I’m rarely absent for the Flips Flipping Pages monthly book discussions (I think I’ve only missed three so far), and the April book discussion on The Hunger Games was one of those I didn’t want to miss. You all know I’m a big fan of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, and I’m one of the thousands of fans eagerly waiting for the final installment, Mockingjay, coming out on August 24.

Peter was assigned to moderate this month, and he did an A-1 job, lining up a paintball tournament a la Hunger Games, which, from the looks of it (check out the cover photo collage), was a highly exciting affair, where Marie’s team triumphed.

The discussion was already well under way by the time I got to R.O.X (Recreational Outdoor eXchange) on Bonifacio High Street, Asia’s biggest outdoor superstore which proved to be a fitting venue for our discussion — HG fans, think of it as your ultimate cornucopia! — and we were glad they very kindly accommodated us for the discussion.

The trivia challenge was heating up by the time I got there, hosted by Peter and Pivnoj, and Welski, Jan, and Marge took home the much-coveted Hunger Games shirts (and I’m a proud owner of one! squee!) courtesy of Scholastic Philippines.

Discussion highlights included arena strategies (e.g. the Cornucopia — arm yourself or run?); Haymitch as a mentor; the popularity of reality tv, the “cruelest” part of Hunger Games, Katniss as a character, our favorite/least favorite character, and how we found the book (Rated from 1-13, with 13 as the highest score — I rated it 11, the group average was 9.2).

I didn’t have time to reread the book for the discussion, but you can find my review of Hunger Games here and my review of Catching Fire here. And you can read about the Hunger Games Live Action Role Play at the Manila International Book Fair here.

But I did read two other books for this discussion: Battle Royale: The Novel by Koushun Takami (translated by Yuji Oniki), and Lord of the Flies by William Golding, both sharing themes with Hunger Games.

Because I’ve read and heard a lot of comparisons of Hunger Games with Battle Royale, I decided to get the book to find out just how similar the two books were.

Battle Royale is a 1999 Japanese pulp fiction novel with a cult following, adapted into both a film and a manga series. Set in an alternate Japan, a socialist nation known as the Republic of Greater East Asia, Battle Royale features a class of high school juniors who are taken to Okashima island for The Program, a military experiment where the students have to fight one another to the death until one student remains. The Program has been an annual event since 1947, a means of preventing organized revolution by inspiring terror and paranoia in the population.

While Battle Royale is not televised like the Hunger Games, it is monitored by the military. The students are tracked down by metal collars designed to explode when removal is attempted, or when no student dies in the space of 24 hours. Each student is given a pack of essentials containing a single weapon (anything from a flame thrower to a plain kitchen fork), and forbidden zones and eliminated students are announced at regular time intervals. There are also a lot of plot devices shared by both books (although I won’t say, so I don’t spoil anything).

I found Battle Royale a highly engrossing read, despite its chunky 576 pages divided into 5 parts. It’s largely plot driven, and quite an exciting plot it is, inspiring a fist-in-mouth trepidation with every page. There are 42 students in Third Year Class B of Shiroiwa Junior High School, and the point of view shifts around the students in short chapters, constantly returning to the main protagonists: Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa, and Shogo Kawada. The language is contemporary and the humor is quite smart, although you’ll have to steel your stomach for some gristly portions.

Given the multiplicity of characters, it is quite a challenge to keep track of all of them (and the Japanese names don’t make it easier), but I like how there is a story for each one of them, and we get to see how they deal with The Program. The shifting perspective  adds a more sensitive side to the novel, and they become more than just pawns in a deadly game. Although the romance angle is not as primary as in Hunger Games, there is still a good amount to be found in this book, mostly poignant, and not half as cheesy (but yes, I did love the cheese of Hunger Games).

And while I thoroughly enjoyed Battle Royale, it didn’t take away any of my enjoyment of Hunger Games — I think the success of Hunger Games is in how Collins engages the reader with the fluid writing, the emotional turmoil of the characters, the dynamics of the game and its critique on the reality show phenomenon.

Meanwhile in Lord of the Flies, a group of British schoolboys are marooned on an island after a plane crash. All aged 12 and below, the kids try to govern themselves, which proves disastrous, and even deadly in this dark allegorical tale.

Initially, a boy named Ralph stands out as the leader, and he tries to create order within the little society, composed of “biguns” and “littluns.” He devises a conch assembly system (blowing on the conch signals an assembly, holding the conch gives one the right to speak); assigns roles to the kids; starts a signal fire for potential rescue; and supervises the building of shelter for the group.

After a few days, the boys get lazy and the order is disrupted, and the hunting group led by a boy named Jack separates from the pack to create another faction. Living on a deserted island eventually takes its toll on the boys, leading to horrifying events.

I must say, that having read Hunger Games and Battle Royale with nary a flinch at gruesome scenes, I thought Lord of the Flies would be pretty tame, but I was so wrong! While not particularly graphic in nature, I was so freaked out by this book I was glad I finished it before I had anything to eat, because I know I’d have thrown up my cookies towards the end of the book. I’ve read far more gristly tales, but I guess it’s the idea of rosy-cheeked little boys being capable of such acts in the book that makes my stomach turn.

Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies remains controversial to this day, and is one of the most challenged books of all time. The language is easy enough to read though it tends to drag at times, but the shock value that builds as the microsociety unravels  is the real power of Lord of the Flies. It driving a very clear message on the boundaries of civilization vis-a-vis the desire for power; exploring the concepts of human nature, individuality, rational thinking, morality, and the fall from innocence. Quite like a younger, wilder version of John Knowles’ A Separate Peace.

I found that Battle Royale and Lord of the Flies made great supplemental reading for Hunger Games, providing more food for thought on the themes relevant to the novel. Another title cropped up during the discussion: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, which I also want to read before Mockingjay is out (will have to hunt down a copy!).

The discussion was enjoyable, as always, and R.O.X. even provided us a great backdrop for our group shot:

And the piece de resistance: a set of 12 Hunger Games bookmarks (1 for each district), designed by Rhett! A wonderful addition to my bookmark collection!

Can’t wait ’til next month — Art in Fiction, moderated by Joel and Raissa. Art fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I’ll be facilitating a drawing workshop at the discussion as well. I’ve read a lot of the suggested titles, but I’ll be picking out a book to read for the discussion.

*Paintball photos courtesy of Rhett

Battle Royale, trade paperback, 5/5 stars
Lord of the Flies, trade paperback, 4/5 stars
books 53 and 54 of 2010

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