The Hunger Games, as everybody knows from seeing the trailer three months ago and hearing people talk about them every once in a while, is a dystopian trilogy of books about a society of confederated provinces with a sick habit of televising child cannibalism. These provinces are likely meant to serve as a parallel for the Dutch Republic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which explains why they are called Guelders, Zeeland, Utrecht, Overijssel, Holland, Friesland, and Groningen. The central province—Holland—rebelled away from the others and got punished. Its punishment is that every year, children from the province are selected by a lottery to survive in the wilds of Kennemerland, a large area of entirely inedible wilderness with television cameras stationed on very tree. The rules are simple: No food for five weeks. As many contestants as possible must stay alive on merely the calories they contain within them. To be clear, the goal is that they kill and eat each other, and they always do. Like in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (because I actually read that), fathers draw cards for their family, and the fathers who get the black dot have their children draw again. Exactly thirteen children are chosen. The author chose thirteen not because of its unlucky connotations, but because the modern day Netherlands was ranked as the 13th most free market capitalist economy by UNICEF, and the parallel between free market capitalism and child cannibalism is a symbol.
Our story begins in media res with the lottery. The narrator takes us between the main characters’ houses, where each of their failures of fathers reveals to his family that one of their children will probably get eaten on TV while all of the others watch. The main-character family, the van Vilets, have two children. They are brother and sister, like those kids in Narnia. The sister, Jkatniss, is older and the stronger character and kicks ass with a bow, but Pjet, her headstrong but goodhearted young brother, has plenty to bring to the table. They weep because they know one of them will be submitted to the games. Each hopes that he/she him/her/xyrself gets chosen, while also assuring the other that he/she would surely succeed if chosen. They are extra sad because, in addition to being siblings, they are accepting right now that they are in romantic love too; the readers see that they will be tangoing with more than one taboo in this story. They grab pennies and scratch their lottery tickets to find both are golden underneath: They’ve both been chosen. The government of the United Provinces apologizes, but explains that they’re running out of children to use because of how many they feed to other children, so the van Vilet family has two golden tickets.
Jumpcut to the kids, all in cages. Jkatniss and Pjet hold hands tenderly through their cage. Even though they’re signed up to watch children sustain themselves on other children’s flesh, the Dutch are creeped out by this. They release the cages and all spring out with the exception of an eight-month-old baby who was forced to draw and cannot yet walk. Faas, the clear bad guy, immediately grabs the baby and runs off with it. To make it clear that he intends to eat the baby and not save it, he dashes its poor brains out in front of a camera. The baby’s tender flesh, though, he will save until he is good and hungry.
Meanwhile, the van Vilet parents are finally ready to fight the corrupt system that has cost the United Provinces 95% of its children because instead of just one, both of their children got picked, and also because there’s a commercial break. They hatch a plan to topple the government, aware that another failed rebellion could result in even hungrier games. Their plan is to go to the cloudy industrial main city and disguise themselves in funny clothes and then figure out what makes the Kennemerland wilds so inedible.
After many weeks, the van Vilet siblings, who clearly are not going to try and kill each other, but in fact use what they fear is their last time on Sci-Fi Earth to copulate like sibling-rabbits, are getting hungry. They have only had to kill one other child, and it had polio so wasn’t that exciting. Meanwhile, Faas has eaten his baby and like eight other children too. Faas comes upon Jkatniss and Pjet, who are too busy staring into each others eyes to notice his approach. However, a long lashed androgynous boy-child named Christoffel leaps from the brush and kills Faas with his feet before he can lay hands on our protagonists. Christoffel forges an alliance with the siblings and big fat Faas provides them with plenty to eat. However, they are the only children left and they have another week and a half with no food. Each day the members of the party seem more to delicious. To further complicate things, a love triangle emerges, with every member being in love with every other member, but also jealous of every other member. The rest of the novel is a psychological battle to test the kids’ breaking points with regard to killing and eating their loved ones. Just when tensions come to a boil, and all of the kids are about to eat each other, something miraculous occurs. The van Vilet parents found the magical spell that makes the Kennemerland wilds inedible. It turns out that the wilds used to be the location of the very house from Hansjel and Jrettel and the forest from Candyland. The parents undo the spell, providing plenty of candy to everyone in Holland and toppling the corrupt cool-with-cannibalism-but-not-incest government. In the next two novels, hunger becomes a metaphor for lust and the love triangle painfully plays out.