Teenage readers and viewers of The Hunger Games have a lot to admire about the heroine, Katniss Everdeen: her bravery, her family loyalty (she volunteers to stand in for her younger sister as a contestant in the lethal Games,) her bow and quiver of arrows, her skill at running, her cool pigtail, her indifference to the male sex, the fact that she (homophonically) shares a surname with the heroine of Far from the Madding Crowd... And with which do you think American fans most identify? You guessed. It's the bow and arrows.
Archery, amazing to report, has taken off among stateside teens like a speeding missile. Even before the film was released with Jennifer Lawrence as the resourceful Katniss, the success of Suzanne Collins's books – full of whizzing shafts – had driven impressionable youths into a state of headlong toxophilia. America's Archery Trade Association reports that sales of equipment increased by 20 per cent over the past year.
According to the Los Angeles Times, at almost every recent national event held by USA Archery, the biggest age-group represented was the 15-to-17-year-olds. Now things have gone into overdrive. Shooting ranges have become crammed with kids in jeans and hoodies trying out recurved and compound bows, wrist guards and those things you put on your fingers to stop the skin being torn off by the wire.
Older viewers may recall how excited they became about Robin Hood, the late-1950s ATV series starring Richard Greene and a famous theme tune ("Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen...") that stuck in your head like a virus. Movie treatments of the wealth-distributing Hood and his Merry Men have appeared over the decades starring Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks and Kevin Costner. But very recent history has seen a re-branding of the arrows-and-attitude culture.
In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Orlando Bloom played Legolas, a lightning-fast bowman-sniper. The blue Na'vi people in James Cameron's Avatar seldom ventured anywhere without their quivers. Clash of the Titans featured Apollo, the god of archery.
This weekend saw the release on both sides of the Atlantic of Avengers Assemble, which broke opening weekend records with US takings of $200m. Among the Avengers' co-operative of superheroes is Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner. Hawkeye cannot be doing with high-end weapons technology. He squares up to the bad guys with a compound bow, a camp sleeveless leather jerkin with sleeve-straps, and a matching, mechanised quiver of "augmented" arrows.
Still to come this summer is the new Pixar movie, Brave. Looking just a tiny bit derivative, it features a brave, independent, profusely red-headed Scottish lass called Merida, whose mother arranges to give her hand in marriage to the winner of an archery contest. To show her contempt for the bungling suitors, she seizes her own bow and takes aim at three bull's-eyes...
By the end of summer, (especially after the Olympic archery competition at Lord's) you may feel a little bow-and-arrowed-out after all this nocking and twanging. You may feel a little aggrieved at the world. Uh-oh. Let us hope you don't dig out a DVD of last year's award-winning Lynne Ramsay movie, We Need to Talk About Kevin. The titular Kevin, the world's most horrible child, played by Ezra Miller, gives his parents a brief break from torture when he discovers archery. He cheers up no end when he learns to discharge arrows in the family garden. At the climax of the film (*spoiler alert*) he locks most of the doors at his school hall and discharges a lot more at the children. Of all the times when you might wish your children would take up an absorbing sport, this is the moment when you heartily hope they do nothing of the sort. It makes your flèche creep.
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