I think my subtitle for this post ought to be:
Building Character By Killing Off Other Characters
This gorgeous photo was from Teri Orda.
I came late to the Hunger Games phenomenon.
I was early to the Harry Potter craze. I worked at a library in high school and always scoped out the new kids' books (especially fantasy) as they were coming in. Harry caught my eye, and I really enjoyed it, but I had absolutely no idea what it would turn into. I watched it unfold, and, honestly, I was amazed. But I always had that un-influenced first opinion to know I enjoyed the book without all the hype. I mean I would have enjoyed them no matter what, but that fact made me happy (because deep down I'm obviously some sort of annoyingly smug Hipster).
By the time I finally picked up the first Hunger Games book, the movie was about to come out, and I'd been hearing about it for ages. I thought, "A book about kids who kill each other? No thanks." But eventually I realized I couldn't escape it, and I really ought to give it a try. With all the hype surrounding it, I figured that it wouldn't live up to expectation. And there was the whole "kids who kill each other" thing.
Well, I loved it.
So I decided to try something new: read each book in the year its movie was coming out. By the time a movie comes out, if I'm interested in the series, I've usually read it all years before the movies and I either don’t remember any of the book's details or that book has blurred in with the subsequent books and I can't remember what actually happened in which book.
I read one book per year. The Hunger Games two years ago and Catching Fire last year. Watching each movie after only reading its book and not beyond was a fun experience. I appreciated each movie without the slightest clue of what would happen after the film ended. There's something weirdly fun about that.
Last week, I finally picked up Mockingjay, read it through, closed the book, and thought, "This lady is a genius."
Warning: Spoilers will ensue!
Photo by Kendra Miller.
What really struck me was how incredibly well Collins used her characters. She played us along, getting us attached, and when the moment was right, picked off exactly the right character to tug at our heartstrings. And, just as importantly, she kept the right characters alive.
First, obviously, came Rue. Rue's death showed what it really meant to be in a world with the Hunger Games. Rue set the precedent. (To be honest, Rue made me cry.)
In Mockingjay, there was a war going on. People die in war. I was glad Collins didn't kill off Haymitch just because we'd grown attached to him, but I will say that Finnick's death was the one death that seemed a little pointless. Somewhat logical given the war, and I could see him wanting to be an active participant, but it was the one death that was sad but didn't really tug at me, so it felt a little wasted. Plus I felt really sad for crazy Annie, especially because I'd think this would turn her crazy again.
But everything else was brilliant. It all came back to Prim for Katniss. Prim's name being called was what set her on the Mockingjay path, and Prim's death was the one that could break her.
Photo by Dendroica cerulea
Prim's death made the entire ending come together. Thanks to that death, Alma Coin had to be taken out and our fledgeling democracy got a better president (although I did think Peeta might end up being president for a while). Thanks to that death, the love triangle was resolved in a completely believable way. Without it, I don't see how Katniss could have chosen so that her choice wouldn’t have felt like some sort of pity prize. I was also glad that Collins didn't take the easy way out and kill off one of the love interests. That would have felt a little lacking in resolution too.
It's funny. Despite all the bloodshed, there was really only one important death per book: Rue's, Cinna's, and Prim's. While I really liked Cinna, I will say that his death felt the least pivotal of the three, and his book felt the weakest as well (although it was necessary to further the plot).
Anyway, I closed my book and realized just how brilliantly Collins had played all of the characters at her disposal (or perhaps referring to them as chess pieces would seem more accurate).
I'm glad I finally gave in and read them all.