The Hunger Games Made Me Cry Like a Little Girl (and Other Theological Dilemmas)
Startling Admission: I just finished book three of The Hunger Games trilogy, and I am a simpering, quivering, teary-eyed mess. I – author of books on Mike Tyson and Pro Football, sparring partner to pro heavyweight fighter – have been reduced to a Dick Vermeil-ian/just-watched-Beaches level of tearfulness by a piece of young-adult fiction. (pauses to sniffle, grab Kleenex)
Okay. Better now.
The question is why? Here’s the thing: I know what books I’m “supposed” to feel strongly about and this isn’t one of those books. I’m “supposed” to say that The Hunger Games is an inferior version of Lord of the Flies. I’m supposed to sniff derisively (not tearfully) about a piece of young adult fiction that shouldn’t worm its way into my home, shouldn’t worm its way into school curriculums and definitely shouldn’t worm its way into my smug, too-good-for-everything MFA-educated (pending, 2013) heart.
Except that it did.
The Hunger Games won’t worm its way into any school curriculums, as long as PhD types continue making the decisions about such things, and as a result, your kids will continue to complain about the boring books they have to read in school and skip their reading assignments, in much the same way that we complained about the boring books we had to read in school and skipped our reading assignments. The fact of the matter is, if somebody had a gun to my head and said, “You can only read one book before you die, for entertainment, and it has to either be The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies,” I’d choose The Hunger Games.
That sound you hear is me getting kicked out of my MFA program and probably never getting a job in academia again.
Why The Hunger Games Is Working as Popular, Quality Reading
1. It has girls (which makes it different than Lord of the Flies; see: female audience, importance of; see also: Twilight, Harry Potter)
2. It has a story that’s far-fectched but not too far-fetched. It’s set “in the future” but not too far in the future. Everything that happens in it is big, sweeping and outlandish but not so big, sweeping and outlandish as to never be plausible/feasible in real life.
3. It was impeccably and relentlessly marketed. Let’s be honest, this matters. Do I ever want there to be a “companion piece/movie-viewing-guide/workbook” published alongside one of my books? The artist in me says, “Of course not.” The bill-paying part of me says “Absolutely. Bring it.”
4. As outlandish and blood-bathy as the storylines are, they deal with motivations that we all have – and pretty much hit every one of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Physiological(food, clothing, shelter), safety, love, esteem and finally self-actualization. It’s all in here, and those needs tend to make for pretty interesting characters.
5. I read my fair share of fluffy entertainment, but I also read my fair share of smug, too-good-for-everything, pinky-out, serious LIT-erature, and this works as both, in my opinion. There is a mastery of plot, and a mastery of writing here that good books have both of. Suzanne Collins will never be mistaken for David Foster Wallace but she’s not trying to be. If The Hunger Games was written as her MFA thesis, her committee would be fawning all over it.
6. Disdain-for/distrust-of the government.
7. This is a book that is “doing it” for teenage boys, middle-aged ladies, adult males, and pretty much every other demographic imaginable. That, alone, makes it interesting. The only other thing you’ll see more copies of being carried around airports are boarding passes.
Make No Mistake About It, This Thing Is An Absolute Blood-Bath
If you’re a parent deciding whether or not to let your impressionable youngster read the books, make no mistake, this thing is a full-on GORE fest. I’m a fan of gangster literature, and have consumed my fair share of Godfather and Elmore Leonard novels, and this is more gory than of those are (body-count wise), except that those aren’t packaged and sold as “young adult fiction.” The only thing “young adult” about these books is that they star a seventeen year old main character. But, like Godfather, they deal with universal (and therefore interesting) human themes and experiences.
Also, for what it’s worth, the third one, Mockingjay, is by far the most bloody. At one point I almost bailed on it.
The Concept of the Secular Savior and Why The Hunger Games Ultimately Doesn’t Do Anything for Us On a Spiritual Level Except As a Vivid Illustration of the Doctrine of Total Depravity
Finally, there is the question of whether The Hunger Games does/should do anything for us as Christians. If you’ve read any of my other stuff you know that I’m pretty big on entertainment and good writing just for the sake of entertainment and good writing.
Not all entertainment specifically comments on HOW we are saved/redeemed as people, but good art generally makes us think about it, and this book does. Except that it’s wrong. We’re NOT saved or redeemed by other peoples’ goodness or our own goodness. And we’re ABSOLUTELY not redeemed by someone loving us, with the singular exception of that Someone being Jesus. This, of course, is where these books break down for us as believers. But what’s weird about these books is that they’re all trying to create a human Jesus – the kind of character that embodies all of the goodness and hope that we as humans can imagine. The only flat, one-dimensional character in the series ends up, of course, being the Human Jesus character.
I won’t give away the last page of the last book, which pretty deftly lays out Katiniss’s (main character) personal theology. Spoiler Alert: It’s a sad and empty personal theology, though it’s also the kind of personal theology that could masquerade as hopeful to a mass audience. Also, it made me cry, and that’s something I guess.
Ultimately, what the book does do well is that it gives us yet another illustration of depravity at work. The idea that man, unleashed and left to his own devices, is capable of massive amounts of evil, selfishness, and evil begetting more evil. Evil done to man, outside of the redeeming salvation of Jesus, just creates more evil. Only Christ and the Cross can break that cycle. Only forgiveness can break that cycle. As humans, we deal with that ourselves each day. We don’t want to forgive, we want to punish. But if everyone insists on punishing to the degree that we’ve suffered, we end up in a Hunger Games-style emotional bloodbath. Only Christ saves us from that.
So is this article just another smug Calvinist taking the joy out of everything as Smug Calvinists are often wont to do? No way. Read The Hunger Games? Absolutely. But read it with an eye toward who you are, in Christ, and on who Christ is, for us.