Remember when Harry Potter came out? I do. It was at the start of the last decade and I was in the early stages of the Uniguard Era. I picked up a copy of the first in the series and gave it a read. It was enjoyable enough mainly because they were young kids going off on an adventure. The writing was good and for the record, I’m not one of those snobs who gets their nose bent out of joint if the writer commits the supposed heresy of appealing to a mass audience by writing transparently.
Then I met Dobbie in the second novel. Dobbie is a weak, sniveling, whiny pathetic creature who simply simpers about the pages. I endured him for about a chapter until I put the book aside.
Since that day, I have not read anymore of the Potter series. I have seen some of the films, usually by virtue of, “Date Night,” and usually fortified with numbing agents of sufficient power to make the experience tolerably painless.
Lest I be accused of sour grapes, I doff my beanie to Rowling and congratulate her on her success. I do not begrudge her in the least, it is simply that her series didn’t grab and hold onto me. And to be fair, if Dobbie had not done it, the advancing age of the main characters would have. As our heroes began to approach their teenage years, the urge to put the books down would have grown until it would have been impossible for me to continue.
I hated high school.
Ever meet those people who are nostalgic for their high school days? You know who they are. They were the jocks, the preps, the ones who were the teacher’s pets. They were the pretty people, the dangerous people and the ones who ruled the roost. They wore, and in some cases, still wear, their letterjackets in the same manner that some veterans wear bits and pieces of their military clothing decades after they have left the service. Everything else seems to pale by comparison for them.
I am not one of those people. I destroyed my yearbooks at the first opportunity. I do not display my high school diploma. I do not own anything which features any evidence of my passage through high school. As much as humanly possible, I have taken every means to scour the four years of my high school experience from my life.
It is, of course, impossible. My memories are still there. My memories of mind numbing homework assignments, the endless reams of dittoes to be filled out in triplicate, the tediously stale lessons, the coaches serving as history teachers who cared more about coaching than they did about history and finally there is, of course, the bullying, hazing, harassment and misery which follows one through high school if you didn’t get into the right group quickly enough.
High school did indeed shape me. It prompted me to go to college, because that is what we were told to do if we didn’t want to be poor. That turned out to be a lie, one I suspect they are still telling. It prompted me to join the Army as a way to purge High School from my psyche and pay for college. In the years since once I became an adjunct instructor of history at a local community college, it also informed one additional facet of my life.
I made a list of all of the things I hated about my high school experience and compared that against what my high school teachers should have counteracted. I made another list of all of the ways I felt my teachers failed me as teachers and as advocates for their students.
I have since made it a point to avoid doing those things, to clamp down on patterns which hurt students in high school, to insure that everyone has a chance to learn if they want to learn.
What does this have to do with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins?
Well, I tried to read it when Trinity picked up a copy last month. I tried to read it even though I knew Collins had stolen and distorted Roman History pretty liberally in an effort to compare the present day United States with the Roman Empire, a trope I am fairly tired of.
I got as far as Katniss’ cat, three pages in, and put the book down for good.
I instantly hated the protagonist. I had a visceral reaction to the world the protagonist was in, which immediately came off as implausible. Even bows and arrows are banned? Really? Even the most repressive regimes in history have never been able to push a total weapons ban down to something as simple as a bow and arrow.
Thing is, I couldn’t quite figure out why I had such a violent reaction. Five pages in and done is about as far as I got. I suspect if I went to see the movie, which I have not, Trinity went to see it by herself, I wouldn’t be able to sit in the chair for longer than ten minutes before walking out.
The reason, it turns out, is very simple.
The Hunger Games resonates with so many kids because it seems to be just like high school to them, which is probably the same story with the sparkly vampire ridden Twilight series. For the record, I didn’t even get past the first paragraph of the first novel on that score. Sitting through the rented videos my mom and Trinity get of Twilight? Can’t even stay in the room.
Personally, I prefer not to be reminded of High School. In fact, if I can avoid any reminders of my school years prior to age eighteen, I’d be a happy man. For those of you who are about to say, “Well, Tearing Down Tuesday features a high school age protagonist,” I would cheerfully reply to you that Kyle was very specifically placed on summer vacation for his sanity and my own.
I am an adult and I am relatively happy with the fact that with each passing day, I grow further from the nasty first eighteen years of my life. With each passing day, the pain of those years fades just a little bit more. Reading The Hunger Games is akin to taking a rusty knife and jabbing into an old wound to stir up the guts below.
This is one trip I will not be taking with the rest of the reading population. Instead, I would much rather deal with the real problems we see in high schools today in a proactive manner. I teach at a community college in order to help rectify thirteen years or more of educational malpractice on the part of our public school system. I am planning on seeing the documentary Bully this weekend to see how bad things still are and ponder how I can help making the act of bullying weaker people a social crime as opposed to a social kudo.
And of course, I plan on writing my own stories, which will definitely not be about or like high school if at all possible.
Thanks for reading.
Steven Francis Murphy
Author of The Limb Knitter and Tearing Down Tuesday
Kansas City, Missouri