Friday, May 4, 2012

Real or Not Real?

On a friend's recommendation, Jim picked up The Hunger Games for his train commute the other day, finished it in a flash and suggested I give it a try.  Now, we've both finished all three books in the series and really liked them, mostly.

(Spoiler alert: I’ll be careful to divulge as little of the plot as possible, in case you haven’t read the books and want to, but there will be a wee bit of revealing commentary I can’t help.)

Riding in the car with Jim yesterday, we started talking about the ending in the third book, Mockingjay, how it feels rushed and truncated to both of us.  In Jim’s words, it lacks a real denouement.

We suppose the author could have been under pressure to deliver the copy or in a hurry to wrap up the story, but I want to know how hope, trust and love were reborn from the ashes of Katniss and Peeta’s shattered lives. How did they get from trauma, horror and loss to a life together in what’s left of district 12?

For me, Peeta is the most spiritual character in the story; he reminds me of the Fool in the Tarot deck, loving, trusting and joyful.  He’s capable of complete self-sacrifice in the name of love; yet, in the end, after going through hell and back, his story is summarized in a matter of a few paragraphs spoken by Katniss in her closing narrative. 

The same goes for Katniss; so many wounds and so much fire in her soul, and her journey back to relative sanity is hardly described at all. Yes, she relays how she grieved for one person she lost, but did Peeta’s love once again restore her?  Isn’t this worth some of the descriptive artistry the author devotes to earlier parts of their relationship, like say, in book one?

True there was nothing left to blow up or kill by the time Katniss is narrating the end of the story, but how did they arrive at the point where they could have a life together?  It’s a story of healing and restoration; was it love that gave them back a life? Did one rescue the other from the brink, only to be rescued as well in the process?  This part of the story is worth many more pages, not just a short paragraph or two.  I don’t know why it ends so abruptly, but I’m sure Suzanne Collins could do a great job of fleshing it out.  Well, there’s still the movie script to the third book…

I admit I have a problem with “the future is bleak” story lines like this one.  Big Brother always watches; there’s always lots of cruelty, violence and loss.  I know there are many examples of this scenario in history and in some parts of the contemporary world, but is this the only future we can imagine winning out, becoming the outcome of our present age?  While we can dream, is this the best we can do?

If these are the fictions that entertain us, I think at some level it sets us up to anticipate this future; our sights/sites are set, both our vision and its scope, on the joyless, the dismal, the dire, the horror and the tragic in life.  It pumps us full of survival adrenalin, but it gives us nothing to hope for.  I remember leaving the theater after seeing Clockwork Orange many years ago, and asking; Where’s the Love? Who in this story embodied that human potential?
I don’t see Suzanne Collin’s trilogy as devoid of human caring; in fact, I think love is constantly displayed between various characters.  The power of Love to transcend incredible odds is often woven into the story, but in the end, that’s exactly what’s left out, zip, zap, done.

In the last book, Peeta, who suffers severe PTS and paranoia as a result of being tortured, devises a way to test for trustworthiness in those around him. He recounts a memory and asks, “Real or Not Real?”  His question elicits wonderful heartfelt responses from those trying to help him.  I think it’s a good question to ask.

The Hunger Games Trilogy: Real or Not Real?

The love between the characters: Real or Not Real?

Love heals: Real or Not Real?

Love is the answer: Real or Not Real?

We can dream a future story that doesn’t involve total catastrophe, loss and destruction: Real or Not Real?

Dreams are Real: Real or Not Real?  You know my answer to that one.


  1. I agree about the ending of the trilogy. My guess? She was tired. That happens to writers. I feel that books like these encourage us to NOT create this kind of future!

  2. You know, Trish, I do agree that this trilogy raises so many important questions that can help us see how bad it could be and make us want to avoid it. I may come off as negative; I was thinking I should post about all the good things I found in the books. The concepts they raise: Capital vs. the regions, the have/have nots; the down to earth people, surviving, vs the bread and circus people. Yet, so many good things happen in all the bad, mostly because of loving relationships between people who live at a real survival level, yet manage to be real. I think Collins did a fabulous job; she may have gotten tired, but when she's rested, I still hope she finishes their story:-) Always happy to hear from you!

  3. I sometimes feel that novelists - like people in other creative arts- may tap into fields of probability. And maybe, since the hunger games now hit the big screen, seeing that kind of world in vivid color, that probability can be avoided. I hope so!

  4. I've not read Collins' books. Did see Hunger Games today. Clearly the theme of a dystopian society where love and humanity strive to win out. But - more importantly - Adelita - your thoughts about real or not real - are compelling. It made me think of a talk I listened to recently - by a Buddhist teacher. He speaks of the difference between 'real' and 'true.' From his perspective - 'real' is our emotional/animal brain's habitual reactions. We think something is 'real' but it is often a 'fear-based' lens we are looking through. 'True' is our heart or higher minds' clear-seeing/wisdom. So I'm weighing in that all your questions are 'possible' if we switch from animal brain to heart-wisdom brain. I think that's just what Katniss and Peeta do - they don't listen to animal/survival instinct (unless they are the prey) - they honor their hearts. Perhaps that's the glimmer of hope we can draw from Collins' dystopian trilogy. And it is important to remember that her target audience is young adults. She is urging them to listen to their hearts and not their animal brains. Much food for thought. Thanks for opening the conversation.

  5. I think true is exactly what Peeta and Katniss act on a lot and agree with you that Collin's effort to reach young adults with a critical message about the choice of what matters is timely. Thanks for being a brilliant part of the conversation, Elizabeth.