and forgotten by adults– and the world suffering for it.
I was actually going to post today about the social and governmental commentary embedded in The Hunger Games, commentary which takes a great story with a remarkable heroine and ratchets it up several levels to one of the greatest stories so far told in the 21st century. But my socio-political drivel will have to wait; seems I’m overwhelmed by the desire to brag at some length on this author and her work…
Surely, if George Orwell’s Animal Farm (which I write about in detail HERE ) is to be regarded with esteem, then so, too, should Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Both use a fantastical story to critique society. Both authors have certain strengths that shine through in their works. Orwell is good at coming up with memorable phrases (ironically, a good propagandist, himself) and his stuff is overtly political.
Collins is better with pacing and the ability to prolong situations of page-turning excitement, and she is a shade more subtle in her politics. She is also better at providing characters with some depth and likeability. Both authors use humor well, Orwell’s sense of humor leaning toward the droll, with an undercurrent of sarcasm, and Collins’ humor being more wrapped up with the idiosyncrasies of her characters, such as Haymitch and Effie, thusly producing a warmer sort of humor, often physical.
Like Orwell, Collins is aware of the different levels of meaning embedded in language. And like Tolkien and Rowling, Collins also takes great care in choosing names for her characters, names that have the precise sounds and the connotations she desires to conjure. I’m noticing as I write this, that all these other authors are British, as in not American like Collins. I wonder if her acknowledged influences are more British than American, too?
Like Tolkien when it comes to sword and sorcery books, when it comes to series-length, fantastical works written for younger audiences, Rowling is the elephant (a lovely elephant, mind you) in the room whom no one can ignore. And so it is inevitable that comparisons between Rowling and Collins be made.
However, Collins is going for something different here than Rowling; to start with, Collins is aiming for older readers with the first book in her Hunger series. Although Rowling seemed to be writing to an ever-older age group with each book (as if she were allowing for the fact that her readers were growing up right alongside Harry Potter), the first Harry Potter book was most definitely a book written for the prepubescent set (at least, primarily—though we all know how cherished the series also became for adults). On the other hand, Collins’ kids are already beginning to tiptoe around sexuality—there’s even kissing!
Another difference between the two authors is that, where Rowling is outstanding at creating characters and their relationships between each other, Collins excels at providing us with a plot-driven page-turner.
Both authors extol the values of friendship and loyalty in their stories. As far as politics goes, Rowling sticks mostly to her theme that people should be more accepting of people different from themselves. Collins is more concerned about showing the evils that can result from a tyrannical central government.
In a later post, I’d still like to briefly talk about the social and political commentary of The Hunger Games, and I also hope to do an entry about this extraordinary young heroine Collins has given us, Katniss Everdeen.
More from Hammering Shield on The Hunger Games: