Greetings, literarians. We start off this hungry Hunger Games Friday with the following question: is the Hunger Games trilogy literature? Well, what is literature, anyway? Our old friend Wikipedia defines it like this: “Literature (from Latin litterae (plural); letter) is the art of written work.” Okay, so that doesn’t help, at all, but maybe this is the point, right? Literature is difficult to define, perhaps impossible to define in a single sentence, and yet there must be some consistent constellation of elements that constitute literature.
Let’s consider the following statements we’re going to somewhat arbitrarily make about literature (and determine whether The Hunger Games makes the cut, it obviously will, fyi, if you can’t handle the suspense):
It should have a good story:
Think Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Rings, The Count of Monte Cristo, the Bible, the Arabian Nights, Le Morte D’Arthur. Critics and cranky English professors like to say things like “there are no new stories, only retelling of ancient stories,” but that doesn’t mean a piece of writing shouldn’t have a good story. Give us a freaking story, for crying out loud. Enrapture your reader! Before you write your Mrs. Dalloway or Ulysses masterpiece, figure out how to tell a story about an unlikely young person with a shadowy background whose parents may or may not be dead, who’s suddenly thrust into a position or quest he or she doesn’t want, and is only willing to accept when they meet their sidekick / Virgil / Obe-Wan figure, who then helps them begin kicking ass left and right. Tell a story! Figure out your prose later. Does the Hunger Games tell a good story? Hell yes.
Is the writing any good?
Phew. Let the controversy begin on this one. What is good writing, anyway? Who knows. Hemingway and Faulkner used to famously piss and moan at each other because Faulkner thought Hemingway didn’t know any big words, and Hemingway said something bad ass like “it’s not big words, but the old words, the strong words that the writer must command.” Well said, Hem. We of the literary tribe believe in clarity and brevity, but on the other hand we think THE RECOGNITIONS by William Gaddis and CATCH-22 are two of the greatest novels ever written. Maybe we can all agree that there’s only one book on writing that really matters: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Here’s an exemplary passage: Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. Is the Hunger Games good writing? Good enough for us!
Do you think about it after you’ve finished it?
You know the feeling. You’ve finished the book and you’re like: huh. Huh? What just happened to me? Kafka, Woolf, Garcia Marquez, et cetera. I felt this way after Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love, too. Something just sticks with you and you think about the book for weeks, months, years later. Do you think about the Hunger Games after finishing it? Book 1, yes, less so with Books 2 and 3.
Does it capture a specific zeitgeist?
This is the ON THE ROAD or CATCHER IN THE RYE test, or even, to a certain extent, Jane Austen, from whose books historians make many claims about what life was really like in early 19th century England. Okay. Admittedly, Hunger Games is a dystopian sci-fi novel, but is it? It’s about an American society in which children are forced to perform “to the death” in front of millions of viewers. I mean, couldn’t that same sentence be applied to You Tube or Toddlers in Tiaras? Scary stuff. The point is that the book is “about” a lot more than just some futuristic society in which children kill each other with people watching on monstrous floating televisions in the sky. It’s about worlds within worlds. It’s about the simulacrum. So: does the Hunger Games capture a specific zeitgeist? I’d say yes, welcome to America in the Twenty-First Century.
Net result: is the Hunger Games literature? We here at the Literary Man are all too happy to have jumped on this literary bandwagon. May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor, dear readers. Please chime in and let us know what you think!