This week we’re doing special coverage and reading Catching Fire in anticipation of the new Hunger Games movie, which is not Catching Fire. Just don’t think about it too much. Pick a bookmark and read along!
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As we’ve learned by now, Suzanne Collins loves ending every Part with some huge, huge twist that is huge (huge!). At the end of Part One, Katniss meets someone wearing a Peace Keeper uniform holding out a cracker with a mockingjay printed on it. Now, so far we’ve had:
- A billion conversations about how mockingjays have been, historically, symbols of rebellion and resistance
- A character with a new high-profile government position (of sorts) sharing secret information with Katniss while discreetly showing her the mockingjay symbol on his watch
- Another billion conversations about how mockingjays have been, historically, symbols of rebellion and resistance
So Katniss’s reaction to encountering a stranger who has laid down her own weapon to show Katniss something with this symbol on it is:
“That cracker in your hand. With the bird. What’s that about?” I ask.
“Don’t you know, Katniss?”
No, guys, it’s Katniss.
Now, the new characters story about rebellion and the government cracking down on District 8 is pretty interesting, although the bit with District 13 seems entirely unbelievable, but not for the reasons they’re meant to. Since it was brought up at all, obviously the rumors about District 13 operating and being the main front of resistance against the government are going to be true (it’s called Chekov’s Gun, people), but what I take issue with is how this is even feasible in this world. Like the government completely destroyed them, but some people survived and somehow they’ve been building themselves back and the government’s just kind of not given any thought to the possibility of this happening for 75 years? Um, sure. Sounds pretty convincing.
By this point in The Hunger Games, we’ve already had kids get knifed to death by other kids, Katniss being chased by a raging inferno, and, my personal favorite, acid trip killer wasps. The most gripping action scene we’ve had this time around is Katniss jumping over a fence.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’d be super cheap for the narrative to revert back to more Hunger Games and do the same thing all over again, [Matthew, two years later: haha whoops] and this actually does fix some of the biggest problems I had with the dystopia at the beginning of the series, in that now it actually does feel like an Orwellian dystopia where nobody can do anything. The electric fences are on, there are people enforcing totalitarian law that are actually enforcing totalitarian law, people are actually oppressed right now as opposed to just kind of left alone to live in poverty. But the problem is that this is how things should have been from the beginning, and it feels very too little too late. It’s like they realized “oh, shit, we’re supposed to be really oppressive, aren’t we?” and decided to start doing so long after enough shit went down that it’s not going to matter for much longer anyway, because hopefully sometime soon this narrative will pick a direction and actually fucking go somewhere.
Well, on the plus side, the narrative did finally pick a direction. But very much on the not plus side, it picked maybe the cheapest and most recursive direction it possibly could have. Katniss and Peeta are going back to the Hunger Games. Seriously? This feels unbelievably gimmicky, much like the entire premise of the
Quell Super Hunger Games.
Now, I want to be clear about this. My problem isn’t that the narrative is going back to the Hunger Games. It’s pretty much the entire premise, and it’d be stupid to abandon it because it’s key to the series. Instead, my problem is Katniss (and Peeta) going back to the Hunger Games. This feels like a plot that doesn’t know how to move forward, and has to move backwards because it can’t think of anything else to do. It’s especially frustrating because going back to the Hunger Games could have worked. There are so many people Katniss is attached to (Gale, Prim, apparently Madge) that could have been sent to the Hunger Games this year and that would have been much more horrifying. And good. This is not.
Well, it picks up slightly with Katniss’s reaction to having to participate in yet another twenty-four person fight to the death, which is to go get shitfaced.
Katniss’s subsequent hangover probably isn’t supposed to be amusing, but I got some good laughs out of it. Probably because everything else in this chapter is the absolute nadir of everything I hate about The Hunger Games series. It’s anticlimatic. It’s rushed. It’s all tell instead of show. And it’s shamelessly, lifelessly copying the first book. There’s no build up and it is not making me care.
For my part, I try to make some mental record of the other tributes, but like last year, only a few really stick in my head.
In other words “I am a terrible narrator, so here’s a list of the main characters.”
On the plus side, there’s some promise to this whole Super Hunger Games setup after all, because it’s not kids anymore, and that completely changes the entire dynamic and the type of horror, and I don’t think the government has caught on to the dangers of this yet.
Anyway, apparently we’re finally going into Haymitch’s backstory and learning about his Hunger Games, and guys I am so excited. I am also a bit terrified that Katniss and Peeta are all curled up on the couch to watch it, but whatevs, I’ve all but made popcorn in anticipation for this part of the book, so I can’t judge. Anyway, it’s time for the Hunger Games with a younger Haymitch!
Haymitch’s name is called last of all. … Hard to admit, but he was something of a looker.
Hell yeah, that’s my man Haymitch.
“Oh. Peeta, you don’t think he killed Maysilee [Katniss’s mom’s best friend who has a stupid name like everybody else], do you?” I burst out. I don’t know why, but I can’t stand the thought.
Seriously? You don’t know why the possibility of a trusted friend and mentor having murdered a close friend of your mother is a less than pleasing thought?
“With forty-eight players? I’d say the odds are against it,” says Peeta.
Actually, I’d be pretty willing to bet Katniss is going to be right, here. For once.
“So, Haymitch, what do you think of the Games having one hundred per cent more competitors than usual?” asks Casear.
Haymitch shrugs. “I don’t see that it makes much difference. They’ll still be one hundred per cent as stupid as usual, so I figure my odds will be roughly the same.”
SPOILER Haymitch was always awesome END SPOILER
Haymitch has his own troubles over in the woods, where the fluffy golden squirrels turn out to be carnivorous and attack in packs…
Okay, almost always awesome.
“All tight. There’s only five of us left. May as well say goodbye now, anyway,” she says. “I don’t want it to come down to you and me.
Yeah, the odds aren’t in his favor for this whole “not killing his friend” thing.
[Haymitch] arrives only in time to watch the last of a flock of candy-pink birds, equipped with long thin beaks, skewer her through the neck.
Okay, I’m going to insist that I was technically right, because Jesus Christ, they had split off for like ten seconds in the time it took for her to die.
He staggers through the beautiful woods, holding his intestines in…
the girl just stands there, trying to staunch the flow of blood pouring from her empty eye socket
Anybody else think this is insanely more violent than anything that happened in The Hunger Games? Presumably because Collins didn’t have to write any actual violence.
“…Haymitch found a way to turn [the force field] into a weapon.”
“…It’s almost as bad as us and the berries!”
No, it’s nowhere near as bad as you and the berries. The berries were symbolic defiance of the power of the Capitol when the entire nation was watching. Haymitch and the force field is a participant in the Hunger Games doing whatever it takes to gain an advantage over the other participants, which is the entire point of the cruel spectacle. It’s more in line with that kid in the first book who reactivated the mines.
Katniss, please stop being stupid.
The opening ceremonies are pretty interesting, once again. Much like in The Hunger Games, it’s interesting to explore the creation of public image of the sacrificial lamb, although arguably it’s just Katniss and Peeta who really fit that role this time around. Meeting the old champions is pretty interesting, because they all know each other and have been buddies for years, and strangely enough their reaction to the whole thing is to not give a shit about what they have to do. Whatever works, I suppose. I’m intrigued by the only ones the novel’s particularly bothered to characterize: Finnick and Johanna. Finnick strikes me as the new Cato, except, you know, not dead. Johanna’s just promiscuous and that makes me laugh, because it clashes so badly with everything else that’s going on, but Catching Fire‘s been so inconsistent I don’t think it matters anymore.
It’s kind of weird how the tone of the activity leading up to the Hunger Games actually seems even more disturbing this time around, now that they’re all adults and not children. I mean, obviously it’s way worse when it’s children and teenagers being forced into a deathmatch, but with the adults… they just do not feel like they belong here.
Obviously, it’s hard to top Katniss’s stunt for the judges from the last novel, but her symbolic hanging of the last Game Maker, killed for allowing Katniss’s stunt with the berries and generally ruining everything, is actually really good, and probably the closest it could possibly have gotten.
You know how I literally just said that this whole novel has hit the point where it’s basically just following the formula of the first one and trying to top the thrills and shocks and twists and doing an okay job but not really coming close, much less justifying its existence? Well, now we’re at the interviews, and they’re actually way better than they were the last time! I know, I’m quite surprised, and I am most pleased. Basically it’s what I predicted: the Capitol’s completely screwed itself over by bringing adults into the Games, and it’s starting to become apparent. The subtle, but open, resentment is delightful and everything is slowly turning to complete chaos. The adults know how to fuck with the Capitol in ways the usual teenage Tributes can’t hope to, and this is fantastic.
Oh and Katniss’s wedding dress turns into fire and burns away so she looks like a Mockingjay and that’s pretty cool but less interesting focus on the adults they were awesome
So far the interviews have been even better than they were in the last book, and the highlight of the interviews last time, Peeta, is about to come up and I cannot wait to see if he manages to top himself too. It’ll be really difficult, since last year he completely stole the show with his “I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED KATNISS” reveal, so it’ll be hard to see how he tops this. Maybe he’ll say something about Gale? Get all young adult fiction on the Capitol? Could the world handle the drama???
Peeta pauses for a long moment, as if deciding on something. He looks out at the spellbound audience, then at the floor, then finally up at Caesar. “Caesar, do you think all our friends here can keep a secret?”
…What can he mean? Keep a secret from who? Our whole world is watching.
That’s… that’s the point Katniss. Just… sigh, Katniss…
“We’re already married”
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. EVEN BETTER. Go, Peeta! Go!
“Surely even a brief time is better than no time?”
“Maybe I’d think that, too, Caesar,” says Peeta bitterly, “if it weren’t for the baby.”
HOLY SHITTING FUCK, THIS IS AWESOME.
Caesar can’t rein in the crowd again, not even when the buzzer sounds … the place is in total chaos and I can’t hear a word.
Oh my God, this is exactly the everything falling apart I was talking about. Peeta is goddamned brilliant.
all twenty-four of us stand in one unbroken line in what must be the first public show of unity among the districts since the Dark Days.
This is actually incredible. I’m calling it right now, this is the best moment of Catching Fire. It certainly is up to this point, and I imagine nothing in Part Three’s going to top it. Although there’s certainly going to be a fair amount of fallout from this.
The Peacekeepers ignore me completely as they drag Cinna’s limp body from the room. All that’s left are the smears of blood on the floor.
Such as maybe killing off Cinna. That would be, like, chapter one of the fallout. And with that last glimpse of the real world, Katniss is sent to the Super Hunger Games and Part Two ends. The narrative pacing has been horrible, but the novel’s finally (and, I want to put as much emphasis on this word as I can, FINALLY) getting good. Finally. At long last, we have the sense of danger that the whole novel should have had. But whatever, we’re past it now, and it’s young adult fiction and the font size is large enough that each letter could fill up an M&M, so we can’t complain too much. It’s nowhere near as entertaining as The Hunger Games so far, but it’s fair.
Predictions About The Ending of a Book That Came Out Like Five Years Ago
So looking up Catching Fire on Wikipedia just now to check the release date to write that sentence, apparently this novel was “praised” for “the development of Katniss’s character”, to which I have to say “Are you fucking kidding me?”
1. Nobody we actually care about dies!
Once again, we’ve hit the part of the narrative where we left most of the main characters back home in District 12 and we’re following Katniss into an enclosed area for what will probably be the vast majority of the remainder of the novel, so Gale and Haymitch and co. are safe. And there’s another book left after this one, so Katniss and Peeta are safe. Except they both just entered a deathmatch arena, which means…
2. Somebody escapes
I have no idea how, of course, but there is literally no way Katniss or Peeta is going to die, and there is also literally no way they’re both going to get out of the arena playing by the rules, so at least one person’s going to manage to escape. My guess would be Peeta, because, let’s face it, he’s the smart one when he isn’t getting the shit beaten out of him.
And that’s pretty much it. There’s not much else that could happen. So, yeah, let’s find out next time! But to hold you over until then, here’s a special feature!
[Matthew, two years later: So apparently when I originally wrote the post, I felt it necessary to transcribe this Hunger Games-related dream I had at the time. Take it for what you will.]
- It took place in some giant building that alternated between creepy, decrepit horror mansion and generic college academic building (arguably very similar settings).
- Armed with a screwdriver, I killed someone trying to kill me, also with a screwdriver. After it was over, someone watching the skirmish, and I remember this happening very distinctly, said “That guy got screwed!”
- Someone received Bruce Willis as a gift.
- I went around a corner and was stabbed in the stomach and died, which, since it was first-person (obviously) and I was the main character, was actually kind of awesome in a postmodern way.
- It kept going anyway, because dream logic
- Someone armed with a golf club defeated someone armed with a sword. I am super disappointed that the guy from earlier didn’t show up at this point and say something like “Look out for the guy from District FORE!”
- I died (again) by slipping over a banana peel and falling down a staircase, and, you know what, after my awesome postmodern first death, I’m not particularly cool with my second one being played for laughs.
- After half of the participants were killed, the Hunger Games were called off on account of rain.
- Those who survived were super pissed because now that they weren’t going to die, they had to study for final exams.