The View from District 11 - Katherine Roberts

It has been more than a decade since the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins took the dystopian fiction world by storm. Since then, these books have been made into four feature-length films and spawned a raft of fan merchandise, including gold mockingjay pins for budding revolutionaries. They split the third book into two parts for the screen, which annoyed me at the time because I had to wait a whole year for the final instalment reach my local cinema. (Ah, those were the days... CINEMAS! Remember when you could sit in the dark with a bunch of strangers, hold hands in the back row, and scoff popcorn to your heart's content?) Fortunately in this era of lockdowns, you can now get all four films on DVD (and stream them, too, no doubt) to watch in the comfort of your own home, where I believe you still can hold hands and scoff popcorn without breaking any laws. If you haven't seen them yet, they're perfect lockdown viewing.

Collins' Panem is divided into 13 districts, ruled over by the Capitol. These districts (with the exception of District 13, which was bombed to the ground during the riots) provide the elite citizens of the Capitol with the raw materials to fuel their comfortable lifestyles. To keep the people of the districts firmly in their place, each must offer up a boy and a girl to fight to the death in a high-tech arena in an annual Hunger Games, viewing of which is 'mandatory'.

There are obvious parallels in the UK during the current pandemic. We might not have the physical hunger that followed the original Panem uprising that resulted in the district system and the Hunger Games. We have a virus instead, causing a different kind of hunger - one for soul and friendship, for physical contact and love, for the liberty to walk under the sun and breathe freely. When the tier system was introduced, "we're all in it together" became more like George Orwell's observation at the end of his classic novel Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Of course we're all back in national lockdown now, which is I suppose fairer, although it still creates the soul-hunger for everyone involved.

I'm a west country girl, born and bred in Devon and Cornwall. For some years now, it's been fairly obvious that life down in the toe of the UK bears little resemblance to life in our Capitol (London). Those of us who live here are mostly happy with the differences; they're why we live here in the first place. But occasionally London will introduce some new rule or law that doesn't really work so well for us, and the coronavirus mandates are no exception. Cornwall, with its relatively low number of deaths and cases, leapt from Tier 1 to Tier 3 moments before it plunged into full lockdown#3. Devon started in Tier 2 and briefly touched Tier 3 on its way to lockdown. As always, it's not the rules themselves that are the challenge to people's health and wellbeing - it's the sudden and unexpected changes. Perhaps London and the Home Counties knew what was coming and were prepared for it? We had only confusing rumours... the children and teachers at our large local primary school went back for one day at the start of January, before it had to close again. If you want to spread a virus around after everyone's Christmas parties, seems to me that's a fairly good way to do it?

Cornwall feels a bit like District 12, which makes Devon District 11. In the Hunger Games, tributes from the outlying districts have the least chance of survival, with those from Districts 1 and 2 (the Home Counties, perhaps) training from a young age and making a career out of killing their rival tributes in the Games. The heroine Katniss Everdeen comes from District 12, an outsider who survives against all odds and becomes a symbol of the revolution. You can have a lot of fun watching these films in the context of the game the government is currently playing with us all. Games only work for as long as all the players understand the rules and believe them fair. You cannot play a game effectively if the rules keep changing. In the first part of the Hunger Games trilogy, a sadistic last minute rule change turned what should have been a happy ending into a desperate choice between solo survival and companionship in death for the hero and heroine.

Suzanne Collins understands the effects of such games only too well, and continues the trilogy with further conflict between the Capitol and the Districts in the second volume Catching Fire, followed by revolution in the third book Mockingjay. The trilogy was joined in 2020 by a lengthy prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which explores the youth of Katniss' nemesis President Snow, showing how his involvement in the early Hunger Games turned him into the powerful but troubled president of the original trilogy. For those who know the books and can see the parallels, life in the outlying Districts is a good measure of the Capitol's control. Here in Devon, despite a third national lockdown, we are experiencing large numbers of visitors from London and other parts of the country come to enjoy our moors and our beaches, many of them apparently staying for the duration in their second homes. To be honest, I don't blame them... if I lived in London with everything going on at the moment and owned a rural hideaway in Devon, I know where I would rather be! I believe we are close to the turning point where Snow says to his new Gamemaster (Katniss' survival having doomed the first): "Whatever game you think you're playing, those out there are not playing it with you."

What's the view from your District?


Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers.


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Peter Leyland said…
Thanks Katherine for this topical post. I have watched the first Hunger Games film which Sue and I really enjoyed. We need to follow up. Had Suzanne Collins's novels been around when i was a young reader I think I would have loved them. My equivalent was John Wyndham's The Chrysalids which I have re-read during this pandemic and loved it.

The view from our district is good. I have walked down town through lanes which have become streams this morning to buy a ring binder to keep my blogs and feel better for it. The sunlight is wonderful. I love Devon and Cornwall and once made regular visits to friends in Kelly Bray for The Elephant Fair if you've ever heard of that. Have a great day and I hope the sun is shining where you are.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Katherine, I may be the only person who's never read or seen THE HUNGER GAMES!

With your recommendation, I'll add it to my list!
Thanks, I enjoyed this! Haven't seen/read the Hunger Games, but still love the way you compared it to the current madness...
Reb MacRath said…
Like a few others at least, I haven't read the books...or seen the films. But you've inspired me to give both a try. And for that I thank you.
You definitely should check out t other 3 films, Peter! (I bought the whole set on DVD so can binge-watch them again.)

Never been to the Elephant Fair... hopefully there will be another one at some stage when all this is over.

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