Editor's Note - A ‘Hunger Games’ challenge

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By Tom McDonald

If you’ve read “The Hunger Games” — a three-book series written by Suzanne Collins— I dare you to find its deeper meanings.

If you don’t, or can’t, I think you’re missing something. And if you don’t believe there’s any deeper meaning worth finding, that it’s just written as entertainment, I must wonder if you are being shallow in your literary consumption.

Admittedly, I’m not always so deep myself. I saw the movie first, then I read the first book. And I read the next two so I’d know how it all ended. That was a month ago, a good three years or so after my daughter Amy first told me about the trilogy.

At that time, Amy told me about how it’s set in the future, when children are pitted against other children in a fight to the death, as a form of entertainment. Not my kind of book, I declared in no uncertain terms. I am sickened by violence against children — I see it as the ugliest of all human behaviors — so I told Amy that I had no interest in reading such a terrible storyline. Then I told her younger sister Maya that she shouldn’t read it either.

But Amy is way too independent in her thinking, and it would only be a matter of time before Maya would latch on to “The Hunger Games” and read the trilogy with or without my permission. Such are the dangers of raising two girls to think for themselves.

Yes, I was initially closed-minded about those books but, obviously, I ended up changing my mind. It wasn’t my daughters’ insistence that opened me up, nor was it simply the movie. I was also swayed by a book review that I read, which suggested two things that intrigued me. One was that the setting for the series is a post-global warming world; that caught my attention. The other was that the book was only taking Reality TV to its logical extreme; that captured my curiosity.

It’s an easy read, and while one could say it’s all fantasy, I felt it was steeped in the reality that our world, our society, could devolve to this level. In other words, I felt it was believable. Terribly, terribly believable.

After I read the books, I asked Amy and Maya what they thought the deeper meanings are, and they had to think about it.

Amy gave me a thoughtful response, but I don’t want to mention it here — it would be a spoiler since it sort of gives away the ending.

Maya, on the other hand, struggled with her answer before explaining that she believes no story is unique in its meaning, that they all build off other tales, and that “The Hunger Games” trilogy is a story about survival that grows into a good-vs.-evil conflict.

I also asked Maya to rank “The Hunger Games” in comparison to her favorite books and this is what she said: “My favorite book is always the one I’m reading, because that’s the one I get to live in.”

So, in other words, it depends on who’s reading and “living in” a book as to what its meaning is.

I think I get that.

Moreover, I can understand how it can be difficult to put into words the deeper meaning to a book. Years ago I read Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes A Great Notion” and it hit me so hard I read it again. And again. Over the years, I think I’ve read it four times, but if you asked me it’s deeper meaning, I’d stutter and stammer my way through a completely unsatisfactory explanation. But I can say this: it’s one of the grittiest storylines and imaginative writing styles I’ve ever read.

“The Hunger Games” is different. It involves the better side of humanity alongside much darker behaviors. It’s entertaining, but it’s also about how entertainment can go too far. Love, violence, defiance, war and loyalty all play into the narrative.

It’s worth the read, but only if you’re willing to think about what it means. At least what it means to you.

Such depth of meaning is, after all, at the heart of every good book.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.