Harry Potter and his magic wand have taken a back seat to Katniss Everdeen and her bow and arrow as Amazon announced last week that “The Hunger Games” trilogy has now outsold all seven of J.K. Rowling’s series about the boy wizard.
How can books whose premise that a central government, in retaliation for an uprising 75 years ago, randomly picks boys and girls aged 12-18 once a year and forces them into a battle to the death surpass in sales one of the biggest cultural icons of the past decade? (Admittedly, the final Harry Potter movies stunk it up worse than the final Star Wars films.)
When the Harry Potter series made its debut in 1997, a decade before The Games, there was outrage and book bannings across the nation because of its content. Critics said the first book, Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, contained Satanic subtexts because of the wizardy while supporters likened the books to fairy tales like Cinderella. As the series progressed and the tone turned darker, more debate ensued about whether children should be allowed to read them.
As of last year, J.K. Rowling’s magical creation had sold 450 million copies. Not too bad considering the opposition to it or maybe because of it. Adults never seem to learn that when you tell kids something is bad for them, it only increases their enthusiasm for it.
Enter The Hunger Games series, which includes the original book plus Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
In The Hunger Games, the kids aren’t just forced to compete against each other in schoolyard games like Quidditch as in the Potter series, they are made to knife or bludgeon each other to death in their post-apolcalyptic nation Panem, where the countries of North America once existed.
And what do these kids’ parents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors do? Sit back and enjoy the show. The whole event is televised for all to watch. Sure it’s bad for the 24 kids chosen each year for The Games but hey it’s all good entertainment, right?
Maybe, like Harry Potter, the books have more to say about us than we realize. Are we really the type of society to sit back and watch while our government does the unthinkable right in front of our eyes, even forcing active participation? Do we enjoy seeing the devastation wrought when people don’t stand up when our neighbors’ rights are thrown over?
In The Hunger Games, the “show’s producers” insert obstacles into the game to make it more entertaining for the “at-home” audience. The horrors unleashed on the players during the Games - the wolf-like creatures called Wolf Muttations, and Tracker Jackers, genetically-altered wasps trained to attack anyone who disturbs their nest - just made for better story.
Perhaps The Hunger Games aren’t all that different from the reality show Survivor (except the death part, of course) or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. As long as it’s entertainment we’re all good.
But, it still strikes us as telling that a decade ago libraries were banning a mostly-innocent tale of magic wands and haunted castles and to date no one has uttered a peep about a popular book series with a plot so dark that if a student turned in a plot-synopsis for an essay, they would be shuttled off to the school shrink.
The question is: have adults finally given up worrying about what kids read or have we all turned a little darker?
We’ll ponder that one while we take a break from reading Fifty Shades of Grey, which is also bounding up the all-time best-seller list.