This is not the past where I talk about how angry I get when people dismiss The Hunger Games as either too juvenile or too mature. This is also not the post where I describe in loving detail the incandescence of my rage when someone dismisses the YA Dystopia genre out-right. And finally, this is not even the post where I talk about how I deal with idiots who claim Suzanne Collins stole her ideas from Battle Royale, whose creator is the SPESHALEST SNOFLAKE EVER and had ONLY ORIGINAL THOUGHTS (okay, it is a bit, but only because I have discovered the best way to shut those people up, which is to say launch into something like “Yes, and I loved how Battle Royale drew so heavily from the themes in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Bread and Circuses”, and also that short story I can never remember the title of about the famous bored hunter who started hunting people until one of them hunted him back*”, by which point they’ve usually changed the subject in self-defense).
What this is, actually, is the blog post where I talk about the ending of MOCKINGJAY, largely because, unlike 99% of the people with the complaints I’ve outlined above, people who complain about the end of MOCKINGJAY have actually read the books.
WARNING: There are spoilers for EVERYTHING in this post. Mockingjay, for sure, and also Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Mass Effect III, Lost, and probably BSG for good measure.
I saw Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on opening night during a snow storm, in a theatre with terrible seating, accompanied by a cousin who had never read the book, and accordingly spend that last thirty minutes of the movie trying to leave. People posit all the time that LotR would never get published in today’s market (which is also dumb, because there are a LOT of things that are AMAZING that wouldn’t get published in today’s market), but I think the point here is that RotK has one of the weirdest endings ever written, and people nowadays would not put up with it. Authors who take risks with their endings are VILIFIED by fanbases who feel they’ve earned something better, simply by having made it to the end.
The Lost finale split the fanbase down the middle. The BSG finale fans adapted by agreeing to never discuss anything that happened after New Caprica. JK Rowling was ABSOLUTELY SKEWERED for daring to write an unapologetically happy ending (presumably to avoid having to answer silly questions at conventions for the REST OF HER LIFE). And the end of MOCKINGJAY brought the haters out of the woodwork in droves.
ASIDE: I love finales and endings. I LOVE them. Even the ones that were weird. Sometimes ESPECIALLY the ones that were weird. I gather that the exception to this will be Mass Effect 3, which managed to crush nearly everyone I know for destroying the narrative, but most of the endings that people complain about make perfect sense to me, so I don’t mind them.
There are, from what I gather, four main reasons for people hating the end of MOCKINGJAY:
1. Katniss ends up with Peeta.
2. Katniss does NOT end up with Gale.
3. Katniss does not take over the world.
4. People were very sad that Prim and Finnick died.
I’m going to tackle number four first and ask simply WHAT BOOK WERE YOU READING? The only thing that was surprising about Prim’s death was that it took three books to do it, and Finnick’s entire role after Catching Fire was to be sacrificial. The point of THG was that people will use their bizarre skills to rebel (fashion design, cake decorating, healing, knot tying), and because they are brave souls, they will suffer. Finnick’s death pushes Katniss in the final moments of the battle for the Capitol and Prim’s death makes her take action after the dust settles. Katniss is not given to independent action, but she is a survivor, and these two deaths ensure she lives.
One and two can be dealt with simultaneously, even though I did list them separately because I think they are two different things, by pointing out that this book was never a romance. It was about Katniss, and Katniss does not forgive. Gale became something the Capitol made, and Peeta fought ABSOLUTE HELL to avoid that. Peeta sees the long game. Gale sees the next one. Peeta understands that Katniss wants to go home and die by herself. Gale doesn’t understand why she isn’t always consumed by righteous anger. Gale expected her to always be on fire. Peeta understood that it was a costume.
I am made a bit uncomfortable by the fact that Peeta manages to talk her into having kids, but…I just finished The Handmaid’s Tale, and I am really not in a reasonable state of mind right now.
Anyway, number three seems to be the stickiest, and I completely understand. I usually go for the books where the girl lights the world on fire, takes over, has agency, and all that stuff. But The Hunger Games was never, NEVER that story. Katniss was a pawn FROM BIRTH (or at least from when her father died), and I would love for someone to tell me at what point Katniss indicated she wanted anything other than to be left the hell alone.
Katniss does have her heroic moments, but they are entirely motivated by her bizarre white knight complex. She does kill people in self-defense, but her “famous” kills (Marvel, Coin), are mostly revenge motivated. When she has the choice to kill either Coin or Snow (because she only has one arrow), she chooses Coin, not the man who personally tormented her, because Coin is the one she blames for Prim. Katniss is a terrible hero, Coin says on several occasions that she wishes they had Peeta instead, and in the first book it’s all Flickerman can do to make Katniss look alive. She is tremendously lucky, but she is also tremendously malleable, and someone people didn’t see that.
Sometimes I think people get to the end of a book and realize they have been miscommunicating with the author. I did that with Phillip Pullman, rather extremely. But as much as I didn’t like the story he chose to tell, I would never say he ruined The Golden Compass, or even that the story he told was bad. It’s just not my thing. I wish people could say “That was not my thing” and move on, rather than lambasting the writers who poured their souls on to the page for failing to share the same vision.
Writers, please take risks with your endings. You make it interesting and worth reading. If it always ended the way I thought it might, or even the way I hoped it might, there would be little point in turning the pages. Chances are pretty good I will love what ever you come up with. And readers…it’s not yours to change. Accept it, or don’t, but think very, very carefully before you decry an ending as “wrong” because it’s not what you thought you deserved.
*Okay, so it’s called “The Most Excellent Prey”, or something, but it’s become something of a habit, not remembering the title. The point is, we read a lot of terminally boring short stories in high school, and there is no good reason why we didn’t read that one.