I’ve been wondering for a while exactly what I want to say about The Hunger Games. Having heard a lot of good about it, I recommended it to my teenage daughter a few months ago, and she in turn, having made a quick meal of it, recommended it right back at me. Since then, my wife and son have also read it. They’ve all seen the movie, though I have yet to indulge. I’m not boycotting it — just been real busy.
I don’t have all that much to say about the whole “it represents the anger of a new generation” thing that Maclean’s Magazine and others have been grooving on. I teach that generation, and they don’t seem much angrier that the previous one I taught. Truth is, most of the ones I teach are quite sanguine in spite of recent economic setbacks.
I’m also not much interested in the “is it a rip-off of Battle Royale?” nontroversy. It isn’t — they have common ancestors, that’s all.
But that question of antecedents — that one always gets me going. I like best the take that Neil Gaiman expressed fourteen years ago when asked if he thought that J.K. Rowling had ripped off his Tim Hunter character when she created Harry Potter (English boy with round-framed glasses discovers he’s a wizard and gets an owl). Gaiman was predictably gracious about the whole thing: “It’s not the ideas, it’s what you do with them that matters.” He also paraphrased Terry Pratchett’s observation that “Genre fiction … is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on.”
So before I get further into this, let me state outright: the following amusement is not in any way an accusation. I enjoyedThe Hunger Games — well, except for the long bits with the stylists and the fire-dresses. And the long he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not peregrinations.
But I like playing a game with it. When I was about halfway through, I started describingthe novel as follows:
The Hunger Games = “The Lottery” + the Triwizard Tournament + Lord of the Flies
This didn’t cover it. After all, Suzanne Collins herself has described her inspiration as coming from channel surfing between the Iraq invasion and a reality TV show. So let’s try it again:
THG = (“The Lottery” + the Triwizard Tournament + Lord of the Flies) ÷ (the Iraq war + Survivor)
We have the division sign in there to represent “seen through the lens of.” But we’re still missing something. I mean, come on — a volunteer goes along with a number of youthful tributes of both sexes to meet certain death to symbolize their people’s subjugation to a conquering power? That’s how Theseus ended up topping a Minotaur. That story even has love expressed and withdrawn as part of the escape plan. So the equation now needs some notation to represent mythological antecedents, which are much more powerful than recent influences and inspirations. Here goes:
THG = ((“The Lottery” + the Triwizard Tournament + Lord of the Flies) ÷ (the Iraq war + Survivor))Theseus
One more thing I like about Katniss Everdeen’s story, however, that doesn’t appear here is that while it gives us the requisite emotional turbulence required of a teen potboiler these days, it does so without the odiousness of Team-Jacob-Team-Edward decisions. No having to choose between an undead pedophile (come on, he’s over a hundred and wants to date a teenager) and a rageaholic furball. So here’s the final equation:
THG = ((“The Lottery” + the Triwizard Tournament + Lord of the Flies) ÷ (the Iraq war + Survivor))Theseus X (Zeitgeist – Twilight creep factor)
The game now, of course, is to get some equations for other stuff. What was with Harry Potter in the first place? There must be some Cinderella and Roald Dahl in there somewhere. And could anyone even begin to do the calculus on Cabin in the Woods? I’d love to see that.
Who says math isn’t fun?