The Hunger Games (Book 1)
Scholastic Press, 2010
384 pp., 12.99
Paul D. Miller
The books have weak points. The first book was essentially a good short story or novella capped by a 200-page climax: not enough of a foundation for an epic of Collins' ambition. An epic story arc would have required a fuller world and a larger foundation. Tolkien had to write Fellowship and Two Towers before he got to Return of the King. Additionally, the author made a poor choice in plotting out the first two books. The second book, Catching Fire, spends half its length trying to turn Katniss into Lawrence of Arabia. But the heroine was given every reason to turn into a revolutionary by the events of the first book, making her journey in the sequel entirely superfluous. Indeed, the first book would have been stronger had Katniss realized and grown to embrace the more explicitly political implications of her small acts of rebellion.
More, for large swaths of the second and third books, Katniss is inert. To the author's credit, the book and the protagonist know that Katniss is more a symbol of revolution than a fighter, but it makes for some boring stretches of story. This is like watching the American Revolution from the perspective of the Bald Eagle. Much of the action happens offstage. Then the latter half of Catching Fire , like all hopeless sequels, becomes entirely derivative of the original (although it is still the most entertaining part of the book). The premise of the third book—rebellion and war—is introduced so abruptly with so little preparation that it feels contrived.
And so the books are good, not great. The first book is saved by its brevity; it would be simply sadistic and boring if it stretched too much longer. In that sense, The Hunger Games is superior to nearly every entry in the Harry Potter series: J. K. Rowling's books are too long, plain, and rambling. Like Potter, Games seem to be more a prose screen treatment for a decent summer movie than a serious piece of writing. But of course, Tolkien and Peter Jackson showed that you do not have to choose between a beautiful piece of literature and a beautiful film. A pity more directors and authors haven't learned it.
Paul D. Miller is assistant professor of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
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