The Hunger Pains: A Parody by The Harvard Lampoon

By Ekta R. Garg

August 23, 2012

Rated: Borrow it

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last six months (or had joined your own District 13,) you would have had a hard time missing The Hunger Games and the phenomenon it has created since the movie release.  When Suzanne Collins published The Hunger Games, the first book in her trilogy, in 2008, Collins instantly found an audience.  She gained a steady and faithful following, and the first book in the trilogy stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years straight.

For those who have heard of The Hunger Games but haven’t read the books, the short version goes like this: Katniss Everdeen lives with her family in a post-apocalyptic North America, now called Panem.  Katniss lives in District 12, one of twelve such districts that surround the Capitol.  The Capitol rules with an iron fist; in order to remind the districts of the unsuccessful uprising that past citizens tried to incite (that ended with the destruction of the seemingly-defunct District 13,) the Capitol holds the Hunger Games every year.  One boy and one girl represent each district in a modern gladiator-type fight to the death.  The representatives—called Tributes—are chosen by random drawing.  The children must be between the ages of 12 and 18, and children can barter with the Capitol for extra food supplies by allowing their names to be entered into the drawing several times.

In the year of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss’ younger sister, Prim, turns 12 and is entered in the drawing for the first time—and gets chosen as the female Tribute for District 12.  Because of her ferocious love for her sister, Katniss volunteers in Prim’s stead.  The book then follows Katniss’ journey as she prepares for and then engages in the Hunger Games.  The second and third books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, respectively, follow what happens as a result of Katniss’ volunteerism and participation in the Games.  Suffice it to say, Katniss’ decisions during the Games incite a new revolution.

Let me say off the bat that I hated the movie.  It truly disappointed me, because it didn’t do justice to Collins’ novel and well-told story—which is a shame, because Suzanne Collins was one of the screenplay writers for the film.  I felt like the movie had zero emotion and simply moved from Point A to Point B to show a lot of action.  Anyone who didn’t know Katniss’ world would have felt lost.  Case in point: my husband.  He leaned close to me several times during the movie and asked, “What is the point of all of this?”

Conversely, I loved the books.  In particular, as a writer myself, I really admired the decision Collins made in pursuing her storyline for the final book in the trilogy.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve read a good story with well-rounded characters and a well-thought-out plot that came full circle so neatly and yet so believably.

So when I went to Target recently and saw a slim paperback book with an altered version of The Hunger Games cover—only this one had the title The Hunger Pains—I knew I had to get it from the library to check it out.

Written by the clever team at The Harvard Lampoon, The Hunger Pains traces the adventures of Kantkiss Neverclean and how she enters the 74th Hunger Games.

“District 12 is the poorest district,” Kantkiss says early in The Hunger Pains, “while some affectionately call it ‘the Dirty Dozen,’ most call it ‘a Terrible Place to Live.’  My neighborhood, the worst in District 12, is known as the Crack.”

As an homage to Gale, the best friend of Katniss in The Hunger Games, the Harvard team introduces readers to “Carol Handsomestein.”

“Even when he’s pulling the guts out of a squirrel, he looks so dreamy,” Kantkiss muses.  “I always let him take the first bite of squirrel heart.”

The Harvard writers continue with the light mood.

“I hunt for my family because my father can no longer provide for us,” Kantkiss explains.  “Don’t worry, it’s not because he’s lazy or anything—it’s because he’s dead.”

The Hunger Pains follows a similar, although wacky, version of its (almost) namesake.  When Kantkiss volunteers as the replacement for her younger sister, Prin (short for “Princess,”) Kantkiss worries about her sister’s reaction.

“I just hope she won’t take the news too hard. I step forward.

“‘Yes!’ Prin shouts out as she does a quick fist pump in the air.  She gleefully hops down from the stage and rejoins her place in the crowd.  Within seconds, she is back to giggling and chatting with her friends.”

As you can imagine, this sets the tone for the entire book.  The Harvard Lampoon spared nothing from ridicule.  Collins’ writing style takes a hit, from the never-ending references to Battle Royale (a novel by Japanese author Koushun Takami that some critics said Collins used as the skeleton for The Hunger Games) to Collins’ choice of pacing:

“Even though I am the main character of this story, there is no way that I will win the Hunger Games,” Kantkiss says on page 103.  “I, the narrator, have told this entire book and there’s still like fifty pages left.  So I’ll probably die in the next few pages, and someone like Run [a stand-in for the original book’s Rue] will take over the storytelling or something.”

Of course, the original Hunger Games has such a serious tone and story that anything in it becomes fair game for a project like the parody, including the front cover, which shows the mockingjay image that becomes indelible to Katniss by the end of the series.  On the cover of The Hunger Pains, though, the mockingjay has been shot with the arrow and is lying limp on the bottom of the golden circle.  And the back cover has a blurb under the heading “Advance Praise for The Hunger Pains” with a quote from such notables as Abraham Lincoln (“This book makes me wish I’d never been shot.”) and Kantkiss herself (“The Hunger Pains really struck a chord with me.”)

As with most parodies, a person who appreciated and enjoyed the original may start to tire just a bit of all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink narrative.  But thankfully The Harvard Lampoon staff kept it short so that just about the time readers of The Hunger Pains may tire of it, the books winds to its ridiculous end.  But in the case of a book like The Hunger Pains the more ridiculous the ending, the better.


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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