My Favourite Stories: The Hunger Games

My Favourite Stories - The Hunger Games

This month will see the final movie of The Hunger Games series. It’s another end of an era, and I’m becoming used to the press and emotions surrounding such a thing. I’ve done the usual: re-read the books and re-watched the movies, and somewhat prepared myself for the new installment. I’ve also thought about how the story has impacted me and society.

The Hunger Games is pretty much the primary series that has shaped how I view economic inequality and all of the human rights issues entangled in it. I saw economic inequality as a web, since all of the issues related to it are interconnected, and it’s up to us to de-tangle the web.

These different strands – transportation, income and wages, food security, education, environment, gender, race, and more – are all part of inequality and oppression. And they all play a part in this awful game that we play in order to “win,” whatever that means.

The Hunger Games is probably the only dystopian fiction that I will read or watch for a long time. The stories themselves, while revealing and empowering, are also quite bleak. A lot of people die. If they don’t die, they become broken. And while that is a huge part of reality, especially for those going to war, I don’t like to consume those kinds of stories on an on-going basis.

This might be why I had struggled to complete this blog post. After comparing the themes and plots of The Hunger Games to everything, from Arab Spring to Occupy to Black Lives Matter to the most recent string of ISIS attacks and backlash fueled by Islamophobia… From comparing the tributes to child soldiers who either die or survive and have PTSD… From seeing how this piece of fiction reflects our reality a lot and could potentially become our reality 100%… I had become exhausted.

I work in a non-profit organization in a role that allows me to be an activist and to support people facing marginalization and oppression. I volunteer for a non-profit that allows me to be an activist who uses pop culture to support other fans with their actions. I absorb the news everyday, because I can’t help it, and witness beautiful and terrible things happening around the world. So, naturally I would feel exhausted.

So why is The Hunger Games one of my favourite stories?

Because it made me love first-person novels again (Twilight kind of ruined that for me before). Because it made me feel more hopeful for the future young adult literature. Because I love the characters and how I learned what true strength meant from them.

Katniss taught me how to use the fire within to fight for what I believe in, but to soften and empathize when needed. She taught me the importance of fending for yourself and finding your true self in nature. She taught me that protecting what you find most precious is worth it.

Peeta taught me that humans are innately good. That we all have the freedom and autonomy to be ourselves, our true selves, even in the face of evil. He taught me that love and kindness are far more important than showing off or appearing to be strong.

So, as a farewell to this series, I offer a three-hand salute to The Hunger Games, and to the people all around the world, from the refugees fleeing Syria to the folks being arrested for doing this same salute in Thailand. May we work together towards peace and collaboration in order for everyone to live their lives to the fullest.

Until the odds are in everyone’s favour.


My Favourite Stories: Harry Potter

Image from fudgeflies, tumblr

Image from fudgeflies, tumblr

It took me a while to figure out how to even begin this. But then I could hear a Captain Obvious-like voice inside my head saying, “at the beginning.”

I’ve mentioned the story of how I got into the Harry Potter series in the post called My Leading Ladies. Since grade four, I’ve always looked forward to a new book or a new movie. It was like that until the summer before my third year of university when Deathly Hallows Part II was released.

You never truly realize just how much something or someone has impacted your life until it’s close to the end and you know that they will leave you. It’s common for people my age (20s) to admit that the Harry Potter series has helped to shape their lives for the better. There are even studies on how the series makes us better people: specifically, it makes us more empathetic and aware of sociopolitical issues, which makes increases our likelihood of civic engagement. There’s even a book called Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation. There are countless ways I could talk about Harry Potter, but I’ll take a page out of JK Rowling’s book(s) and keep it to seven.

1. Imagination

Harry Potter was my gateway into fantasy. Yes, I’d watched Disney movies and watched anime beforehand, but actually reading about another world was, well, magical. It was so cool to imagine hidden neighbourhoods, sending letters via owls, waving wands to transform pretty much anything, and living in a friggin’ castle. I was enthralled. Not to the point where I cried over not getting a letter at age 11, but enough to always hold onto the belief that you can find magic anywhere.

2. Empathy

Imagination and empathy actually go together. In order to be an empathetic person, you need to have to identify with them, or put yourselves in their place in order to understand what they’re feeling. Harry Potter has allowed me to gain more empathy for others. Dobby’s plight as an enslaved House Elf (and how others react, reject, or accept it) reflects slavery in real life; Sirius Black being sent to prison without a trial is a reality in many parts of the world; Harry being forced to stay in the closet because of who he is can represent the struggles of the LGBT* community. JK Rowling had actually worked for Amnesty International, and much of what she had witnessed at this job was revealed throughout the series.

Learning about atrocities and human awfulness can really affect your worldview. Thankfully, I’ve learned that there is so much goodness and love in the world that it can drive out evil and hatred. And we don’t need to look further than the mirror to realize how we can bring about such goodness.

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
– From JK Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard University, 2008

3. Storytelling

Being able to tell a story really well is a gift. I learned from reading the Harry Potter series that you don’t need pretentious language and complex imagery in order to move people with your words. Harry Potter isn’t an impossible read; in fact, I think it’s pretty accessible. However, it’s not that simple or elementary. I gained a larger vocabulary, an understanding of plot devices – the amount of hints and foreshadowing was riddikulus, and a deeper appreciation of just how much effort authors put into their writing. And I actually enjoyed learning about all of that.

The books have inspired me to share my own story and become a better writer. I’m not quite up to the Rowling standard, but I’m always learning and practising my craft. And it’s become a part of who I am.

4. Personal Growth

Since I started reading the books at age 9, I had to patiently wait for the new ones to come out. Along the way, I was growing up and learning how to be a decent human being despite all of the pressures that come before, during, and after puberty. Once you hit double digits, it’s like a switch goes off and caring about things is no longer cool. Apathy is cool. Not giving a shit reigns supreme.

I thought that I was weird or different for caring about my grades, about what my peers and parents and teachers thought, about what was happening in the world. I thought that reality TV and celebrity gossip was the norm for conversation topics. I thought that having a boyfriend and going to parties were what you had to do to be not just popular, but relevant. But, as I kept reading about Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s journey through adolescence and becoming heroes of the wizarding world, I thought to myself, “Now that’s cool. That’s what I want to be.” And I began to align myself with these characters, and realize that I wasn’t weird for wanting to do good.

5. Identity

Like I’d said before, I really identified with Hermione (big hair, big teeth, big bookworm). I thought that she was The Girl I could look up to and eventually become. And I thought that I was well on my way to becoming Hermione: I learned more about human rights, I loved being in the library, I loved being right and getting good grades, and I became the person in high school asking people to sign petitions. The problem, though, was that I was not and am not Hermione. I didn’t really have a rude awakening or anything like that, but I gained a subtle confidence in who I really was. I have to say that a lot of this confidence came from within, and I had to fight hard for it. I had to really reflect on what made me me. However, I would not have this confidence without the love and support of family, friends, teachers, and peers.

6. Community

I am not exaggerating when I say this: Harry Potter fans are among the nicest people on the planet. I’m sirius; every single person I’ve met who even remotely likes the books – or even just the movies – has turned out to be a kind, funny, and awesome person. I’ve made really good, lifelong friends; friends who reference the books and movies, who can manage to slip in a quote at the most opportune and inappropriate time, who just get it.

7. Fan Activism

A few years ago, I learned about an organization called The Harry Potter Alliance. I was blown away that an actual non-profit is using a story that I love so much and using it as a way to make the world a better place. It’s a real life Dumbledore’s Army! It was like I finally found my tribe: honest to goodness nerds who want to make a difference and have fun doing it. I’ve been with them ever since.

If you’re currently scoffing at fan activism and require a scholarly approach, here’s a great read by Henry Jenkins about cultural acupuncture. If you’re still scoffing, might I suggest that you Disapparate out of here?

My Favourite Stories: Project Introduction

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. As you can probably tell from my posts, I’ve mentioned several fictional stories that have inspired and shaped me to become a better person. With this project, I’m going to take each story and write a post (or two or seven) on my relationship with that story and why it’s one of my favourites.

Here’s a list of what I’m going to write about:

  • Harry Potter
  • Parks and Recreation (I kind of already did this, but there’s so much to add that it won’t be like a double post.)
  • Naruto
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • The Legend of Korra
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Lord of the Rings

I’m going to start with Harry Potter – be on the lookout for that post within the next couple of weeks!

Note: You can also hold me accountable and send me reminders about this project, since, well, I need the push. 🙂