I just finished The Hunger Games, the first of a trilogy by Suzanne Collins. A copy of the book was sitting on Vince & Sue’s dining table, and hearing so much about the movie, I asked if I could borrow it. I’m not a good or fast reader by any means, and yet I finished it in a little over a day. Collins’ story is easy to read and holds your interest. When you read things that are generally academic and heady, fiction is a welcome change of pace.
Typically, I consume media the way I consume food – with little thought and no time for digestion. But I’m trying to change. I’m trying to be more thoughtful and engage what I take in. I’m helped by the examples of other Christians (see here and here) who watch movies and read books, not with their minds turned off, but fully on. So here are some random notes that I made having read the book.
First, the plot. The storyline is set in a nation called Panem, a future grim society which rose out of the ruins of what was once North America. Panem is comprised of 12 districts (originally 13 – but one was obliterated for rebellion) that are held together by a powerful metropolis called the Capitol. Every year, as punishment for the rebellion against the Capitol, each district must offer as tribute a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18, selected by lottery, to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised survivor-like fight to the death where the last one standing wins. The protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl, from the poverty-stricken District 12, who then faces the impossible choice of killing or being killed. (Here’s one reviewer’s take on Collins’ situational ethics).
Ok, now for the random thoughts.
1. The gospel is the Story to which all stories point. God is a Creator and the Author. So human beings who are made in His image and likeness reflect His creative nature through their own. Only, He owns the copyright to the greatest story that has ever been composed. It seems then that glimpses of His story are reflected in the stories we tell. If you’re paying attention, there are trails to the gospel-story, all throughout The Hunger Games.
For example, Katniss is not the one who is selected by lottery to essentially die in the Hunger Games. It is originally Prim, her younger sister’s fate. And yet, in love for her, Katniss volunteers. She willingly offers herself as a substitute to take Prim’s place. Think about that. The penalty for rebellion is death, and the entire story is built on the willingness of one to assume responsibility for another and accept death so that the other might live. Sound familiar? Only in The Hunger Games, victory is gained by the one who survives and lives cheating death. The paradox of the gospel is that our victory is gained by the One who dies and lives again beating death.
2. Grace is so hard to receive. Throughout the story, Katniss is the recipient of undeserved favor. As a little girl, her life is spared by the mercy of a boy named Peeta (who later becomes a fellow competitor/friend/love-interest). His kindness produces in Katniss an overwhelming sense of indebtedness. It’s interesting. Her reaction is not gratitude for the free gift, but a deep desire to pay him back somehow so that she can be even. Another character in the story is willing to accept death rather than live with a feeling of indebtedness. To be indebted to another, to receive something you didn’t work for or earn, to know you can never pay back what you owe – this is something that as a Christian, I get.
3. What does it mean to be feminine? Katniss is as conflicted as you get in terms of what it means to be a woman. She’s daddy’s little girl until his death forces her to take on the role of hunter, provider, and protector. She’s breathtakingly beautiful in a dress, until she’s in the arena as a fierce warrior shooting an arrow through a competitor’s throat. She’s longing to receive and reciprocate Peeta’s loving acceptance, but is sure she never wants to get married. She’s instinctively and superbly motherly to every young child she comes across and yet is committed to not having children of her own. And much of this is the result of past experiences, circumstances in her life, and the time and culture in which she lives. Katniss captures well how complex, confusing, mixed, and muddy our vision of womanhood often is.
4. I hate love-triangles. One girl. Two potential boyfriends. Barf. That’s all I have to say about that.
5. How dark would a society have to become to promote the slaughter of it’s own children? I’ve read some of the reviews of smarter people that say that Collins’ future-based novel is a commentary and warning for the present day. There are all kinds of socio-political points that I imagine the author intended to make. As I read, (and I read this as a Christian, I know) I couldn’t help but wonder, how can a society get to the place where the killing of it’s own children is permitted? Or worse, promoted? In Panem, children are slaughtered for the twisted pleasure of adults. It’s a horrible practice and yet it is accepted as just the way things are. The people who might want to end it are powerless against the laws that keep the practice in place. Thank God Panem is just a made-up place and things would never get that bad. Right? Or is a womb in America as unsafe as an arena in Panem? God help us.
Just some thoughts. Sue said she’ll give me book two on Sunday.