Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mockingjay: A Good Conclusion to a Great Series

This blog is filled with spoilers, from one end to the other, so stop now if you care about that kind of thing.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Well, now that those people are gone, we can talk about things openly. (Man, I hate those guys.)

First, I just need to make a complaint. I like to support bookstores and such, but I ended up trying to buy this book at Walmart (because I work in a cultural wasteland that has no bookstores, and I was buying this on my lunch break). (That cultural wasteland is: West Valley City.) Anyway, Walmart failed me. They didn't have Mockingjay anywhere--no displays, no shelf space, no anything--and this was the day after the book came out! I had to go next door to the Sears Grand, if you can imagine. They seemed shocked to have a customer (and rightly so, because their shelves were mostly empty). But, they had Mockingjay, and I purchased it, and the fourteen dollars I paid doubled that store's revenue for the entire week.

But on to the book.

I loved it, and it bugged me. But mostly I loved it.

My loves are many, but the biggest thing that I liked about the book is that it was written honestly. Mockingjay was the natural conclusion to The Hunger Games. Any society that would treat it's children as is protrayed in the first book, would do equally cruel things elsewhere, and overthrowing that society would reveal the worst elements of it. So, while some people have complained about the gore and the shock, I think they were absolutely necessary, and I really couldn't imagine the book without them.

But as far as natural conclusions go, I think Suzanne Collins excelled far beyond the requirements of the setting. Elana Johnson and I were recently talking about Hunger Games, and how the dystopian world was created. One worldbuilding technique for dystopia is to take a troublesome aspect of our culture, extend it out to it's furthest, most dangerous conclusion, and look at the consequences. Using this model, I simplistically said that Hunger Games is an extension of our love for reality TV and voyeurism. Elana looked at it much deeper: it's not just about reality TV, but it's about using the media to control people.

Collins took that theme--controlling the populace through propaganda--and took it to its natural conclusions as well. Katniss has been a propaganda puppet in every book, though managed in a different way. In Hunger Games, she's somewhat independent, but controlled by Haymitch, who teaches her how to perform on camera (and rewarding her when she creates the right TV story). In Catching Fire, she's controlled by Snow, performing on camera to prove that she's not a rebel leader--she's just a girl in love. And in Mockingjay, she's now controlled by the rebel government (which isn't so much good, but the lesser of two evils), and she's followed from photo-op to photo-op by stylists and producers.

(It's worth noting that every propaganda campaign is foiled when Katniss rejects the control of her puppeteers--attempting suicide, destroying the force field, and killing Coin. She did all of it on camera, taking temporary control of the propaganda message being spread.)

So, to me, all of this kind of thing is what really makes the book work. There are smaller aspects of the plot and characters that I questioned, but it's this ongoing consistency of the deeper themes and messages that really make Mockingjay a great conclusion.

I'm only going to quickly touch on the characters, since I didn't really have any issues with them. I think that Katniss is also the natural continuation of Katniss--she's exactly how we should have expected her to be. I think that there was a feeling among fans and internet forums that this book was going to be the romantic culmination: Team Peeta vs. Team Gale. But, while that is an interesting element of the book, I don't think anything in the previous two books have led us to expect romantic happy endings. Katniss has been Katniss since the first chapter of the first book, and her actions and motivations have remained very consistent.

(Sidenote: From a storytelling perspective, I've never understood the Team Gale crowd. While Katniss liked him, he's never had enough significant screen time for the readers to get to like him, and a romance where the readers don't feel emotionally connected is the touch of death. So, I think that most Team Gale people were deluding themselves. They were Team Gale because they didn't like Peeta; they liked the idea of Gale, not the actual character.) (TAKE THAT, TEAM GALE JERKS.)

(Another sidenote: I thoroughly enjoyed Peeta rediscovering Katniss and learning that she's kind of a jerk. He's always put up with her crap, because he's in love with her, but when he's no longer in love with her, he realizes that she's always treated him terribly. I found that phase in his recovery delightful.) (This is not to say that I dislike Katniss. I just think it was a clever turn.)

A few problems:

I have two main complaints with Mockingjay, and they both have to do with the final third. First, it was hard to suspend my disbelief with all the "pods" in the Capitol. To have so many of them, and so creative and wacky, all over the place would have been insanely expensive and logistically impossible. (For example: the Meat Grinder or the street that opens up--when did they build those massive crazy things? How did they keep it a secret from the populace? How did could they afford them all (because, presumably, there are wacky, enormous things like the Meat Grinder all over the Capitol).

Second, and more important, everything that happens in the final third--from the point where Katniss enters the Capitol and heads for Snow--is ultimately a failure that doesn't accomplish anything and costs a lot of lives. The government would have been overthrown just as effectively if she hadn't gone (because the rebels get to Snow at the same time Katniss does). I have no problem with her failing; I just didn't like that her failure didn't mean anything. Nothing was gained, and the losses were only chalked up to "War sure stinks", not "Katniss wasted all their lives for nothing".

But, all of that said, I think this was a phenomenal book, and a really groundbreaking series. It's always nice to see dystopia do well, but this one brought a whole new audience to the genre, and then kicked the genre's butt.


10 Comments:

At 8/31/2010 11:24 PM, Blogger Melanie J said...

Uhhhhh...(you know when a rebuttal starts that way, it's going to be good) I'm with you on most of this except Katniss's character. I didn't see her has consistent with the first two books. She's so checked out of what's happening here and I don't know if I buy it. She's by fits passive and impulsive. I may need to go back and review the first two, but the passivity seemed new to me. Also, I think it's weird to have the main character in a coma/stupor/drug haze for most of the major action and narrate it after. But I still thought Suzanne Collins did right by the whole series.

 
At 9/01/2010 11:43 AM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

More major Mocking Jay spoilers; don’t read any further if you haven’t read it.

Rob,

I completely disagree. I was incredibly disappointed by book 3. Of course I was less thrilled than you by book 2 as well. I agree with your friend that this was about propaganda taken to its furthest extreme. But at the same time, almost the whole book read like propaganda. War is bad. And anyone who would fight or lead a war must be bad—to the point of creating a completely unbelievable and uncompelling story.

Yes. We did need to go from point A to point B. But getting there is one thing. The manner in which we got there was was got to me. The story telling itself was just horrendous. Here are a few of my issues.

Every book in the series was a one trick pony. Every book was about the arena. In the first book it was 70% of the book. It worked. The second book took longer to get to the stadium, and when we got there it was much less compelling. It worked less. When I started the third book, I thought, well at least we won’t be going back to the stadium. But we did. Right down to the humanoid mutts, the strange traps, and killing off the characters we’ve spent the whole book making favorites. She even calls it the arena.

Protagonists need to act, not just react, to stay interesting. Katniss did only one thing in the entire book that made any difference at all. The rest of the time she was hiding, crying, running away, complaining. Snow calls her something like a weak little girl who can shoot arrows. And that’s exactly the way she acted for 90% of the book. She even went after Snow because someone else told her too. One of her big moments was winning the people in 13 over by playing with a cat and a flashlight. Really?

Speaking of not making decisions. I understand that Gale was never going to be the one. But, once again, no need for Katniss to decide herself. One guy turns into everything bad war stands for and doesn’t come see her. The other plants flowers under her window. If the author hadn’t spent two books setting up the love triangle, I could have lived with it. But what a cop out.

Lastly, so much of the story was just unbelievable. Would the people who have been so scarred by the Hunger Games actually vote for more? Would the city both above and underground really place all though dumb “traps” when the technology to create just the arena alone could provide such better defenses? Really, your high tech meat sensors can’t tell the difference between a human and an empty car? You have the technology to make things like tracker jackers and hover cars and complete rebuilds of human parts but you stick all your air force inside a mountain that is avalanche prone?

I think great stories tends to bring to light great messages, but when you try to write a story with a message, it usually comes out heavy-handed. That’s the way this felt. So little of the battle tactics actually made any sense. The Capital’s only attempt at shutting 13 down were a few random bombs. But we attack hospitals, protect ourselves with children, do bizarre tortures, launch roses. I’m sorry but this just totally didn’t work for me. I wish we’d stopped with book one which was incredible.

 
At 9/01/2010 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but for the most part I disagree. I don't really have time here so I'm gonna make it quick. My main problem. Gales ending. Now I was never team gale because honestly, was it ever going to happen? But reallly Collins continuosly expressed the fact that he's a fighter and will go anywhere and do anything to protect her and in
the end he never sees her again? Come on! And I thought Peeta was still unsure about Katniss to...
I also agree with almost everything the person above thinks.
When the team Gale fans get a hold of this book I wish Collins luck. This book reminded me so much of stupid new moon with all it's depression and Katniss so much of Bella with her whining it's ridiculous! I was so sure Collins wouldn't give a Twlight ending to the love cycle; to make Katniss fight for them, choose one. I think I'd rather gale die.

 
At 9/01/2010 12:43 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Rob: I got my copy at Borders for 50% off, so $9. ha!

I didn't enjoy the 1st one as much as everyone else has, so I'm not planning to read the other two, but I got this one for my wife.

So far, it sounds like this book is having one effect: people are really talking about it, whether for good or bad.

 
At 9/01/2010 12:45 PM, Blogger Andy Lemmon said...

For the most part, I enjoyed Mockingjay. But I agree that it was hard to suspend disbelief on the Capitol's traps. And I was disappointed that Katniss's journey to Snow did seem worthless. I eventually rationalized it by saying it was more about keeping alive, because if she had gone to camp, Coin would have offed her some other way. This point should have been clearer in the book though.

What I had a hard time with was Katniss killing Coin. Yes, it fits in with her character. But it wasn't just. All of her other kills were self defense. This one was assassination. And that brings up the question - what do you do if your rebellion is just going to replace one totalitarian with another?

 
At 9/01/2010 12:56 PM, Blogger brendajean said...

Amen Jeff. I agree 100% and should have stopped reading after the phenomenal book 1.

 
At 9/01/2010 6:55 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Jeff--

I actually do understand most of your points here. I really liked Mockingjay, but it wasn't my favorite of the three.

To your specific points:

1) I didn't really see the book as anti-war propaganda (any more than any book/movie that shows the grittier sides of war is anti-war). Many soldiers in the book were bad, but many were good, too. The fact that the leader of the rebels had sinister motives/methods doesn't make the book anti-war--it's just makes that character a bad guy. (I completely acknowledge that there's no objectively right or wrong answer to the question of "Is this book anti-war propaganda?" It's all up to reader interpretation. I didn't see it the way you did.)

2) I disagree about each book being a one-trick pony. (As I mentioned in my review, I thought everything from the propaganda angle--in all three books--was more important to the overall story than the arena.) One of my favorite aspects of the second book was that it was able to broaden the scope so well and still manage to keep some of the elements that people loved from the first book (the arena). However, when the arena is presented in the second book, it is done so in a different way, with different character motivations and goals, and with larger implications. It didn't feel like recycling a one-trick pony, but in taking something great and re-imagining it. (I totally acknowledge the silliness of the traps/"pods" in the third book, but I said that in the review.)

3) (Addressing Melanie J's point, too): Katniss's character is odd in the third book, but I think she's completely consistent through all three. In all three books, she is almost always reactionary. It was less apparent in the first two books because circumstances forced her to do things (such as being in the arena). So, Jeff, I agree with you that the characterization was a problem, but I wasn't at all surprised by it. It's consistent with the other books.

4) I totally agree with your comments about Katniss's decision-making regarding Peeta. It really seemed to be just because he showed up. But, I've long held the belief that there was no real love triangle in the series--there only pretended to be one. No one, if they were honest, could believe that Katniss would ever have ended up with anyone other than Peeta (speaking from a strictly storytelling perspective). So, the fact that she chose him at the end didn't bother me at all. I just wish we saw more of her explanation (other than "Hey--Peeta's here!")

 
At 9/01/2010 9:37 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I loved all three books. It didn't feel like a retread to me, but I can see where other people could feel that way.

As for the love triangle, I thought Katniss made it pretty clear why she wanted Peeta. She never loved Gale the way she did Peeta. She had a bond with Peeta that Gale simply couldn't understand having never been in the arena.

And in the end, she could never have forgiven Gale for designing the bomb that killed her sister, regardless of what he knew/didn't know about its deployment. And I thought she explained pretty clearly that since she was full of fire and rage, she didn't need someone similarily full of fire. She needed someone like Peeta, and she uses some metaphors about yellow flowers or something like that - that Peeta helped her to be happy and soothed her. I don't think it's because he just showed up - I think she always loved him more (and when she found out Gale was out of the picture - she didn't feel jealous or regretful or sad. Just relieved).

I didn't like the pods in the city either. I would have preferred for them to have been MacGyvered traps thrown together to stop the rebels which is why they could be fooled, instead of there being professional death traps on every street corner in a city where a lot of people live.

And I'm with you on the anti-climactic arrival at the mansion - I was wanting Katniss to put an arrow into Snow (although made due with her finishing off Coin instead). As has been mentioned, it is true that she had nowhere else to go and Coin had made her intention pretty clear that she wanted Katniss dead and out of the way, along with her family members (which is why Prim was on the front line as a medic even though she was only 13).

I was more sad about Finnick dying than I was Prim. I wish he'd made it through to the end.

 
At 9/02/2010 1:18 PM, Anonymous Geoff J said...

I posted my short review here: http://www.kulturblog.com/2010/08/mockingjay-disappoints/

Basically the entire third act of this book seemed like a disaster to me. That of course puts a damper on the entire series (although the first book is still a tremendous stand alone offering).

 
At 9/21/2010 12:05 AM, Blogger Taffy said...

WOW! It's been great reading everyone's insights. The third book is great to for the discussions it instigates.

 

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