So I sat down and read the entirety of the first Hunger Games book in one sitting on Wednesday. I'm sure none of you are surprised. I took one break for a granola bar and to stretch, then dived right back in. I don't normally do in depth reviews of book on the blog, and I'm not sure I want this to be considered one either-- I'm really only going to address one element, and that is (of course) the Theseus Connection.
Now, I've been hearing a lot about this from the start, and so maybe I was thinking there would be something greater than what there was, because of all the hype, and also maybe I am OVERLY familiar with the Theseus mythology, so it's hard for me to see the Trees for the Forest, or uhm, the Forest for the Trees, or however that saying is supposed to go. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. Also, if you have not read the first book, there be spoilers ahead. Arrrr!
So let me just get right down to it.
The Theseus/Ariadne element? I think it's a stretch. A big one. Stay with me while I lay out my reasoning.
First, the mythology:
Athens had to pay a tribute to Crete every so many years of 7 boys and 7 girls. Now, it gets a little bit fuzzy here whether it was to feed the Minotaur or for the Bull Dance, but either way, this tribute had to be paid, and Athens, as you might imagine, wasn't really all that thrilled about sending its sons and daughters to die. Theseus, new on the scene at Athens and only recently made heir of King Aegeus, offers himself in sacrifice (or is drawn by lot--both versions are equally valid) and heads to Crete to kill the Minotaur or free Athens from the tribute by whatever means. Since he's already proved himself by whooping the monstrous people on the Isthmus road at the gates to the underworld, I'm sure he was fairly confident about this Minotaur business when he left.
Now we get to Ariadne, Minos's daughter. There are a slew of different interpretations as far as what happens here, but I'll go with the basic assumption that people jump to for ease of posting. Ariadne meets Theseus and falls in love with him (how they had the time to socialize, and when they met is something to think about). She agrees to help him find his way back out of the labyrinth if he'll promise to take her with him (and marry her*) when he leaves Crete. She gives him a ball of string to allow him to retrace his steps, and (sometimes) directions from Daedalus on how to get in and out without falling into the traps of the labyrinth. Theseus follows these directions, finds the Minotaur, kills it off, and makes his way back out. He collects Ariadne as per his promise and gets out of dodge. Theseus then abandons Ariadne on a nearby island, sometimes at the order of Dionysus,** who claims her for himself, and sometimes just because Theseus is inexplicably some kind of jerk*** suddenly who doesn't care about honoring his promises.
Katniss, a skilled hunter and established member of her community, volunteers to go to The Hunger Games (as a tribute to a "foreign" power) in place of her sister. The other tribute chosen (by lot) is a boy named Peeta, who it turns out, has been in love with Katniss since the age of five. Now, I'm going to go ahead and say KATNISS should be interchangeable with THESEUS here. Which makes Peeta Ariadne, and already we have some divergence from the myth-- as we should, of course, because it isn't a direct retelling, just an allusion. From this point on, Katniss and Peeta are stuck together, and of course Katniss learns of Peeta's feelings for her, but she isn't so sure of her own (which will set up nicely for her to abandon HIM on the next island they come across in a sudden case of jerkdom, but I have not read book two yet, so I can not offer an opinion on that element as yet).
Now, inside the Games, Peeta goes about doing his best to keep the other tributes from killing Katniss, though I'm fairly certain that she really didn't need much of his help except in that one incident with those crazy wasps. Mostly, Peeta seems to be kind of useless inside the Games. He can't track, he can't move with any stealth, the only thing he's really all that good for is lying absolutely still in the mud under camouflage to die. When there's a chance that they might both win if they stick together, Katniss goes for it, either because of her feelings for him, or because she just isn't a jerk and doesn't wish death on people for no reason.
But here's the next major divergence-- Peeta essentially handicaps Katniss in pretty much every way. He isn't a help, he's a piece of meat, an extra mouth to feed, and in order to keep him alive, Katniss has to put herself into incredibly risky situations which she might not otherwise have had to face and almost gets HERSELF killed at least once. I finished the book convinced that Katniss would have triumphed even more effectively without the burden of Peeta to look after. And that's the biggest problem I have with this talk of the Allusion to Theseus and the Labyrinth business. Theseus absolutely could not have gotten back out again if not for Ariadne's love for him. Katniss would have been better off without Peeta, pretty much from beginning to end. That's too huge of a divergence for me to swallow all the hype surrounding the book as a retelling of Theseus and the Labyrinth, specifically. If someone hadn't flat out said it to me, I would have gotten nothing on my Theseus-dar. (And let me tell you, I am HIGHLY attuned to Theseus by now!)
As for Katniss having to defeat a Minotaur equivalent? Mrph. Katniss didn't defeat anything. Those hounds got called away by the Gamemakers. In fact, after they got Cato, they didn't seem all that interested in Katniss or Peeta at all.
(Sidenote: way to go blogger/firefox spellcheck for knowing how to spell both Theseus and Ariadne! you have trumped Word!)
So there you have it. My nitpicking review of The Hunger Games. Can't wait to see if Katniss turns into a sudden Jerk or not! And, all that said, I really really enjoyed this book a lot. I thought the writing was fairly flawless, and the present tense first person was masterfully done. Two thumbs up!
*Really, if Ariadne only made Theseus promise to take her with him from Crete, and NOT explicitly to marry her, he kept his word regardless.
**There is some interesting evidence for sacrifices being made to "The Lady of the Labyrinth" which may have been a reference to Ariadne, who may or may not have been treated as a goddess. There are also some theories floating about that Ariadne was ALREADY married to Dionysus before she made her deal with Theseus, and kind of just led him on to get herself out of there, which would fit with her already being a goddess also. Definitely a topic that I'd very much like to do more of my own research into. At the moment it is kind of classified in my brain as rumor.
***Personally, I find that to be a little bit bizarre behavior from someone who just volunteered to be sent off to a foreign land as a tribute RISKING HIS LIFE on behalf of a people he barely knows but has adopted as his own, when he has already established himself as someone with a keen sense of justice, but, you know, whatever. As they say around and about the internet, Haters gonna Hate.