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Familiar Plot Of 'Hunger Games' Still Satiates Readers

Heights Staff

Published: Sunday, March 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

“Trickster stories tell us about the human mind,” said Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature at Harvard University. “The stories themselves look to predator-prey relationships to understand cunning.”

This past Thursday, the day of the midnight premier of  TheHunger Games, Tatar came to Boston College for a lecture titled “From Hunger Narratives to Hunger Games: The Female Trickster in Fairytales, Fiction, and Film.” The lecture drew on her research, which is focused on modern German culture, folklore, and children’s literature. She has written about the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, connecting them with contemporary fairy tales.

Beginning with the nature of fairytales themselves, Tatar sought to connect the stories to lives of people, both when they were written and how they fit in contemporary society. She focused on their relevance to people today and the permanence of their location within western culture.

“Tolkien referred to the cauldron of story–a brew that we add fresh ingredients to on a regular basis,” Tatar said. “We reinvent and reinvigorate them. You can find global master narratives and local variants. This reminds us of how up close and personal the stories are.”

Drawing on specific incarnations of the fairytales, Tatar talked about Disney and retellings of stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel. She emphasized the role that the rewriting of the stories had on keeping them alive and accessible, while also giving writers with different agendas material with which they could express those agendas.

Turning to the question of female tricksters, Tatar believed that people become tricksters out of necessity. “Gretel becomes a trickster who derives her creative intelligence from hunger,” Tatar said. She traced her nimbleness in crime from her initial snooping on her parents to her eventual murder of the witch. Tatar then looked at Pippi Longstockings as a girl who had to be fleet-footed and mobile in order to survive before focusing on Katniss from The Hunger Games.

Living in a post-apocalyptic world, Katniss, the main character, is little more than skin and bones. She had to learn trapping and hunting to fend for herself and her sister. Tatar honed in on the fact that the hunger never abated. “She gorges on rich food, but her hunger never ceases,” Tatar said. “She eats herself sick in an orgy of eating. This shows the return of hunger as a concern for peasant society ... Her task is not only to win the Hunger Games, but also bring back beauty. She has ruses, strategies, and snares that lead her to poetry.”   

Tatar connected this higher goal to that of Hansel and Gretel. “The children make the transition from one economy, food and nourishment, to another, higher one, pearls and jewels.” Tatar concluded by emphasizing this greater aspect of the female trickster in fairy tales and the modern recurrence of these motifs of survival and artistry.

Tatar came to BC to speak as a part of the Heinz Bluhm Memorial Lecture Series. Initiated in 2000, the series was established in memory of the founder of the German Studies department, Heinz Bluhm. The series serves to commemorate the legacy of the founder and initial chairman, who died in 1993, by bringing in a scholar in the field of European literature.

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