There are ethical dilemmas, and then there are the phony baloney ones. The famous National Lampoon magazine cover did not pose a genuine ethical dilemma—buy this magazine or we shoot the dog.
Many years ago I was working on a television show with the local PBS station at WSU, and Nancy and I were invited over to dinner by the producer and his wife. They were very gracious, and we enjoyed our time with them. But one of the events of the evening that turned out to be a dud was when our host brought out a game which was called, I think, Scruples. Something like that. At any rate, the point of the game was that you drew a card that dealt you some kind of ethical thumb-sucker from a stack of ethical conundra, to make up a funny-sounding plural. If you are stuck in a lifeboat, and you will most certainly die if you don’t do something, do you eat the fat guy or the skinny guy first? That kind of thing. You were then supposed to say something like whoa, and think about it for a while, twisting in the wind. I can really see how a living room full of wealthy relativists in an upscale neighborhood in the eighties could really be flummoxed by the game, but we were no fun at all. There are certain things you just don’t do because the Ten Commandments were not suggestions, and the game is over.
This said, The Hunger Games specializes in a similar kind of elaborate set-up for situation ethics. In this review, I will not be going after the book for stylistic faults. It does not open itself up for that kind of thing the way Twilight did. The writing in this book was competent enough, and the pacing delivers what it promises. The premise had a lot of potential—gladiatorial games meet reality television in a dystopic future.
The country is Panem, set in a future and really messed up North America. The place is run by the Capitol, and there are twelve districts run by the harsh and cruel guys in the Capitol. There had been a war of rebellion sometime back, and the Capitol had won it, and now exacted a harsh and inflexible penalty on all the previously rebellious districts. Those districts have been utterly cowed.
The book is written in the first person, and the protagonist is a young girl named Katniss Everdeen. Her father was killed some years before in a mining accident, her relationship with her mother is strained because of how her mother had collapsed after her father’s death, and the only person she really loves is her younger sister, Primrose. But then Prim, as she is called, is chosen by the lottery for the Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to take her place, which is good and sacrificial and noble, and that is the point of the whole set up. We’ll come back to it.
Every year, each district is forced by lottery to send one boy and one girl (between the ages of twelve and eighteen) as tributes to the Hunger Games, where they are all put into a closed off area, a vast outdoor arena, and forced to fight it out to the death. The arena is full of cameras everywhere, and everybody in Panem is forced to watch the games. As I said earlier, the premise is one full of dramatic potential.
Katniss is tough and edgy enough to be a survivor in the Hunger Games (which means she will have to kill other people’s brothers and sisters), and soft enough to be likeable. The reader can begin to identify with her . . . if the reader takes his eye off the ball. I don’t like books that make me choose between the fat guy and the skinny guy.
Suppose the Capitol bad guys had decided to set up a different required sin in their games. Suppose it were the Rape Games instead. Suppose that the person who made it through the games without being raped was the feted winner. Anybody here think that this series would be the bestselling phenomenon that this one is?