The world that Suzanne Collins has created in her Hunger Games series consists of a ruthless, totalitarian government that after years of war has established 12 districts that are each subservient to a central capital. Each of the suppressed districts is responsible for providing specialized resources for the all-powerful capital to enjoy. And if that’s not enough to make you hate the mysterious tyrant that controls the capital, there is the Hunger Games. Every year, as a show of the capital’s dominance, there is a competition in which children from each of the districts are selected by lottery to fight each other to the death in order to win food and medical resources for their district. The action picks up as young Katniss Everdeen from the relatively poor and insignificant district 12 is placed into these Hunger Games.
One could go on about how Collins’ premise lacks in originality. Mad Max anyone? How about Running Man (gotta love Schwarzenegger)? Should we even mention 1984 and Orwell? So, as many hard-core sci-fi/fantasy fans maintain, Ms. Collins lacks originality, but does this shortcoming mark her as a hack? Well that depends. After all, we must remember that there is a precedent for every story. In the fantasy realm, the likes of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan admittedly draw heavily upon Tolkien, and Tolkien along with all popular fantasy writers draw heavily upon mythology (notably Norse mythology). As for Science Fiction, even the likes of Asimov and Clarke use mathematics and science as a source for their inspiration. My point being that while some authors are more original than others, all writers are heavily influenced by previous writings and ideas.
Aside from her lack of originality, Collins writes with a specific audience in mind. A plot arc that invites gritty violence and sexual tension is noticeably diluted, sometimes to the point of pain by someone accustomed to adult fantasy or science fiction. Also, the names for some of the capital’s inventions can seem cheesy, such as “crackajacks” which are mutated stinging insects whose bite severely disables the victims’ nervous system. Despite this cheesiness, the fundamental telling of the story is well paced and taken very seriously by the author.
So is this lack of originality and occasionally insufferable pandering to a young adult audience enough to write this series off as simple mainstream fodder? As much as I initially wanted to hate this series, it must be said that the author drew me in. She may rely on worn story lines and keep the action at a PG level, but at the end of the day, Collins knows how to tell a good story with great characters, and she is original in the sense that Katniss is an adolescent, female protagonist that a mature reader can truly take seriously. Collins has also managed to convey a familiar Sci-Fi context in a family friendly way. Aside from timely build-up of characterization, she does a phenomenal job of building suspense. Without giving too much away, I am reminded of a scene in which Katniss is trapped for hours in the top of a tree, threatened by the deadly crackajacks and forced to watch certain significant characters face down death. Katniss must choose between being exposed to deadly enemies by attempting to save these characters, or assuring her survival by remaining silently hidden.
The bottom line here: If you are looking for a fast and engaging read that will not challenge your intellect but will actually present some classic moral dilemmas through a suspenseful storyline full of genuine characters then this series is definitely worth your time.
Check out more about the author at http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/ and if you want to find out more about the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence that will be released on March 23 go to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392170/