The Hunger Games series, belies the simplicity of the clear, present-tense prose and the immediacy of the first-person narrative that makes the books so addictive. Yes they are hugely popular and yes, you WILL NOT be able to stop reading them until you have turned the last page, but there is so much going on in these texts than first meets the eye.
To start with, there is the food motif running through the text. As such it reminds me somewhat of Dickens, with regular, detailed accounts of meals being prepared, cooked and enjoyed. Of course, in a world where people are prepared to risk their lives to hunt for their next meal, it is only right that food should be so central to the plot. However, on a symbolic level, it is no co-incidence that Peeta, one of the central characters, is a baker, and in particularly, a bread-maker. If bread is the source of life, then that is what Peeta's function in the story is: he is the one who protects life and ensures that life can continue in District 12 where the main characters, Katniss, Gale, Haymitch and others all live.
The story is set in some future time on earth, in the country of Panem, which is divided into 12 districts. The Capitol controls the districts and as a punishment for an earlier rebellion, the districts must send two children to trials by combat, where they fight each other, gladiator style, to the death. The final surviving contestant is crowned the winner and so brings back much needed supplies and food to their district.
It is pretty barbaric stuff and deterred me from reading the books for some time. However, what people failed to tell me was that this is more a love story than anything else. It involves a love triangle that is so thoroughly engaging that it makes for compulsive reading. Will Katniss fall for the boy who bakes the bread or the boy who hunts in the woods? One is completely open and honest, the other silent and brooding. We feel for Katniss, because, like her, we the reader can hardly choose between the two ourselves.
But Katniss's troubles go way beyond who to love: she is trying to stay alive, protect her family and ultimately save society. As such, this text is about much more than teenagers in love.
In fact, Collins is actually considering huge ideas in this book, such as how society can ever trust those in positions of power. This subversive idea runs through all three texts, but is especially important in the third book, 'The Mockingjay'. From the start, Katniss has trust issues. She clearly lives up to her name and is quite cat-like in a number of ways: the green-eyed girl, the solitary hunter who, who is slow to warm to people, is distrustful and likes to travels light.
On one level, the series is looking at what holds societies together. It seems that a down-trodden people can be united by a story, the story of a boy who secretly loved a girl and promised himself to save and protect her and even to give his life in the process. But could a story of self-sacrifice and love change the world and bring about a revolution? It seems that history supports this theory. One need only look to the bible stories and the life of Jesus to find parallels. And so the irony is that Collins's post-Christian tale could be read as an essentially a Christian text? It is just a thought... Or perhaps Collins is just echoing the much-quoted 1960s mantra, that ultimately, 'All you need is Love'.
The author is also toying with the modern fears about the environment and self-insufficiency that are such key-phrases in today's society. This is taken too far in District 13, where food is rationed on the basis of the amount of calories one expends on any given day, and shoes are inherited from others, regardless of comfort or fit.
There are elements of the story that are fanciful and quite fantastic. We are presented with a semi-Cinderella figure, who hails from the mining district, the 'Seam', where people have coal dust deeply embed into the very crevices and wrinkles of their skin. She is taken from the world of cinders and is transformed into the 'girl on fire', beautified and made-over. Yet, there is much of the world of Panem that is not so very different from our reality. A world of inequalities, divided into the haves and have-nots, those who consume more than they produce, countries on the edge of extinction because of starvation... all this rings true for planet Earth now as much as it does in Collins's fictional future version.
She considers the frivolity of modern living, represented so brilliantly here by the citizens of the Capitol. Their world is so superficial and cosmetic, that it's citizens no longer resemble real humans: some growing whiskers and green-tinged skin for visual effect. And, finally, we come to what 'The Huger Games Trilogy' is all about: being human. Collins considers the ultimate sin against humanity, the denial of one's basic right to protect one's young. Katniss only finds herself as a tribute in the Games because she is trying to protect her young sister Prim. Peeta however, once he has been selected in the reaping, decides to play a different game - his own game. In an act of rebellion, he opts not to fight for survival, but to fight for Katniss, to protect her, to be, ultimately, more than a slave, fighting to save his own life, but to be human. This is Peeta's gift to Katniss. He teaches her what it is to love, to be human.
Katniss is a product of her world and does not know how to demonstration real affection because she has forgotten to trust her human emotions. She is a victim of the times and it takes a long time for her to reprogramme herself, to learn how to deal with a full array of emotions and to re-humanise herself.
This must surely be the case in all war zones and Collins is making a clear anti-war statement in this text or is she? She seems to be saying that it is a natural, basic human right to want to protect your family, your loved ones, nay even your home-place and country when it is under attack. Yet, she is clearly saying that such actions come at a price and that price is the loss of innocence. Yet, when it comes to it, Katniss finally realises, submission to the enemy is illogical: the damage is already done, pain is already being inflicted and fear that someone might get hurt is not a reason not to fight. There are, inevitably, some things that are worth fighting for.
The three texts in this series are, 'The Hunger Games', 'Catching Fire' and 'Mockingjay'. They are sold as separate books, but they flow straight into one another and should really be published in one, larger, volume. Beware! You must purchase them all together to avoid delay/pain/withdrawal. So, is the Hunger Games Series worth reading? Well, as Katniss says at the end of 'Mockingjay', 'There are much worse games to play', and you could do much worse than to give some time to these thought-provoking and entertaining books. 'The Hunger Games Series is genius'. Real or not real? Real.