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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Saturday, March 31, 2012 4:52 pm
Reading the Screen: The Hunger Games
Posted by: David Pitt

The Hunger Games, in cinemas now, is based—you probably know this, but just in case—on the 2008 novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. The story’s about a teenaged girl, Katniss Everdeen, who competes in a to-the-death contest against other teens in a widely popular reality show. It’s an intriguing story with a premise that’s not as far-fetched as you might like it to be: an oppressive near-future society so degraded that it gets its kicks watching kids kill each other doesn’t seem all that unlikely, given the sort of—and this is just my personal opinion here—so-called “reality” crap that people are watching now.

The Hunger Pains is a very funny parody by the Harvard Lampoon, the same people, if not necessarily the same actual writers, who brought us Bored of the Rings (1969). Its hero, Kantkiss Neverclean, isn’t exactly as spunky and clever as Collins’ heroine. Kantkiss is…well, she’s dim, is what she is. She thinks her dog is a cat. She can’t get the hang of a sofa. She thinks someone hurling a knife at her head is just being helpful.

Kantkiss’s trainer, former Games winner Buttitch Totalapathy—in the book he’s Haymitch Abernathy—is a degenerate gambler with suicidal tendencies. Her co-competitor, Pita Malarkey (in the book, Peeta Mellark; it’s like Collins expected to be parodied), is a hopeless incompetent with some sort of eating disorder.  The novel’s Cornucopia, a horn-shaped structure full of tools and supplies that could help the young competitors, is here called—predictably, but still hilariously—the Cornucrapia, with such questionable contents as stacks of old TV Guides, Dijon mustard, a bathroom scale, and Hula-Hoops.  

A spoof takes its source material and gives it a gentle twist. A really good parody puts its source material through the wringer, extracting every drop of comedy. The Hunger Pains is a really good parody: funny without being cruel, faithful to the novel without being literal (or even accurate), and—this is the sign of a quality parody—accessible to people who’ve read the novel so many times they have large portions of it memorized and to people who have never heard of it.

Let me know what you think of it.



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