Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dinosaurs, Fairies, and Hunger Games

I have two little girls who have wild imaginations. Sometimes I write a story with them, and I've noticed that they all end up being pure wish fulfillment, for example: a dinosaur pokes his head in the window and whisks my girls away to a magical dinosaur world or a butterfly lands on their backs and turns into wings making them fairy princesses.

Whenever I try to add an evil circus owner or the paparazzi, the bad guys are instantly defeated, so we can get back to flying over rainbow lakes. I've just come to accept that my girls don't want any conflict in our stories.

I know eventually my girls will grow up and get bored with pure wish fulfilling fantasies, and we can add villains and battles to our stories. But I don’t think that wish fulfillment ever completely goes away.

Don't we want the boy to get the girl, good to triumph over evil, and happily ever after? Don't we want to feel like everything in the story happens for a reason? Isn't this just wishful thinking; how on some level, we would like real life to be?

Don't get me wrong. I do like a good tragic ending. The Crucible, Braveheart, and Titanic are all stories that I love. But even in these stories, there is some sense of triumph, John Proctor refusing to give them his name, William Wallace crying out "Freedom," and Rose taking control of her life. This is wish fulfillment; that even in tragedy, something is learned, something is changed.

There is nothing worse than a pointless tragedy. Yes, that happens in real life which is exactly why in stories we need the wish fulfillment.

Which brings me to the The Hunger Games Trilogy. I loved The Hunger Games. If you haven't read the whole series yet, stop now and go read it. Go, do it, now. I’ve got spoilers coming.


I enjoyed all of the books, but the ending of Mockingjay was disappointing to me. This is because my wish fulfillment wasn't fulfilled.

I loved Katniss. She is definitely one of my favorite characters. She is strong, resourceful, smart, and brave, but underneath it all, there is an aching in her. She is vulnerable, self-doubting, and denying her pain over her father’s death and her mother’s rejection.

Maybe I loved her too much because I really didn't want to see her used over and over again, by President Snow and by Coin and everyone else in the rebellion. I didn't want to see her fail at the only thing she tried to do on her own, and I didn't want to see her completely broken.

It's not that I wanted kittens and rainbows or Katniss taking down the Capitol on her own, Rambo style. I expected Katniss to suffer and struggle. I expected her to be irrevocably damaged but not broken. She could have even died as long as I felt that there was some sort of triumph, that she took back her life from those who tried to use her and showed them that they didn't control her, that she would live and die on her own terms.

But that is not what happened. She was manipulated into doing everything she did even the shocking ending. At least that is how it felt to me. And because my wish for her was not fulfilled, the story fell flat for me.

I think it is important to remember what readers want from the story. It may not be a magical tour through dinosaur land, and they'll definitely want lots and lots of conflict and to see the protagonist struggle and struggle and struggle, but in the end, they'll want their wish fulfillment. A satisfying ending whether it is happy, tragic, or bittersweet.


Awesome fairy picture is by sgrundy at stock.xchange http://www.sxc.hu/profile/sgrundy

Picture of Katniss from http://www.thehungergamesmovie.com/index2.html


  1. At first, I hated Mockingjay. I didn't think the writing was very clear as to how much of the ending was orchestrated by Katniss and how much just sort of happened.

    However, there's a satisfaction in the romance ending for me. It's real. It's not happily-ever-after. It's two people making the best of terrible circumstances, and making the DECISION to love each other, and to keep going even when parts of them are broken. That's what we all have to do to some extent, isn't it?

    Great review, MaryAnn!

  2. Good point, Sarah. I did love the last line before the epilogue.

    I do think she really loved Peeta (and I loved him too. I was on Team Peeta), but I kind of felt even that choice was taken from her to some extent. She was forced to stay in district 12, and Peeta was the one willing to stay there with her, which of course is awesome of Peeta. But still if felt like the whole Peeta-Gale choice was also taken from her.

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head here. This is exactly how I felt, too. The arcs that the book started 1-her independence and growth, 2-fighting the Capitol, 3-the love interest, didn't end in triumph. She's broken, the whole revolution thing is just out of her hands, really, and I did sort of feel like she and Peeta just settled.
    Thanks for giving me the words to express what I couldn't put my finger on. Very excellent post.

  4. Mockingjay fell flat for me too. I think for the same reason that you articulated here. Good job. MM

  5. I actually never finished those. After the first two books, the endings felt cheap, and I was disappointed in Katniss. I wanted her to learn and grow and triumph in some way, but she was just a puppet, living a stagnant mentality in a world that needed change. So I quit before the third one came out... and after reading this post, I'm glad I did. Sounds like it was just more of the same.

    Stories need some kind of triumph. I cried and cried at the ending of the last book I read, but not really out of sadness. I was so invested in the characters and the world, and even though pretty much everyone died, and they lost so much, they accomplished so much that it was a beautiful sacrifice. And that's what actually made me cry. Their very deaths were triumphant.

  6. Rachel, I agree completely.

    All I needed was some sense of triumph and even if everyone died, I would have been satisfied. I just think that most readers need that, to feel like something good came from all that suffering, but clearly Ms. Collins had a different vision.

    Thanks for stopping by.


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