image from: http://nerdquirks.tumblr.com/
This Sunday at church, our pastor was talking about joy and the difference between joy and happiness. He asked us to finish the sentence, "Happiness is... " Now, there are many ways I could answer that, but one that sprung to mind after my most recent reading addiction was ..."a good book series and a hot cup of tea." I love reading. Especially the fiction variety. Even better if it is a series. I actually have had to cut out novels for periods of times because I become so absorbed. I have read boring books just to slow myself down. It's bad. Last week, I started and finished The Hunger Games Trilogy. Yes, the whole thing. Starting Monday and ending on Saturday. And it was a busy week. And no, I didn't read at work. (I was really tired though). It got me thinking about all of the fictionally series I have read more recently. I decided it would be fun to do a little comparison of the different titles.
First of all, here are the series I am including in no particular order.
Harry Potter (of course), by J. K. Rowling (Harry)
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis (Narnia)
Twilight, by Stephanie Meyers (Twilight)
The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien (LOTR)
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (Hunger)
Mark of the Lion Series, by Francine Rivers (MOTL)
The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis (Space)
There are more I should include here that I have read. There are probably more I should read. But, it's my blog, so whatever. Four of the seven series are geared more towards young adults and children. So, my first ranking is when I would let my (theoretical) child read the series from youngest to oldest. And this list will be in terms of content versus reading level.
Reading Age (Young to High)
Narnia is pretty obvious. It was a series made for children, nothing is too shocking, violent or sexual. Harry ups the violence and romance, but still very appropriate for children. Space might be a little on the difficult side in terms of themes, but is far less violent than any of the other books, despite the series being intended for adults. 4-6 are all pretty violent. MOTL is a Christian series that takes place after the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) while Christians are being persecuted. There are parts that get pretty violent, but it is still less violent than Hunger or LOTR. Twilight gets the end spot because of its underlying message to young girls.
Similarly, here is my ranking of the reading level, where I pay no attention to the themes. This is mostly a ranking of vocabulary and sentence structure or the amount of brain power needed to digest the text.
Reading Level (Easy to Difficult)
Twilight was insanely easy to read in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. Even the language in Hunger was easy to get through. Space and LOTR were fairly advanced in terms of reading level.
Addictiveness (totally my personal experience)
Here, there are almost two sections for me. 1-4 were crazy addicting. I couldn't stop reading them. And when I wasn't reading, I was thinking about them. I actually read the last Harry Potter book in Barnes and Noble. In both Hunger and MOTL, I found the first 2 books way more addicting than the 3rd and final book of the series. 5-7 were not really that addicting. LOTR has a lot of down time as anyone who has watched the extended edition of the movies knows.
Completeness (how well the series fits together and the individual books complement the series, wraps up nicely)
There is actually not a huge variance between top and bottom here, but there are some differences. LOTR weaves a beautiful tapestry, where all the pieces come together and all the journey and sorrows lead to something beautiful in the end. On closing that series, I did not feel as if anything was left out or missing. I felt similarly about Harry, except that I wanted more. Rowling has even said that she wanted to develop out some of the more minor characters further in the stories. Space is a bit more disjointed. The first two books are relatively similar in theme, but the third is quite different, even though it is probably more powerful than the first two. MOTL and Hunger both had the same problem in my opinion. They both had super strong books 1 and 2, but fell short at the end. In both, the third book didn't seem to finish out the promise of the first two and I was slightly disappointed.
Overall (again, just my preference)
It's not surprising. I love Harry. The first time I read the books was in November 2007 (I showed up late) and I finished all 7 in a month. I know not everyone agrees, but I just loved that series. It felt like losing a friend when I finished. I think that is how it is supposed to be. Narnia and LOTR are classics. They get top marks in my opinion. Hunger gets a pretty high ranking because it was so darn thought provoking. More on that in a minute. Space was also really thought provoking and quite original. I almost placed it over Hunger. MOTL and Twilight were interesting and kept my attention (and were highly addictive), but were not true classics in any sense of the word.
This is getting long, but I want to delve into The Hunger Games a little, because it is on my mind since I just finished it and because it is so popular right now. I really enjoyed reading them, but I felt a little conflicted when it was all over. If you plan on reading the series or are not finished, I would stop reading my blog now, since the following will have spoilers.
The Hunger Games is set in the future (no specific date) in North America. What was the U.S. has been ravaged by wars, famines, drought, etc. and has been replaced by the country of Panem, which is comprised of the Capitol and 12 districts. The people of the 12 districts are more or less slaves to the Capitol and each district has a specialty - agriculture (11), fishing (4), electronics (3), coal (12), forestry (7), etc. 74 years prior to the start of the books, the people of the districts revolted against the Capitol and were defeated. District 13 was supposedly destroyed altogether. As retribution for the rebellion, every year, each district must sent 2 tributes, one male and one female, between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the Capitol's Hunger Games. These games are set in a large (some many miles wide) man-made arena where the tributes fight to the death and one is crowned victor. The games are part Gladiator and part Lord of the Flies.
In lieu of summarizing the whole series, I am going to end there and start with my commentary. Overall, I really enjoyed reading the books, and thought the idea for the novels was pretty clever. However, I also thought it was a bit of a soulless bloodbath. The third book in the series was the most confusing for me. Katniss (the main character) and her team go into the Capitol with the intent of killing President Snow. Most of her team dies in the mission. But in the end, the war ends before she is able to perform the task of killing Snow. In fact, there is a lot of pointless killing, including children and Katniss' sister, Prim. I kept waiting for all that death to have some big purpose in the end. But maybe that was the point. It didn't. I had to think about the ending a little too. Katniss has an encounter with Snow while he is awaiting execution. And he reveals that the new president of Panem (Coin) was directly responsible for the deaths of the children and Prim. I guess Katniss realizes that Coin is just as bad as Snow, especially when Coin suggests a new Hunger Games for the children of the Capitol as retribution. I am only assuming that Katniss agrees to this so that she is in a position to kill Coin, which she does. She had agreed to help the rebellion on the condition that she get to kill Snow. I suppose Coin is the new Snow, which is why Katniss sees it fitting to kill her. For a novel series, it just didn't feel like enough catharsis for the main characters. I kind of left the series thinking, "well, okay." And I get that Collins is trying to depict that real war, real revolution is never pretty, and veterans have very deep emotional scars. I definitely understand her point. But as a fictional series, it left me wanting something more.
I had some un-answered questions, too. In the series, North America is entirely self-sufficient and there is absolutely no mention of other countries. Since the author is using earth in the future, what happened to the rest of the world? What happened to culture? Collins almost depicts our entire society condensing down to pure materialism. And, while materialism is strong, I don't believe it is the only motivation for society. In general, the world Collins creates seems incomplete. How was the government organized? What did people do in the Capitol? How did the economic structure work? What happened to religion? Katniss deeply struggles with the deaths of family and friends, but there is no mention of any soul. For books so focused on the psyche of losing loved ones, that really struck me as odd to leave completely out. Some of the technology was implausible to me, but Collins is an author, not an engineer, so I guess I will let it pass. I am still looking forward to the movie. The first book was my favorite of the series. I'll also be interested to see how they make these movies PG-13. J assures me they have ways to do so.
I've decided to take a small break from fiction, so this week, I am reading a non-fiction book by Tim Keller. I really loved his book, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, so I highly recommend him as an author. He was also a Bucknellian, which makes him super-awesome in my book (get it? book? okay, I'm done).