We have some awesome ideas for bonus posts, but Ariel has basically no time at the moment to work on them. So for today’s bonus post, here’s an old essay that was included as part of a reading of The Hunger Games trilogy on my personal blog, Angry Postcards From Nihilist Penguins. In much the same manner that we make fun of books over here, I read the trilogy to see if this series was any good or not (these posts are actually something of a precursor to Bad Books, Good Times. While I rather liked the first novel in the series, I thought that the sequels were absolutely god awful, although Ariel and I disagree on this. So here’s like an actual essay I wrote that I stuck onto my last post for the series. We haven’t talked Hunger Games here at Bad Books, Good Times, but since I feel like the sequels fall under bad books, here’s my take on that in a different style than you usually see here. Because it is Wednesday, and that means bonus posts, and that means I can do whatever I want.
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In short, Mockingjay is the weakest part of a trilogy that didn’t need to be a trilogy. In long, the sequels are pretty terrible books with atrocious narrative pacing barely competent enough to get through a directionless narrative. The sense of anticlimax in Mockingjay, as seen in the war ending as soon as Prim dies and Finnick’s sudden death after not having done a thing (such as talk) for roughly a third of the novel, is especially representative of the sequels’ overall lack of structure.
Even worse than the fact that the sequels were just shitty books is that The Hunger Games was actually a pretty good book. The problem is that nothing unique about the first one was retained in the sequels. The concept of the Hunger Games themselves was an interesting variation on the Orwellian dystopia (and before you say it, yes, we’ve all heard that Battle Royale did this first; just fuck off already), but the sequels completely ignored how important this was to the strength of the original book. I mean, the fucking title of the book was The Hunger Games. That’s how important the whole “Orwellian future government forces children to fight to the death” thing is. It was the fucking title. As soon as we step away from that, we’re only left with generic dystopia, and that leaves us with generic books.
Speaking of decline, I want to discuss Katniss for a moment. In the first book, Katniss kicked all kinds of ass. This was a believably strong character with legitimate willpower that I wanted to see succeed and I wanted to root for. In the sequels, we don’t get this Katniss. This is not, however, a complaint about how much of the sequels was Katniss struggling with her sanity. Katniss went through a ton of horrifying shit and seeing her difficult struggle with her wavering sanity in response is a legitimate high point of the sequels. What I am complaining about is that she got stupid. She went from a competent and determined survivor to an impulsive and misguided child. Again, my complaint isn’t that the Games and the war took a heavy toll on her psyche, but that she simply wasn’t the same character.
Bringing me to my overall point: the sequels did not need to be written.
What exactly was accomplished with these two books? Did the Capitol become more haunting? Did the change from children being forced to kill each other to adults being forced to kill each other increase the horror? The fact that the war ultimately turned out to be between two largely identical Orwellian entities was a good move, but having the narrative constantly pull us away from this one and only point that could possibly still be made that would actually add to the horror lessened the blow so much that it barely seemed to be there. And in its place, we had something worse pushing for the entire reason these sequels exist: the love triangle. I’m not convinced the sequels did a damned thing aside from draw out Katniss’s decision between Peeta and Gale. By the end of The Hunger Games, there were two big unresolved points: the future stability of the Capitol in the aftermath of Katniss’s symbolically rebellious actions at the end of her Hunger Games, and which boy she would choose.
But these were not questions that needed to be answered. Like I said at the end of my reading of The Hunger Games, these work perfectly fine – better, in fact – as open-ended questions. The book ended with Katniss’s life forever changed by a new shade of horror of the Orwellian dystopia she lived in. This would have been much, much more haunting than learning how. It’s plain and simple “show, don’t tell”. Much like how it’s more haunting to leave Oedipus tearing his eyes out to the imagination than to put it on stage, leaving the aftermath of Katniss’s unintentional act of defiance to the imagination left me much more haunted, and thus more satisfied in the narrative, than actually reading another two books about it. I’m not saying that it couldn’t have been done well, but it wasn’t particularly necessary to even try in the first place. We don’t have a sequel to Casablanca about Rick and Louie fighting the Nazis, even though that’s obviously what happens next. We don’t have a sequel to Gone With The Wind about Scarlett coming to terms with how she ruined the few good parts of her life and slowly rebuilding it. We don’t have a sequel to Titanic about the creation of stricter safety regulations. These are simply not stories that needs to be told because getting to that story in the first place was what was really important. And that is what Catching Fire and Mockingjay did wrong: they’re just not the story that’s worth telling.