This is part of our series on The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. *Spoiler alert: This post contains details regarding the end of the series.* It was Christmas time when I first began dating the woman who recently became my wife. She was at home with her family in a different part of the country, so I spent a number of hours on the phone with her. I can still remember the instance when I heard her banging around in the background of our conversation.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh sorry—I’m searching under my little brother’s bed for the last book in The Hunger Games series.” “What’s The Hunger Games?”Thus began my relationship with the books that have become a worldwide phenomenon. Like Harry Potter and Twilight before it, Suzanne Collins’s young adult trilogy is punching well above its weight. When I finally got around to reading the books myself in early January of this year, the books occupied three of the five spots on USA Today’s fiction bestseller list. Interest has been renewed as the release of the first film nears (March 23). The Hunger Games is the tale of protagonist Katniss Everdeen’s violent struggle for survival in somewhat-near-future America, where a war has left most citizens slaves to a minority state that reinforces its authority through repression and terror. The “Hunger Games” are an annual event wherein child representatives from each region are trained as gladiators and required to kill one another while the nation watches. (As Rebecca Cusey says, think Survivor meets Gladiator.) Like everyone, I read the series in under a week. It’s pulp, sure, but it’s gripping and fun. Collins won’t win awards for the writing, but she deserves credit for weaving awkward teen romance, compelling action sequences, and a dystopian political culture into a story that offers a little something for readers of all ages and interests. (No worries, credit has come in the form of lots and lots of money.) I’m a fan. Someday, when they’re old enough, I’ll read The Hunger Games with my kids. But when that time comes, we’ll have to talk about the ending. I won’t give too much away, but if you haven’t read the books or plan to see the movie, it’s probably best to stop reading now. Rebecca Cusey authored a wonderful piece for the Daily Caller in which she called The Hunger Games “Blue-State Harry Potter.” Read the article to learn more, but essentially what she’s saying is that some stories—like The Lord of the Rings—teach timeless truths about virtue and morality, and avoid irony (Red State), while others—like The Descendants—teach that much of life is gray, and virtue and morality are relative (Blue State). There’s some truth to both and examples of good and bad art in both. For the majority of The Hunger Games our hero—Katniss—and her small band of companions confront villains head on. It’s Good v. Evil, “Red State” fodder. Katniss is involved in the Games only because she sacrificed herself to save her little sister. She spends the majority of her time in the arena contemplating how to sacrifice her life in order to save her friend Peeta, all the while he is trying to do the same for her. Self-sacrifice in the name of love? Red State. Eventually, Peeta and Katniss beat the system and escape the Games together. It’s the triumph of love and perseverance over evil. Red State. The third book is devoted to the grander cause of defeating the authoritarian state once and for all. A small band of rebels, led by Katniss, inspires the people to revolution and eventual victory over the totalitarian government. Red State. But that’s not the end of the story. Instead, Collins’s characters deteriorate into self-interested, cynical, vengeful creatures. The parallels of their behavior post-victory with the actions of their former dictators are made clear. Katniss even votes in support of another Hunger Games, this time featuring the children of the elites who have been overcome. It’s a Blue State ending to a Red State story. I find this unacceptable. And so I asked some friends of the blog to author their own alternative ending. Our parameters were broad. We’ll see where each author decides to go. Not everyone I asked saw things as I’ve just described them, and I’m not convinced some of their endings are any better than the actual one, but they’re fun nonetheless. My hope is that this exercise will illustrate that though we would be naïve to believe in a cupcake universe where good always triumphs over bad, ultimately that is a narrative arc we ought to hope for.