The Hunger Pains/Publisher Games

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Warning – long, meaningless lists, ranting, and conspiracy theories to follow. Popular series butchered.

 So now I have finished the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, and wow, is it a sad affair. It’s all I could do to finish it. Had this been the first book in the series I probably wouldn’t have made it past page ten. In fact, so awful is this book that I seriously wonder if the author of the first two books, Suzanne Collins, actually wrote it or if it was ghostwritten by a fifteen year old fan and published as some kind of bizarre experiment in publishing. As with most things in life, I have a theory. A weird one.

Before I start my rant proper, let’s take a little look at the saga thus far. It starts off with Ms. Collins, a previously published and popular author, The Underland Chronicles series, signing for three books with Scholastic in 2006. The contract is said to be in the six figures range. We can assume that most of the agents and publishers who turned her down prior to the Scholastic deal are now dead, most likely by their own hands. Think if somebody said ‘no thank you’ to both Collins and Rowling. Oh, the pain! Anyhow, The Hunger Games trilogy débuted on the market in 2008 with the publication of the first book, The Hunger Games. First print – 50,000. The next two volumes, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, followed in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The series is a hit, to put it mildly. From Wikipedia; ‘The book had been on USA Today’s best-selling books list for 135 consecutive weeks, and the publisher reported 26 million Hunger Games trilogy books in print, including movie tie-in books’. Collins has recently been named as the best-selling Kindle author to date, with over a million units sold. Not bad for YA. Of course the recent news is the movie version of the first book, The Hunger Games. It’s already a runaway box-office success with one of the strongest openings ever in the history of cinema. Move over J.K., Suzy coming through. But let’s focus on the publishing industry first.

There are, in addition to the initial three volumes’ hardcover, paperback, e-book, audio book, collector’s and boxed set editions, the following books currently tied into (or parasitizing) the series:

  • The Hunger Games: Movie Tie-in Edition
  • The Hunger Games: Official Illustrated Movie Companion
  • The Hunger Games Journal
  • The World of the Hunger Games
  • The Girl Who Was on Fire (Movie Edition): Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games
  • Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games
  • The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason

There are study and discussion guides:

  • The BookCaps Study Guide series (one guide per book)
  • The Hunger Games Discussion Guide
  • The Hunger Games Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series
  • Guide to the Hunger Games

 Then there are the parodies, including:

  • The Hunger Pains by the Harvard Lampoon
  • The Younger Games
  • The Hunger But Mainly Death Games

And, I kid you not: The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to “Groosling” – More than 150 Recipes Inspired by The Hunger Games Trilogy

There are probably a lot more books out there than I have listed up here, but I can’t be arsed to look for more. Apparently The Hunger Games For Dummies hasn’t come out yet. But just wait, it will, I promise.

But you get the point, right? Lots of stuff. Lots. Moving on past publishing, there are a number of related products.

Of course there is the soundtrack to the movie: The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Then there are Hunger Game games:

  • The Hunger Games Movie The District 12 Strategy Game
  • The Hunger Games Movie JabberJay Card Game
  • The Hunger Games: Training Days Strategy Game
  • And a role-playing video game is currently being developed by Lionsgate

And least we forget – Hunger Games Merch: calendars, posters, t-shirts, magnets, jewelry, socks, pen & pencil sets, key chains, stickers, book marks, postcards, notebook covers, makeup, shoulder bags, bed clothes, mockingjay pins and all the other shit that you would normally expect from a runaway bestselling book and subsequent blockbuster movie.

Yes, it’s a regular cottage industry with everybody and their uncle trying to cash in on a publishing phenomenon. But what the heck, that’s postmodern life, right? To the victors go the spoils and may the odds ever be in the corporate favor …

But enough about cynical profit mongering. At least for the moment. Let’s discuss the books themselves.

I’m a picky reader. About half of the books I start never get read past page 10. And that is after they have passed through my needle’s eye of readable literature. And while I am generally omnivorous when it comes to genre, in my old age I am definitely no longer in the YA (Young Adult) demographic. In fact I’m about as far away as you can get and still be breathing.

To be honest I can’t even remember why I picked up The Hunger Games (henceforth to be referred to as THG) in the first place. But I will admit that when I first began reading it I was hooked. And I think it’s a pretty good book. It has its faults but no one can deny it’s a page turner. I have read other popular page turners that left a bad taste in my mouth. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, for example. Awful stuff; I shiver every time I think of it. But THG is fast-paced, not too cliché and has an interesting premise. I’m ambivalent about the teen violence and whether or not it’s a rip off of Koushun Takami‘s Battle Royal. I do know that I took my 13 year old to see the movie and he loved it. Now he wants to read the book.

After having whizzed through the first book I immediately started on the second. ‘Hard act to follow’, I thought to myself. As indeed it was. But Ms. Collins pulled a neat trick out of her bag with the ‘Quarter Quell’, and, although not as good as the first book, Catching Fire was a pretty good follow up. But there was one thing that puzzled me. As Catching Fire starts off, the MC, Katniss Everdeen, repeatedly recaps events from the first book. I’m thinking, what, they intend for this to be a standalone book? No way. Then I think, maybe it’s to bring the teens the books are intended for back to the story because everybody knows kids today have thirteen minute attention spans, right? Still, it irritated the hell out of me and diminished my suspension of disbelief, something that rarely happened in the first book. I also noted that Katniss’s character was beginning to go on my nerves; her constant self-doubt and misreading of just about every event that crossed her path left me, the reader, more and more frustrated. And it didn’t make her any more real or believable. Au contraire. Nobody that clueless could ever win anything, and certainly not The Hunger Games.

 So now we come to the third book, Mockingjay, and this is where the hit shits the fan. I have come to the conclusion that this is the rushed, inferior product of an author who has run out of ideas. The book is perfectly awful. Everything she did right in the first book and somewhat right in the second, goes totally wrong here in the concluding volume. The pacing is gone, the internal logic (I can’t give examples without spoiling), the characters, the love triangle; it’s all gone and blown up in her face. Mockingjay is a mockery – sorry, I couldn’t resist – of a good book.

This is where I trot out my conspiracy theory. That’s what you’ve been waiting for, right? OK. I’m wondering if Ms. Collins originally had planned on a single book. Take The Hunger Games (first volume), add fifty pages to it, wrapping up the conflict with The Capitol, and you have it all. Good, concise story-telling, one book, over and out. But wait, the publishers know that the real money lies in series. This is how you get to all those things I mentioned above; the spin-offs, the merch, the movies. You create a phenomenon that stretches out over time. I’ve heard it for years now – publishers want series. If the public buys the first book, then they are well on their way to buying into the series. Just look at Harry Potter (seven books and movies). People were waiting outside bookstores at midnight in the dead of winter to get their next dose of boy wizard. ‘Twilight’ anybody (four books and movies)? All well and good if you have enough material for a series. But what if you don’t? What if the publishers talked her into making THG a trilogy? Hmmm? But she didn’t have enough material for three books. The story was basically over in book one. What if (please, nobody sue me, I’m just wondering out loud) they stretched an idea so thin that they broke it? Well, baring a death bed confession from the author we’ll never know, will we?

So, that’s what I am wondering after slogging my way through to the end of Mockingjay. Are publishers pushing for extended series, stretching out potentially good stories so thin that they pop, like bubblegum balloons? Are authors buying in to this? What if this is the state of publishing today, where the desperate pursuit of money overshadows all artistic integrity and we, the readers, are becoming victims of The Publishing Games.

 

 

N.B. – I’d just like to add that there are of course plenty of bona fide series in the publishing world. Several of my writer colleagues and friends have published fantastic novels and short stories in series form, to their reader’s serial delight. The above article is not about proper series and serials.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Ah, the cynicism of age. But I must say, I think you’re absolutely right.

    Reply

  2. Dead on.

    Reply

  3. Good review – Son

    Reply

  4. Posted by Garth on 10/06/2012 at 18:41

    Not to mention that it’s a rip-off of Battle Royale anyway.

    Reply

  5. There’s always chance that if a book is a hit, there will be sequels to it… think Hollywood and unimaginative it can be. Sigh.

    Reply

  6. I just finished the first one and really liked it. http://www.tobyneal.net/2012/06/13/consumed-by-hunger-games/
    I still wouldn’t have read the first one if it wasn’t recycled copy. I wll be doubly cautious with the sequels. Running out of material makes the most sense.
    Aloha
    Toby

    Reply

    • Well, after reading your blog-post I’d be willing to bet that you will at least be trying out the next two. I’m curious about what you think about them.

      Reply

  7. I was recommended to read (amongst others) THG by a successful childrens/YA author after he read my first draft of a YA novel. Good advice to read book one, I do hope he wasn’t intending I read 2 and 3! Book 3 was indeed dire, no dire is insufficient to describe the mixed up, plotless and confused story. And yes, I got pissed off with Catniss too.

    Reply

  8. I loved all three books. I see what you’re getting at though. As far as I can see, everyone seems to be pushing for a series. Your new friend from the follow party. I’m following through RSS feed.

    Reply

    • Different strokes and all that. I think my main complaint was that the second and third books brought almost new nothing to the story as such (especially Mockingjay, the third one) and appeared to be more of an attempt to stretch it out because of a commercial agenda. Which wouldn’t have been a crime in itself had it worked, but I felt that it failed and thereby denigrated the first book as well.

      Reply

  9. I cannot wait to read the Hunger Games Books — I want to read them before I see the movie. So many books I want to read — I have these on my list — RoosterLadySister
    http://roosterladysays.com

    Reply

  10. Posted by melissa on 18/04/2014 at 21:12

    The Hunger Games is one of the best books and films out there, so many people love it! If you are bound to leave a bad review be prepared for some nasty feedback. For all of you who are saying that the last book is bad, re-read it, I have read the triology at least 6 times, and that is because I am a true fan. If you ever bash on one book of the three, then that proves that you are not a real fan. All of the cast is important and has there own mark in the movie and without them there would be no movie, and no fans like ME who love and cherish this movie! I have so many Hunger Games things that it is bad. So to everyone that is bashing on the Hunger Games they need to stop and actually read what they are reading and not judge by the first book on the second and third, read it and actually think about what you are reading.

    Reply

  11. Reblogged this on The World of The Teigr Princess and commented:
    At last, someone thinks the same way that I do…

    Reply

  12. I’ve not read the book, but I’m quite willing to write anything for over a million dollars. If you multiply that by a 100 and you can frack under my house for gas deposits. I love books. And I’d love to save the world. But…

    Reply

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