When the Harry Potter series came to an end a void was left in young adult fiction. Several theories appeared as to what would become the next hit. One attempt was the trilogy that took control of the United States this summer and became a number-one beach read, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Reviewers have claimed that the book combines “the memorable violence of A Clockwork Orange, the imaginative ambience of The Chronicles of Narnia and the detailed inventiveness of Harry Potter“. Great, what could go wrong? An easy read with a large font and fast moving plot (Stephen King even said it was addictive) – just what the world was crying out for.
However, The Hunger Games brings to light the sad state of the world. This dystopian novel is focused on a sixteen year-old girl in post-apocalyptic North America where the ‘Capitol’ (i.e. the Big Brother-like government) holds all the power. In the book, the Hunger Games are an annual televised event (think the Olympics) where the Capitol chooses one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of 12 districts for a massive televised battle in which only one person can survive (i.e. they are stuck in a game of Halo, only it’s real life).
The fact that this is the book that swept away America this summer is partly because it’s about their own country (and we know how patriotic America is) and because we all love an easy read. But the problem is that young adult fiction has moved away from the magical universes where we wish we were. Who didn’t want to go to Hogwarts and pal around with the Weasley twins and take charms class? But who would want to battle to the death in a post-apocalyptic world? Instead of affording escapism, this book continues the proliferation of the-end-of-the-world-is-nigh feeling that has accompanied the fall of the economy, terrorism, and global warming. The Hunger Games follows the tradition of apocalypse novels such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to demonstrate that this generation has screwed up the world, and with it our morality and humanity is what is next to fall as we egotistically try to save our own skin and others at the world’s expense.
As the Harry Potter novels developed they became increasingly darker, moving from a bright, fun world where darkness was possible around the corner (past the three-headed dog, or under the school bathroom) to one where the whole world was dark and light could only be found in small glimpses of human love, such as at the wedding, but even then this was only temporary as darkness would come flooding back. “Normality”, if there is such a thing, has become the negative, the dark, where small glimmers of positivity may shine, but only through exceptional human beings willing to forego their egotistical needs and claims of power. Is this world so bad that we can no longer see it as a positive place even in fantasy? Let the call be heard that we’re not trying to replace the end of the Harry Potter series, which arguably The Hunger Games does, but the beginning, where the descriptions of Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and Hogsmeade built another world, instead of describing the destruction of our current one. Essentially, the news is pessimistic enough, why can’t we have some optimistic fiction?