Joe Jordan

the geek of hearts

Why The Hunger Games' ending is disappointing (SPOILER ALERT)

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I’ve just figured out why the ending to the hunger games bugs me. Spoiler alert, obviously - please don’t read any further if you have read the books yet and ever intend to: this article will ruin them!

I got the “aha moment” from reading this article, which is a stream of tweets from Pixar’s Emma Coats about storytelling rules. (If you don’t think storytelling has rules, read this.) They’re gold, in general, but the one I’m interested in here is number 19:

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Katniss is a good few pages from confronting the arch-villain President Snow yet, in a seemingly hopeless situation (as usual, almost her entire team has died) with the goal in sight; she is standing in front of the heavily guarded president’s mansion, with weapons.

And what happens? Massive Coincidence: the war is over and your sister is dead.

Now, I know, full points for “WTF! where did that come from?!” but the character’s motivation here — the motivation developed throughout the entire third book — was to get to the showdown. The showdown which basically doesn’t happen (or is reversed) owing to that plot twist.

Now, while the death of Prim is massively negative on Katniss, the fact that the war is won and Snow is caught in a trap is a huge win - it was supposed to be at least, given that she’s hated him for a good two and a half books so far. A win, that is, from a coincidence. You see where number 19 comes in now?

The same happens in book two, when she randomly escapes the arena; although that was much less jarring and a more conventional plot twist as it gives her a completely new set of problems, is a reveal of a bunch of hints that have been building up, and simply by being so far from the end of the books that it clearly constitutes conflict, not resolution.

Now, it may be ironic to critique “the new Twilight” from a literary point of view, but hang on a minute. Collins chose to set this in an Orwellian nightmare future, dripping with possibilities for stark political commentary, some of which are delivered — like the a rich few living on the labours of an imprisoned and marginalised majority, much as the west does on the developing world. This stuff is why the book was trailed widely on places like Radio Four (where I first heard of it) - because it seemed the story had some political meat to it.

But the while the book does a good number in sharp contrasts, we are left devoid of proper political intrigue. The motives, and often actions, of those with power over Katniss are disappointingly opaque and random, or where they are obvious the character is too stupid to understand them (like when the games master shows off his mockingjay pocket watch at a Capitol party, and Katniss doesn’t clock that he’s a rebel, instead bizarrely attributing his furtive manner to a desire to keep the idea unique.) This is partly necessitated by the first person present choice, but Katniss could have easily witnessed various clues coincidentally, as she does with the uprising on the mayor’s TV, and been smart enough to put two and two together sometimes (which would befit a character capable of eeking out life in The Seam, and emerging the victor of a Hunger Games.)

My frustration in this, stemming from plot snippets throughout the series, is compounded at the ending, when the love story (which is frankly irrelevant to the main character’s motivation throughout, as she admits to herself at numerous points) receives a full Harry Potter-style cringeworthy fanfic ending*, at the expense of any resolution on the political front — indeed, with the author having committed a major plot development faux pas. Leaving the political geek readers on a cliffhanger was unnecessary, and I’m glad Pixar have given me an empirical basis for my deep dissatisfaction with this promising but poorly delivered dystopian trilogy.

* not that these are the first novels to use this device, indeed to quote George Elliot’s Middlemarch finale:

Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years?

so, perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh on Rowling and Collins. Maybe.