Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fanning the Flames

Okay, I admit it. I'm a fan and I'm still trying to figure out why. Yes, the books have all the classic elements -- suspense, a love triangle, quirky characters, and a strong sense of time and place. But there's more . . . and a comment by a neighbor last night sent me off on the trail.

“Kids killing kids! Now that’s a great premise for a movie,” he sniffed.

Well, when you put it that way, it does sound just plain ugly. So why do I like the series so much? And why do I feel obliged to defend it?

First of all, I understand that premise -- we lived it. Back in the sixties, we didn’t call it a reaping, we called it a lottery. All boy children on their 18th birthday were required to submit their names and were issued a number -- if your number came up, they handed you a gun and sent you to an arena called Vietnam where you and other children were forced to kill or be killed. As a boy child, you could volunteer to go, but you could not say, “No,” not without incurring the wrath of Uncle Sam.

There are differences, of course, between the Viet Nam era and the Hunger Games -- I’m not saying there aren’t. I’m just saying there are striking similarities. There are also striking similarities between the wasteful excesses of the pampered Capitol citizens and the wasteful excesses of pampered Americans. Most of us here in the US of A have the wherewithal and privilege of buying strawberries in January or asparagus in August, of tossing uneaten food in the trash, and of spending our money on cosmetic surgery -- while men, women and children in countries being exploited across the globe are dying of treatable diseases and starvation. I don’t know if the author of the book intended to draw these parallels, but they strike me all the same.

However, the books, and the movie, are not about children killing children, or even about unearned privilege or exploitation. Those are elements of the setting, but they are not the theme. The books are about love, compassion and courage. When those three elements come together, as they do in Katniss and Peeta, something unstoppable ignites, and tyranny goes down in flame.

The author of the series, Suzanne Collins, is apparently reluctant to give interviews -- and it is my guess that she wishes to avoid direct questions about the layers of meaning of what is not, after all, a simple story. There are the names, for instance -- Gale being a strong wind that can be indiscriminately destructive. Peeta, or Peter, is the rock. Snow, as in snow-job? Coin, as in the corruption that comes when money is king? As I re-read the books, I find more examples of the mirror Collins is holding up, inviting us to see ourselves more clearly. If what we find is disturbing, then we need to dig a bit deeper, down to our inner core of love, compassion and courage. It is there that the true Self rests, the one that resists being changed by the Game.