My two roommates and quite a few of my friends talk just as animatedly about Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy as they do Harry Potter. The movie is coming out in a few weeks and we’ve all got our midnight tickets (and, if you’ve gotten out to the mall, maybe a Mockingjay pin to sport on your lapel).
But I’m not that excited.
Whenever The Hunger Games or one of its two counterparts comes up in conversation, I want to talk about it as openly and freely and passionately as everyone else seems to — I just…can’t. And there’s one major reason why I can’t.
(This is where I throw this graphic up:)
If that picture or caption didn’t pop up, or if you don’t believe me: SPOILER ALERT. If you have any interest in preserving the mysticism wrapped up in Katniss Everdeen’s adventure in post-apocalypse Panem, don’t read this.
Have I sufficiently warned you? I won’t be getting any hate mail, comments or emails for divulging the end of the series?
Good. Onward and upward.
Collins ends her trilogy with a very realistic scenario. The tyrannical government of Panem, led by President Snow, has been disbanded, and Katniss has killed who was going to be the next tyrant, President Coin. She ends up marrying Peeta Melark, the sweeter, shorter and more tragic male in the little Twilight-reminiscent love triangle Collins shoved into the middle of the series to increase her female readership and chase away her male audience. They have two kids, but the world is pretty much the same as in book one: broken.
It’s realistic. I like that. It’s what happens to Katniss’ sister, Prim, that ruined the series for me (and, from talking to friends and fellow readers, probably only me).
The whole reason Katniss went to the Hunger Games and was made a national symbol of rebellion was because of her simple goal to protect her sister, Primrose. When 12-year-old Prim gets picked at the reaping to fight for her life against 23 other contestants in the Hunger Games, 16-year-old Katniss volunteers to go in her place. She goes, she fights, she wins, she inadvertently starts a bloodbath of a revolution, blah blah blah. When the rebellion starts in the second book, Catching Fire, Prim ends up becoming a nurse, and in the climax of the third book, Mockingjay, dies in a tragic bombing, right in front of Katniss’ eyes.
Yes, she dies. It’s so fast, you can’t gather that it happened until you turn the page to the next chapter, and this made Prim’s death very easy to swallow at first.
As the book continued, however, it started to hit me — Collins had pulled a real fast one. She decided to turn not just to irony but to the cruelest form of it. Katniss was physically injured, watched friends die (in a quick way that can be compared to J.K. Rowling’s second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), was threatened by her government and subsequently killed the president all because she wanted to protect her sister. The sister who is now dead at the age of 15.
This kind of irony would generally be appealing to me because I have such an interest in dark storytelling. This time, however, it put me in a daze of grief that was hard to overcome.
For those who don’t know me well, I have a little sister. Like Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games, I love her to death and would do anything to protect her.
When she was only about a year old, Bridget had an allergic reaction to peanuts that almost killed her. I saw firsthand that she was fragile in that way, and it became instinct to protect her from the evils out in the world as she grew up. She wasn’t just at risk of falling off the monkey bars at recess or getting hit by a car if she didn’t look both ways before crossing the road; simply putting something in her mouth could kill her. Mom and Dad are both responsible parents, but I’ve had to take up the mantel, too, which I take as my sisterly duty. It’s second nature to me.
As the years have progressed, I find that it’s become a bit of a habit that sometimes kicks in. I’m still over-protective of her, even though she’s 15, 5-foot-8 and could probably kick my ass…
That was part of the reason I really loved the first Hunger Games book. I could identified with Katniss in ways I couldn’t identify with many other storybook heroes. Katniss volunteers to go the Games in place of her sister, a move that ultimately spares her sister’s life. She’s 16, and her sister is 12; a 4-year difference very similar to the 5-year difference between me and Bridget.
Heck, even “Kate Everson” sounds a little like “Katniss Everdeen.” Thank you to Brooke in my Intermediate Writing class for pointing that out. And “Primrose,” Katniss’ little sister’s name, has the same vowel sound and syllables as “Bridget.”
(Okay, maybe that last bit was a stretch).
When Prim dies at the end of Mockingjay, I felt the same stab of pain as Katniss felt because I’ve had to live with the fact that my sister could be taken away from me more easily than anyone else’s sister. I’ve had to live knowing that it would take just a quarter of a nut to send her to the hospital, and even though she and my parents and the school and her friends did everything to protect her and keep her safe, it might not be enough one day. Instead of having the ability to take up Bee’s allergy and bare it for her, just like Katniss volunteered in Prim’s place at the Games, I can’t, even though I would quicker than Katniss could yell “I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!”
And knowing that Katniss has to live the rest of her life without Prim, without that extra appendage that we older sisters know as our annoying, clingy, can’t-imagine-my-life-without-her little sister, made the ending even more “realistically static,” a step that I felt took it too far for me. If I had written it, I would have let the government stay tyrannical and suppressing. At least let Katniss have Prim so she can bare her failure to change her world.
So I’ll end this post asking my friends to forgive me for whenever I decide to pass on talking about Collins’ trilogy, change the subject or don’t share as passionately in their love of the books. Pardon me for not being totally taken with Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) or Liam Hemsworth (Gale and dating victim of Miley Cyrus), or spending hours online looking for the newest press release pictures. Please understand that I hold Collins’ art in the highest regard; she presented us with a trilogy led by a strong heroine, cured the “Bella Swan” epidemic in teen literature, gave me my first thrill toward a series since Harry Potter ended and capped it all off with a realistic ending to a very dystopian situation.
But there lies the problem. Collins was too realistic, in everything from the characters to the relationships they have with each other. She mirrored my life. She wrote the story of me and Bridget. Then she made the mistake, the big “whoops” of my literary decade.
She ended it with my worst fear.