Top Ten Tuesday (April 24)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fine folk over at The Broke and the Bookish. They created it because they are particularly fond of lists, and I’m participating because I am particularly fond of lists. Fancy that!

So the topic for this week’s list is:

Top Ten All-Time Favorite Characters In Books

There will be some minor spoilers in here, because some of the reasons I love these characters are kind of spoiler-y.

10. Cinna (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) – Cinna is cool, composed, and suave. He’s a stylist, so you wouldn’t think of him as being a fighter. But he proves himself to be brave and devoted to a cause greater than himself. He fights intelligently, not with swords and fists, but with well-placed images that turn the tides of feeling in the Capitol and the Districts. He was the secret but powerful force behind the Girl on Fire.

 9. Molly Weasley (First introduced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling) – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention such a wonderful example of a mother. Molly Weasley is often in the background of the story, knitting horrible sweaters and fussing over her brood of red-headed children. But her fierce love and devotion for her family is never in doubt, and ultimately, she demonstrates the kind of power that comes from a mother’s love for her children. It’s nothing to be trifled with.

8. Robert Muldoon (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton) – This is going to be short and sweet. Muldoon is freakin’ awesome, and if they’d all have listened to him from the beginning, dinosaurs wouldn’t have wound up eating most of them. And, unlike in the movie version, Muldoon is smart enough to not get eaten himself .

7. Valentine Wiggin (Ender’s Game and its sequels by Orson Scott Card) – In a world where children are turned into weapons by the military, Ender’s sister Valentine was rejected from the program for being too sympathetic and compassionate. But her intelligence was never the issue. Valentine’s game against her brother Peter is on a much smaller scale than Ender’s against the Formics, but she plays it well, proving what a shrewd strategist she really is. She also is Ender’s emotional center, the one member of his family who is always supportive and loving of him, no matter what he has done. She later proves her devotion to Ender when she accompanies him on his travels after the completion of the Game.

6. Jamie Fraser (The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon) – If you like your romantic leading men big, burly, and Scottish, look no further than James Fraser. From the moment Claire Randall finds herself inexplicably transported from 1945 to 18th-century Scotland, Jamie is her savior, her protector, and her friend. He is innocent, funny and friendly while also being a strong warrior and leader. He’s not without his flaws, chief among them his fiery temper and fierce stubbornness. But ultimately, it’s his enduring love for Claire — a love that literally spans centuries — that makes him utterly endearing.

5. Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) – I never really bought into the whole “Team Peeta”/”Team Gale” thing (in my opinion, Peeta’s biggest rival for Katniss’ affections was Katniss.) So my admiration for Peeta is not based on the fact that he’s just sooooooo dreamy. Peeta takes more mental and physical abuse than any other character in THG series (barring, of course, the ones who die). But his strength of character and his will to be true to himself ultimately prevail. He is gentle, kind, and full of hope in a world where all of those are in short supply; but he also demonstrates strength and power when the situation demands it. Katniss may be the focal point of THG, but in my mind, Peeta is the true victor.

4. Professor Remus Lupin (First introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling) – As Harry’s only Defense Against the Dark Arts professor who is both qualified and competent, Professor Lupin’s teachings are instrumental in Harry’s fight against Voldemort. Additionally, in spite of Lupin’s internal struggles, he continues to be one of the main leaders of the Order of the Pheonix. He serves as mentor and protector of the Dynamic Trio, and ultimately helps Harry understand the power of sacrificial love.

3. Westley (The Princess Bride by William Goldman) – If you haven’t read The Princess Bride, go get yourself a copy and read it. Right now. The movie is great; the book is better. And however much movie Westley is the ultimate in swashbuckling romantic heroes, book Westley is even better. If you thought his survival in the Pit of Despair was impressive, wait until you see him in the Zoo of Death. “To the pain” indeed.

2. Nighteyes (Farseer Trilogy/Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb) – Nighteyes is protagonist FitzChivalry’s wolf companion for most of his journeys. Nighteyes is as you would expect a wolf to be: vicious, cunning, and fiercely loyal. But he is also surprisingly witty, refreshingly honest, and endearingly playful. Through all of Fitz’s misadventures, Nighteyes is there to ground him, support him, and be the voice of reason. In a series I loved full of characters I loved, Nighteyes was among the best. I’ve never felt so emotionally attached to an animal character, before or since.

1. The Fool (Farseer Trilogy/Liveship Traders Trilogy/Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb) – In Robin Hobb’s spectacular trilogy of trilogies, The Fool is the thread that ties them all together. He is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a cleverly worded and slightly biting riddle. And somehow, even though you never truly understand everything about him — even after 9 books — you come to know him. Introduced as a comical background character, The Fool ultimately evolves into one of the most complex and fascinating characters I’ve ever read. But despite the vast mystery that surrounds him, it’s hard to doubt or deny his friendship and devotion with Fitz, even in the face of unimaginable hardship.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

Neville Longbottom, Hermione Granger, Professor McGonagall (Harry Potter)

Burrich (Farseer Trilogy/Tawny Man Trilogy)

 Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery)

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Kent McFuller (Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver)

Jo March (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

 I may add more to this later. It’s too painful not to mention some of these great characters.

Advertisements

Book to Film: The Hunger Games

A lot of the books I read eventually become movies. Sometimes I read the book first, sometimes I see the movie first. Sometimes I see the movie because I read the book, and vice versa. So I thought it may be fun to talk about the film adaptations of the books I’ve read.

And what better film to kick it off than the one currently dominating the box office, The Hunger Games?

If you want to brush up on the basic plot, you can read my review. But if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you probably don’t want to keep going. Because I’m about to get into spoiler territory, which means you’re about to get either lost or annoyed.

CAST

For the most part, I thought the casting was spot-on. Jennifer Lawrence was a perfect Katniss, Josh Hutcherson was a charming and empathetic Peeta, Amandla Stenberg broke my heart as Rue, Lenny Kravitz was a cool and composed Cinna.

It probably helps that I read the books after the movie had been principally cast, so even though I wasn’t very familiar with a lot of the actors portraying the leads, I at least had their images in my mind when reading. And because I was aware of who was cast when I was reading, I can honestly say that for the most part, the casting, makeup, and wardrobe department did an excellent job of making the actors look the way Suzanne Collins describes the characters.

There were only a few characters where the casting surprised me. None of the actors were bad (Wes Bentley in particular was pretty impressive) — just not what I pictured from reading the book. These included:

Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith. (Couldn’t find a picture of him in character – sorry). I pictured someone boisterous and imposing, to go with his big, booming voice. I’m not actually sure if he’s given a physical description in the book. I just pictured him having a very dominating physical presence. But they reduced Claudius’ character to a very minor one in the film (I think mostly to bolster the role of Seneca Crane, which is a creative decision I agree with), and Toby Jones did a fine job with what he was given.

Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane. You have to understand, Seneca Crane is barely even a character in the first book. He’s not even given a name until the second book, and he has very little written about him. I’m nearly positive there is no physical description given. So for some reason, I pictured him as middle-aged and portly. No idea why. However, probably to give the events of the second book/film more weight, the filmmakers expanded the role of Seneca Crane in the film, and Wes Bentley was excellent in the role. He had very few lines, but conveyed quite a bit with his eyes and expressions.

Isabelle Fuhrman as Clove. This is the only bit of casting that I’m positive went completely against the physical description given in the book. In the book, Clove has an imposing physical presence, and is much bigger than Katniss. There’s a scene in the book where Katniss climbs a tree, and Clove can’t follow her because she’s so much larger than Katniss. Isabelle is noticeably smaller than Jennifer Lawrence. That said, Isabelle Fuhrman had every bit of the character’s personality spot on, and delivered all her lines and actions exactly how I imagined Clove would. She just didn’t look like her. But I’m not a stickler for actors having to exactly match physical descriptions in books. I’d much rather they act like the characters than look like them. So I was totally fine with this change.

PLOT

As far as book-to-movie adaptations go, The Hunger Games was one of the most faithful ones I’ve ever seen. All the main plot points were there. There were some omissions and alterations from the book, obviously. It’s necessary when condensing an almost-400-page book down to a 2.5 hour movie.

Some of the changes didn’t bother me – the elimination of the characters of Madge and the Avox girl; the shortening of the Games themselves; the addition of the scenes with President Snow, Seneca Crane, and the Gamemakers; the lack of mention of the eyes of the mutts at the end; the fact that Peeta (it would seem) doesn’t have his leg amputated after the conclusion of the Games. I thought those changes helped make the story watchable and understandable, especially for people who hadn’t read the books.

Others irked me just a tad. [Major spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Twice.]

There’s a scene in the book where the Career tributes leave a girl for dead in the woods, but a cannon (signaling her death) never sounds. Peeta volunteers to go check and finish her off. He’s gone an unusually long time. Finally, he returns and then the cannon sounds. The Careers (and Katniss, who is observing it all from her hiding place) all assume Peeta killed her. But this is also when they’re all assuming that Peeta is helping them hunt down Katniss, when in fact, he’s trying to protect her.

I’ve always been curious what actually happened between Peeta and that girl. It doesn’t seem to be in his character to go and kill a wounded girl. Did he simply wait with her until she died? Did he try to help her? It’s never explained in the books. Since Suzanne Collins collaborated on the screenplay, I was hoping it would be addressed in the movie. But the whole scene is omitted.

The other scene that was left out of the movie that really irked me was the exchange between Katniss and Peeta at the very end of the book. That conversation is the catalyst for some major developments between them in Catching Fire. It changes their entire relationship. And they left it out of the movie.

There is conversation, and the gist of the original conversation is kind of maybe implied. But in the book, they both state their feelings quite bluntly, and in the movie, it’s all subtlety. I wish it had been blunt.

Other than those two notable exceptions, I thought the adaptation was extremely well done. It was obvious that Gary Ross, the actors, and the crew were trying their best to respect the books and their message.

FILMING

I’ll be honest – there was a lot of shaky cam. It kind of irked me at first.

But.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was adding to the sense of unease, of wrongness, of the feeling that this world was not good, pretty, or comfortable. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel.

It didn’t feel like a big, glossy action movie where the bad guys blow things up and the attractive hero always escapes by the skin of her teeth. It felt gritty and dirty and upsetting.

Speaking of dirt, I know there are some nay-sayers out there that think it wasn’t gritty and dirty and upsetting enough. But just because people are poor and in a desperate situation doesn’t automatically turn them into cavemen. They can still practice basic hygiene and grooming habits. They can still clean their small, ill-equipped houses. So I was totally okay with the overall look of the movie.

The violence was a big concern for a lot of movie-goers. After all, it’s kids killing kids. How on earth would anyone want to watch that? But much like in the book, where Katniss is observing the violence in bits and pieces as she focuses on trying to keep herself alive, a lot of the violence takes place in quick snippets or off-camera. It’s not downplayed. You definitely feel that these events are not right. But it’s also not gratuitous. It’s not glorifying violence. I thought it was handled well.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS

If I had to pick one, I’d still say I enjoyed the book more than the film. But this is definitely one of my favorite book-to-film adaptations, especially in the Young Adult genre. I thought the story came across loud and clear. The sets, costumes, and makeup were perfect. The acting was fantastic. If I had my druthers, it would have been about 30 minutes longer, but I know that a 3-hour film based on a book directed at teenagers is just not something studios are interested in doing. All in all, it was great to see a book I love brought to life so faithfully in the theater.

Grade: A

The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.

Review: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I read The Hunger Games several months ago. I never wrote down my thoughts, because thousands before me already had, and I figured I probably didn’t have much to add. Then I read and reviewed a bunch of other young adult dystopian fiction, some good, some “eh,” and came to the conclusion that if I’m going to judge all of them against The Hunger Games, then I should probably go ahead and review The Hunger Games.

This is a review only of the first book.

We all know by now what The Hunger Games is about. In a future version of the United States (now called Panem), the country has been divided into 12 Districts, each specializing in a different industry, surrounding a central Capitol. Years ago, the Districts rebelled against the Capitol. The Capitol prevailed, and as punishment for the rebellion (and as a deterrent against future rebellion), each year the Capitol forces each District to sacrifice 2 of its citizens – a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 – to fight to the death in a barbaric gladiatorial arena for the amusement of the Capitol’s citizens. One will survive. 23 will die.

The decadent and pampered Capitol citizens, desensitized to the actual horror of what they are watching, view the televised Games as the height of entertainment, Olympics and action movies and reality TV all rolled into one.

Meanwhile, the oppressed citizens of the 12 Districts live out a nightmare, as they are forced to watch their children mercilessly slaughtered on TV.

And rebellion is out of the question. Each District is patrolled by Capitol-appointed “Peacekeepers,” there to make sure that they willingly send their Tributes and watch the Games like they’re supposed to. To resist is to guarantee death – or worse.

The heroine of the book is Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who has managed to avoid the Hunger Games for the past 4 years. But that all changes when her 12-year-old sister, Prim, is selected to be this year’s District 12 Tribute. Katniss, terrified for Prim, volunteers to take her place — a decision which most likely guarantees a gruesome death.

Katniss is shipped off to the Capitol to prepare for the Games, along with Peeta, the local baker’s son. They are primped and polished, interviewed and pampered, and ultimately turned loose in the arena with the other 22 tributes.

Every single one of them knows, if they are not prepared to fight to the death, they have no hope of winning. And a peaceful sit-in is not an option – the country is watching, and the Gamemakers will guarantee a good show, even if it means unleashing mutant wasps or raining down fire on the tributes.

I will admit, I spent the first half of the book convinced Katniss would certainly find a way to rebel against the Games. Surely she wouldn’t participate. Surely she wouldn’t kill anyone. Surely she wouldn’t fight Peeta. Surely something will happen to make it so that none of these children actually has to die.

But Katniss doesn’t go to the games to rebel. She goes to save her sister, and she goes to try to come back to her sister. Which means she has to win. Which means she has to participate. She’s a 16-year-old girl in a world that has accepted the Games as a part of life for 3/4 of a century.

Children do die in this book. It’s horrible and terrifying and heartbreaking. You want to scream at the Gamemakers and Capitol citizens, “What’s wrong with you?” The book gives a chilling look at the insensitivity that would turn a blind eye to the slaughter of children in the name of entertainment and tradition.

It also gives us, in Katniss, a very flawed young girl. She is angry, stubborn and judgmental. But she is also fiercely loyal, protective, and determined. I don’t agree with all of her decisions in the book. I was actually a much bigger fan of Peeta than Katniss. But I can admire her determination to do what she has to, to return to protect her sister. She clings to hope, even when all seems lost. In the world she lives in, it seems like the only choice she has.

As a parent, it saddened me greatly to think of a world where parents would be forced to send their children into a situation like this, and where children would be forced to endure this kind of brutality and despair. And if The Hunger Games was just a stand-alone story, I may not have enjoyed it as much, even though it’s an exciting and engrossing read. But it is the first book in a trilogy, and does an excellent job of setting up the world that Katniss and Peeta live in.

The first book is sad. I cared about the characters, but I hated the world they lived in. I hated what they had to go through. It’s upsetting. It’s horrifying. It made me angry. And it’s supposed to. If this is the feeling you’re left with after the first book, it’s not a sign to give up on the series. It’s a sign you need to see where it goes.

Grade: A

Content guide: Contains numerous descriptions of disturbing violence towards children, often resulting in death.