I’ve been reading Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy slowly, on and off, for a little while. I remember how the decadence of the Capitol in the first movie struck me. But now, reading Mockingjay, it has been instead the little glimmers of humanity even during times of great hardship.
As I love my books to be dark and my characters to be greatly flawed and/or tortured before the hope appears, I thought I might write a post examining some of my favourite works and what is in them that makes them appeal so much to me.
I only just started Mockingjay, but I already love the book. It starts on a very grim note. The Capitol has destroyed Katniss’ home district and her love interest, Peeta Mellark, has been captured. I found this quote quite chilling:
“My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is probably best if he is dead…”
Katniss agrees to be the symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol (the Mockingjay) in order to save Peeta from the evil President Snow. I haven’t gotten much further in the book than that, but I wanted to mention the scenes in which Katniss finds her old stylists imprisoned in the rebel base. Katniss is shocked by the treatment of the three and immediately orders their release. Even though Katniss does not like associating with other people, she shows them how to get to the dining hall and sits down to eat with them. One of the stylists, Octavia, has green skin (a fashion statement from the Capitol). Posy, a five-year-old girl, sister to Katniss’ best friend Gale, comes over to the table and is curious about Octavia’s green skin. Octavia becomes upset – she has just been rescued from prison, is finally allowed to eat again, and now this little girl questions her looks. But the little girl becomes a source of comfort for the poor woman:
“You’re green. Are you sick?”
“It’s a fashion thing, Posy. Like wearing lipstick,” I say.
“it’s mean to be pretty,” whispers Octavia, and I can see the tears threatening to spill over her lashes.
Posy considers this and says matter-of-factly, “I think you’d be pretty in any color.”
The tiniest of smiles forms on Octavia’s lips. “Thank you.”
I can’t help but remember Katniss’ love for her little sister Prim and how she volunteers to die in place of Prim in order to save her.
It is really the little moments like these that really touch me. While plot is great and characters are very dear to me, it is words and actions that really add that punch. A little girl comforting a woman, even though she has no idea what dire circumstances this woman has gone through… moments like these are what I love.
Then there’s The Foxhole Court series by Nora Sakovic which I just finished. The main character, Neil Josten (birth name Nathaniel Wesninski), is on the run after his mother died – away from his abusive father, his father’s people, and the powerful Moriyama family. When he has a chance to play Exy (a fictional sport similar to lacrosse) with a university team, however, Neil decides that perhaps he could stop running for a few months. Of course, he doesn’t trust any of his teammates and keeps to himself. When he learns that Kevin Day, adopted son of the Moriyama family but who left the family’s Exy team (the Ravens), is part of the Foxes team, things become a little more complicated. It is Andrew Minyard who finally starts gaining his trust – he promises to protect Neil as he has been protecting Kevin from his family. Neil, although he does not quite know why, decides to trust Andrew.
There’s so may beautiful quotes in this series. (Actually, I’m pretty sure if I owned hard copies of these books, most of it would be pencilled up.)
“Hope was a dangerous, disquieting thing, but he thought perhaps he liked it.” (All For the Game)
“Because I made you a promise. I did not forget it just because you chose not to believe me.”
Neil manages to escape his father when his uncle intervenes. Now the police want to put him in the Witness Protection Program and he will never be able to see his Foxes family again. (There’s also a beautiful section where Nora starts to refer to Neil as Nathaniel because he believes he has left that identity behind forever):
“You are a Fox,” Andrew said, like it was that simple, and maybe it was.
Nathaniel dropped his eyes and worked his jaw, fighting for a center he was quickly losing hold of. He barely recognized his own voice when he said, “Andrew, they want to take me away from here. They want to enroll me in the Witness Protection Program so my father’s people can’t find me. I don’t want-” he started, but that wasn’t fair. “If you tell me to leave, I’ll go.”
He didn’t say it would kill him, but he didn’t have to. Andrew hooked his fingers in the collar of Nathaniel’s sweatshirt and tugged just enough for him to feel it. For a moment Nathaniel was months away from this moment, standing in the darkened front hall of Andrew’s house for the first time with a warm key digging into his palm. It felt like coming home, and it was enough to take the edge off his fear.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” Andrew said: the same words, the same promise.
“Leave Nathanial buried in Baltimore with his father.”
(The King’s Men)
Other notable mentions from this book – Renee Walker is the single Christian character in the book, but she is portrayed in a very positive way. She had a dark past (as does every single Fox in the book), but her foster mother brought her to Christianity. She is always calm and sometimes is the mediator among the Foxes. Even though she is friends with the violent Andrew, she knows her own mind and does not let her be swayed by other people’s actions or beliefs.
Neil thought about Renee’s bruised knuckles, Dan’s fierce spirit, and Allison holding her ground on the court a week after Seth’s death. He thought about his mother standing unflinching in the face of his father’s violent anger and her ruthlessly leaving bodies in their wake. He felt compelled to say, “Some of the strongest people I’ve known are women.” (The Raven King)
All of the characters in this series are so flawed – but they learn to move past old mistakes. They work together and help each other grow, and that just makes me really happy.
“He’d come to the Foxhole court every inch a lie but his friends made him into someone real.” (The King’s Men)
There’s so many other examples I could pull out – the worry of Corrie and her father for Sebastian Bell (A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson), Jean Valjean sacrificing himself for Fantine, Cosette, Marius, and the man who was going to be sentenced instead of him (Les Misérables by Victor Hugo), the relationship between Frodo and Sam (The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien)… I could go on forever. I just really love books.
I thought I’d leave you all with one of my favourite quotes from C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series:
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
(The Silver Chair)
And I think that’s just what books are all about. We see how dreadful characters’ lives are and how they can still find hope… and this, in turn, gives us hope.