I don’t usually read a book because it’s been made into a movie. Generally speaking, the addition of ‘Now A Major Motion Picture’ to a book cover actually deters me from reading it. And I somehow feel robbed when this happens to a book I have already read – the screen is rarely better than the book.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, books whose transformation into a movie have actually enhanced the story or at least done the written word justice: “The English Patient”, “Harry Potter”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (both the Swedish and American versions), “Jurassic Park”, and Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” (I am hopefully foreshadowing…) to name a few.
This brings me to my latest read: the first book in the “Hunger Games” series. I hate being left out of pop-culture fodder so, though late to the party, I watched the Gary Ross directed “Hunger Games” on Friday night. I fell asleep towards the end (I wasn’t all that worried about the heroine surviving) though this should not be taken as a reflection of the movie; movies are like Ambien for me. In fact, I was intrigued enough to run out the next day and buy the book.
The Hunger Games is the latest book series turned epic movie to rake in the millions: starting with Harry Potter I believe, and we’ve all witnessed the Twilight empire unfold, along with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and several others. The Dragon Tattoo series is a bit of an anomaly in this group since it is aimed at a much older audience and there were parts in both the movie and the book where I had to read/watch through small spaces in my fingers while humming “the sun will come out tomorrow” to myself. Otherwise, these series all share some similarities, primarily this emergence of the underdog/female (did I need to differentiate?) as the victor or hero(.
Though the Harry Potter books were written before the collapse of Wall Street I wonder how much recent events have prompted these authors to write stories where the bondholders not the banks come out triumphant? Additionally, in an increasingly precarious and frightening world – nuclear plant meltdowns, Syrian protests, Eurozone crisis, Sarah Palin, Republicans, – many of these stories focus on an omnipotent government or center of control such as the Capitol in “The Hunger Games”. Is it because we see increasing state control – Canada’s national police force recently being permitted to use evidence obtained by torture or the imprisonment of the members of Pussy Riot in Russia – around the globe? With the Internet practically synonymous with breathing and Facebook nurturing the exhibitionist/voyeur in us all, it can’t be that we’re all that concerned with who knows what about us – some of our most private details are easily accessible with the right know-how. No, we’re concerned, as was Peeta in The Hunger Games about how the Capitol’s impact on our lives will impede us from dying as ourselves and maintaining our identity. I imagine Pussy Riot supporters understand this one well.
What’s interesting to me is that all of this came from a novel aimed at ‘tweens. It appears to me that when you remove the flowery language so popular in adult fiction, cut the main characters down to single digits (sorry Mr. Marquez), and tell a fairly straightforward story – 24 kids fight to the death because the Capitol says so – you’re left with all this open space between the lines in which to read.
And isn’t that what reading is all about? It should entertain, yes. Perhaps teach us something as well. But more than anything, as Yann Martel said, “it should force us to question our ideas, beliefs and assumptions”. A stage for our fears isn’t a bad idea either. N’est pas?