The rebirth of the dystopian novel

The Hunger Games front cover - image source: Wikipedia. No copyright infringement is intended and all rights belong to their respective owners

You’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games. You might even have read The Hunger Games trilogy of books or gone to see the recently released movie adaptation. And to you, it might be just another mainstream franchise which pulls in big money at the box office. There is no disputing the fact that it is mainstream: The Hunger Games spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the film is now at the top of movie charts worldwide. But just because it is turning into a franchise to rival Harry Potter and the like doesn’t mean that it should be viewed as trivial. Sure, I would be among the first to admit that, as with all pop culture phenomenons, there is too much hype surrounding it in my opinion. But I think it is unique compared to most other big-name pop culture trends and media franchises because Suzanne Collins’s writing actually portrays a meaningful message.

The trend for dystopian literature is rising and rising; the worldwide success of The Hunger Games exemplifies this. I find it interesting that there are currently so many recently published dystopian novels on the market. It makes me wonder whether global reading trends are influenced or perhaps driven by world affairs; socially, culturally and economically. Is it a coincidence that dystopian fiction is experiencing a revival when the economic situations of many countries are so bleak?

In a quote from their dystopian fiction page, Utopian and dystopian fiction, Wikipedia says that “Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society”. And that is exactly what the author of The Hunger Games has done. Part of the acclaim which surrounds the series relates to the key focal points of the books; Suzanne Collins takes current societal and cultural issues, presenting them using stunning yet subtle comparisons which remind us of our frequently inconsequential ‘First World problems’. I can see significant parallels between the fictional world of Panem – a futuristic United States as portrayed by Collins – and the state of our world. For example, the stark contrasts between the wealthy Capitol and the impoverished Districts whose inhabitants work to provide goods, gadgets and fuel for said Capitol reminds me strongly of low-paid factory workers toiling to churn out the latest gadgets and cheap clothes for spoiled, privileged Western consumers.

There are several other instances where Collins made me stop and think, especially surrounding the issue of the desensitization to violence. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before; there’s too much violence on TV and in video games etc. But that is precisely the point. When something is omnipresent it loses some of its initial bite, like a threat which is repeated but is never actually carried out. This is one of the themes of The Hunger Games. The Capitol citizens are so desensitized to violence that they are happy to watch reality TV shows based on shocking brutality. Of course, this is not a new concept: violence was a spectator sport in Ancient Rome and Suzanne Collins has said that “the world of Panem, particularly the Capitol, is loaded with Roman references” (source: A Conversation with Suzanne Collins) as well as being based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Nevertheless, it is a point worth thinking about.

And to conclude, another one of the reasons why I am a fan of THG is because of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. After a certain other pop culture trend which I feel slightly embarrassed to mention in the same sentence as THG, it is refreshing to read something mainstream which has such a strong central female character and which does not have a ‘girl meets boy’ story as the plot.

I look forward to seeing the movie this week so expect another Hunger Games themed post very soon. I have doubts about the casting (President Snow in particular is different from how I imagined him) and the way in which the subtle themes from the book will be portrayed on-screen but we will see…

The Hunger Games official trailer – linked from YouTube.

And I got through a whole discussion of The Hunger Games without once attempting to compare it to Twilight…until now. Oops! Just one sentence: it isn’t Twilight, no matter how much people keep comparing it, and Katniss is the complete opposite of insipid Bella.

See you next time!

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2 thoughts on “The rebirth of the dystopian novel

  1. I think your observation about the reason for the rise in popularity of dystopian novels is an interesting one that I hadn’t quite noticed till now, but I gotta say, at least it’s a better trend than that of vampire and werewolve books. I thought I was obsessed with dystopian novels, but I realized recently there aren’t really any aside from “The Hunger Games” that’s stuck with me. The “Chaos Walking” triology is a damn good dystopian series too, though.

    I had my issues with the movie, but on second (and third) viewing, I really liked it as it’s own separate piece!

    • “at least it’s a better trend than that of vampire and werewolve books” – I fully agree!

      Yeah, I think The Hunger Games is kind of overshadowing, in a good way, all the other dystopian books on the market at the moment, although this style has been around for ages (Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World etc). What goes around comes around, as they say.

      I just saw the movie and on the whole I enjoyed it although I have a few criticisms. My movie review post will be coming up very soon!

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