By Anna Sadovskaya, Daily Fine Arts Editor
Published March 11, 2012
I’ll be the first to admit I love fantasy, the imagined story world where things happen, people travel across galaxies and risk their lives for the greater good. And when people read books, they read to escape, to flee into the recesses of a beloved tale or forgotten adventure. No one reads to be reminded of inconsistency, fleeting time and unconquerable difficulty — not without a cathartic resolution.
Imagine an unremarkable character. Someone whose life is mundane, even tedious. She goes to school. She does homework. She looks for the meaning of life in cereal dregs. She is you, and reading about her uninspired routine is incredibly unfulfilling. Where is the journey? The star-crossed romance? The feeling of something greater?
After months of unending trailers and promotional videos, I caved and sat down to read the increasingly popular “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins. And that’s when I was reminded how thin the line between wrong and right is when it comes to fantastic fiction. And to all those who have not been subjected to “The Hunger Games”: There are spoilers in this article.
I remember when I bought the books: The girl at the register grunted at the site of the three glossy novels and I asked if she had read the trilogy. She began to dissect the motives of each character while the line of tired, exasperated book buyers grew ever-longer behind me. I quickly paid and got out — but I soon learned that nowhere was safe. My friends, people who I thought I knew, began to preach about the pros and cons of Kale (a Katniss/Gale relationship) and what Peeta would have done had another tribute been chosen.
Whether they liked the stories or not, they were engrossed in the delicacy with which Collins apparently painted the imaginary world where the characters lived.
Would the books really live up to the hype? Could they really be so fascinating and relatable? Would they be the next “Harry Potter” series? OK, so they couldn’t be “Harry Potter,” but I was willing to give them a chance. So I began with “The Hunger Games,” and then, somewhere near the end, something went wrong.
The story transformed from moderately thrilling to entirely insignificant.
I forced myself to forge on, partly because I felt like I must be missing something: Everyone who has read the series feels strongly about it, one way or the other. I must have misunderstood the first book.
But as I finished the second and the third novels, it finally dawned on me why I was so apathetic to the series: The main character, the window through which readers creep into the wonderfully foreign worlds of books, was unimportant to the rest of the story. Katniss Everdeen was not the most heroic, the most noteworthy, the most beautiful or exceptional character. She was average. She was mundane.
I can already hear the hoard of Hunger Game fanatics struggling to contain their bows from firing arrows my way: “She’s a very strong person for a 17-year-old. She won the Hunger Games! She’s the Mockingjay! She killed the President! She saved Peeta’s life and the entire country!”
I only saw three remarkable things happen for Katniss. First, she wins the hunger games. This is the part of the first book I enjoyed reading. Then, Katniss takes down a couple planes that were bombing wounded people in a hospital with her bow, which is awesome. Finally, Katniss’s shining last moment happens when she kills President Coin and stops being a useless heap of morphling and uncertainty ... only to return to that heap afterwards.
Out of three books, there were three shining moments for Katniss. Compared to the bravery of other characters, this is incredibly unfulfilling. I think the most disappointing part of “The Hunger Games” trilogy is that you really want to like Katniss. She’s a teenager, and while she’s strong at times, she’s also angsty and sassy — she could be you. If you were, you know, a poor girl from a forlorn district that hunted squirrels her entire life.
But none of that matters the moment Katniss shuts down after the second hunger games, after everyone begins protecting her and fawning over her. She becomes uninterested in the rebellion, halfheartedly agrees to be the Mockingjay, and after a while, her unending stream of self-loathing makes me hate her, too.
Without a sturdy main character, the fantasy genre falls apart. Adventures and romance and bravery of other characters can only hold your interest for so long until you feel yourself emerging from their world and back to yours. It is not a love story. It is not a story of a girl that finds herself through hardship. It is not the story of a resolved soldier. Katniss can’t make up her mind, but thanks to her, mine’s made up.