Friday, 2 November 2012

Hunger Games and Flambards diversions

These are the kind of crazy thoughts that happen to you when you spend 10 days locked in the Wood Green Crown Court waiting room; a place that might, Quite Literally, be the real limbo.

So, back in the spring, whilst taking a donkey through the foothills of Spain, I caught up with that popular-amongst-the-young-people trilogy of books; 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins.
There is a phrase in our family parlance to convey lukewarm praise which originally relates I think, to a response my father once gave to a mousse-based pudding my mother presented him with early in their marriage: "It slips down" (he was more of a steamed suet enthusiast). That phrase pretty neatly sums up my Hunger Games reading experience - I swallowed them whole happily but with almost no chewing or digestion required. Pulpy, initially enjoyable but with a rather nasty aftertaste as the violence and bleakness escalated through the series.

A couple of weeks afterwards I happened to get involved in a Twitter conversation about them and what age they were suitable for. When twitter chum @Elephantthai (who is, by the by, an extremely funny and gifted  poet- please go and visit her website here and then offer her a publishing deal) mentioned that her 10 year old was reading them I had a bit of internal shudder and found myself a lone voice saying that I thought that she shouldn't be. Which in turn led me to examine my beliefs about censorship and how that works and realise I was being a bit of an idiot. Which was in turn good news for Eddie and his desire to watch certificate 12 superhero movies...

And since that conversation I've discovered plenty of friends' 10 year olds are also gobbling these books up, which makes me feel very, very old and rather square.

For what was I reading when I was 10? Not violent, dystopian fantasy but pony stories of the sort I described here, interspersed with a bit of Antonia Forrest, Lorna Hill and Joan Aiken.
 Judy Blume, and her sanitary towel belts and bust improvement schemes was as risque as I got.

One of my other favourites, which even then I certainly recognised as a cut above the Pullein Thompson sisters and their ilk, was K.M. Peyton. Thanks to my wonderful discovery of all-titles-pony at Jane Badger books I recently snapped up her 'Fly-by-Night' pair and classic 'Flambards' trilogy at knock down price. And it was the latter that I re-read under the flickering strip lights of the waiting-room-to-Hell in Wood Green last week.

So here's my thesis, you know what?

They're actually, whisper it, not that different from 'The Hunger Games'

Both revolve around a feisty and brave heroine with superior outdoor skills forced into pragmatic decisions at a time of war. Both involve difficult romantic choices. Both have a succession of main characters being maimed and/or killed; experiences which teach their protagonists the art of emotional protection. Both have a redemptive child figure who is put in mortal danger.

I could expand the parallels but it might all get a bit too nerdy.

Anyway my main revelation was how much darker Flambards was than I remembered it. In my head it was mostly love and planes and ponies whereas in fact it's a lot more fear and death and land management...

You read differently when you're 10 to when you're 41 and ultimately that provides more reassurance to me that censorship is unnecessary. The 10 year old 'Hunger Games' fans will find a completely different story to the one I found; the one that they are ready to hear.

Having said that I think they'd find K. M. Peyton provides a vastly superior read...

And anyone who would like to enter into my madness and discuss the ins and outs of how Christina would get Sweetbriar from the Cornucopia in time or how Katniss might react to being asked to loop the loop knows where to find me.


  1. Yes! Oh, yes, Flambards is MASSIVELY and surprisingly dark. I remembered it as being all ponies, ponies, wooh, but re-read it and was all cor this is a lot darker and a lot more complex then I ever thought it was. I love KM Peyton and I love this post :)

    1. exactly- death and the destruction of innocence PACKED! Haven't re-read the fourth one yet which I remember pissing me off with being depressing even at the time it came out. I'd probably find it much more satisfying now in the gloom of my middle years ;)

  2. I've not read The Hunger Games, but all the Flambards series are absolute favourite and etched in my psyche. Will dying is one of the saddest and most tragic moments in YA literature I think! No laughs there. And the fourth book is especially bleak, what with divorce and torrid affairs and seriously traumatised war veterans.

    Really glad I discovered this blog!

    1. Lovely to have you Lucy! Yes. I really want to get hold of the fourth one now. Downton Abbey it's not...
      I think because the death of Will happens 'off stage' as it were I managed to skip over its impact as a young reader- but now I'm blown away by how skillfully K.M. Peyton approaches that bereavement tangentially. It's extremely powerful writing.

  3. Have you ever been to the Flambards theme park in Cornwall? One of the more tenuous attempt to link a set of fairground rides to a piece of intellectual property, I'd say, but then I've never read the books - typical boy, you might say.