The Hunger Games Trilogy

The Olympics. Reality television shows like Survivor, The Bachelorette, American Idol, & The Amazing Race. Orwell’s 1984. Huxley’s Brave New World. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Greek & Roman Mythology. 24 Hour news channels who don’t even try to hide their political ideology. American Gladiators. Movies such as Star Wars, The Truman Show, Blade Runner, and The Running Man. All of these would seem to contribute bits & pieces of inspiration to The Hunger Games Trilogy.

I was a bit hesitant to give The Hunger Games a whirl. It is officially classified as “young adult fiction”, and given the fact that I am an educated 30-something with refined taste & somewhat high standards rather than a pre-pubescent teenager easily taken in by hunky heartthrobs, werewolves & vampires, and angsty love triangles I was understandably trepidatious. However, the premise won me over and I am glad it did.

The trilogy consists of three solidly lengthy but not drawn out novels…The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay…written by Suzanne Collins, a middle-aged woman from Connecticut who, much like Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, had achieved nothing notable in her literary career before penning what has become a sensationally popular phenomenon.

The Hunger Games is set in Panem, a dystopian version of North America in which the nations we know & love have been destroyed, although exactly how that occurred is never really explored (I smell a “prequel”). At any rate, Panem…atleast most of it…isn’t a futuristic society of technological wonder. No, it is more primitive, more…colonial. The nation is divided into 12 districts all controlled by the dictatorial folks in The Capitol and lead by malevolent President Coriolanus Snow, whose creepiness factor makes our modern day politicians look like a collection of fine citizens from Mayberry. We are told that a quarter century before there was an uprising among the districts against The Capitol that was squashed like a bug, and that as punishment for that unsuccessful mutiny The Hunger Games was created. The games are an annual televised event in which two teenagers, one male and one female, from each district are chosen at random as “tributes”. These 24 tributes are dropped into The Arena, where they are expected to fight to the death until only one is left standing as The Victor. And this is considered big time entertainment in Panem.

The poorest of the districts is 12, a coal mining region reminiscent of what we know as Appalachia. That is where we meet our young heroine Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl who spends her time hunting illegally to support her fragile mother and younger sister after her father was killed in a mining accident. Her best friend & hunting buddy is Gale Hawthorne, who also lost his father in the same tragedy and takes care of his mother & younger siblings. Then there is Peeta Mellark, the local baker’s son who comes from what passes for an upper middle class background in District 12. These three form the requisite triumvirate, although to be honest the romance aspect of the story isn’t nearly as distracting as I originally feared it might be.

The Hunger Games has Katniss & Peeta being chosen as tributes and fighting in the 74th games. Catching Fire finds Panem on the cusp of another revolution, thanks to a perceived act of defiance by our two protagonists at the end of the first book. That insolence lands them back in The Arena fighting an all-star group of past victors. Mockingjay shows The Districts in full scale war against The Capitol, with Katniss as the reluctant figurehead of the rebellion.

Though the two stories bear little more that superficial resemblance to one another I cannot help but draw comparisons between this trilogy and the wildly popular Harry Potter series. Both are supposedly aimed at the younger demographic, yet neither hesitates to take the reader down a dark & violent path. Stylistically, Rowling writes on a much deeper level. Potter may be “young adult” fiction, but the multi-layered storytelling is on par with some of our most beloved classic literature. Conversely, The Hunger Games books, all written in the first person through the eyes of Katniss, never quite reaches the profound gravitas that transcends greatness and segues into sublime singularity. Whereas one gets the feeling that Rowling’s aim was to write some really good books and that the ensuing pop culture obsession that was thrust upon her was a pleasant byproduct, The Hunger Games feels like Collins had a movie deal on her mind from the very beginning and purposely hoped to manufacture a sensation to match the likes of Potter, Twilight, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That’s not meant to be as much of a criticism as it is an astute observation.

All three books are intensely absorbing, real page turners that are hard to put down. Their shortcomings are likely directly related to the target audience. There are several spots where I felt like plot points weren’t fully explored, where important happenings were glossed over to appease the short attention spans of young readers. At times the author seems to be on the threshold of making some keen observations about society, politics, and war, but stops short and pulls back so as not to bog the action down with philosophical insight. Each book could have easily been another hundred pages and more thoroughly covered key elements of the story without becoming tedious. However, these flaws are the minor irritations of a nerdy bookworm who has no qualms about tackling an 800 page novel if the story is good enough. In all likelihood these books as they are were a smart choice by the author. At the end of the day we have a gripping premise, interesting characters, and a story that keeps the reader on the edge of our seat and wanting to see what happens next. That’s a pretty good recipe for some great books in my humble opinion.

I must admit that the only reason I even heard of the books is because the first movie is coming out soon. At first I was dismissive due to the inevitable association with Twilight…books that I’ve never read & movies that I’ve not seen and likely never will. Like I said, the whole vampire/werewolf thing just doesn’t frost my cupcake. But the political overtones and the somewhat realistic vibe…the idea that this really could happen to our world…was enough for me to take a flyer. I am looking forward to the movies because as mentioned I believe they were the intended end game all along. Whereas the Potter movies are good but cannot hold a candle to the books, I have a feeling that the Hunger Games movies will surpass the books’ achievements. The violence, action, and high body count are tailor made for the entertainment appetite of 21st Century America.

Farewell Whitney

I was watching  The Hangover.

It was a snowy night in February. One of those lazy Saturdays where one slowly melts the hours away reading, napping, snacking, and watching movies. Then I decided to check out Facebook and see if others were having an equally exciting weekend. That is when I saw the news.

Whitney Houston was dead.

I turned my TV on to CNN and spent the next few hours watching their admittedly awkward coverage. As unprepared as I was for the news of Whitney’s death, I was even more surprised by my reaction. I am normally somewhat dismissive or at the very least unemotional in a Vulcanic kind of way about celebrity deaths. Michael Jackson is dead?? Ehhh…he was a freak who likely molested little boys. Great songs though. Princess Diana is dead?? Ehhh…her greatest accomplishment was marrying well. And the news coverage was obscenely excessive, especially given that Mother Teresa died the same week. Amy Winehouse?? You didn’t exactly have to be Miss Cleo to see that coming. But this…this is different. At one point, as CNN went to commercial and was playing some of Whitney’s songs, I found that tears were streaming down my grizzled face. Dismissive?? Unemotional?? No…this time, for some odd reason, I was profoundly sad.

I was SO in love with Whitney Houston when I was 14 years old. She, along with Who’s the Boss? star Alyssa Milano, were among my first celebrity crushes. Whitney was beautiful and her songs were awesome. I didn’t necessarily understand it on a conscious level at the time, but I think I was in the early stages of truly understanding talent and developing good taste in music.

Then in the early 90’s, when I was in college and had moved onto other interests and my musical palate was evolving, Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown and the magic was gone. She became a cliché. Domestic violence. Drug abuse. Rehab. Embarrasing appearances. Erratic behavior. Oh there were flashes here & there, but for all intents & purposes her brilliant career ended somewhere around 1997. It’s staggering to think of the music & films the world was robbed of in the past 15 years.

And now there will be no dazzling comeback. That beautiful voice has been silenced forever. We don’t yet know the “official” reason, but of course most have jumped to understandably logical conclusions. However, I come not to bury Whitney but to praise her. The who’s, what’s, and why’s don’t really matter anyway. I will let others assign blame. The fact is that the life of one of the most intensely talented performers in recent memory has been senselessly, needlessly, tragically cut short.

Fortunately, we do have a solid library of music produced by Whitney before Bobby Brown dragged her into the abyss. And that is my purpose here today…to celebrate the life & music of my dearly departed celebrity crush. To Whitney…wherever your soul currently resides…I can only say that I will always love you. So, without further ado, I give you…..

 

from the home office in Angel City, FL…..

 

The Superfluous 7 (in no particular order) Favorite Whitney Houston Songs:

 

One Moment In Time


How Will I Know


So Emotional


Where Do Broken Hearts Go


All At Once


Didn’t We Almost Have It All


I Wanna Dance With Somebody