Thursday, 19 April 2012
[This is reposted as part of our Best-Of Revelife Week. It was originally posted on September 19, 2011.]
By Andy at Faith and Geekery
Over the past few years, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins has risen to great popularity. A major motion picture is in the works to capture the brilliance and it is not a stretch to say that this series could rival Harry Potter or Twilight in popularity.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The series shows a dystopian future for North America. Ravaged by natural disasters of every kind and a large war, a new country, Panem, is formed. The country’s controlling city, the Capitol, forms thirteen districts. The districts wage war against the Capitol and the Capitol wins. To show its dominance, the Capitol obliterates District 13 and puts forward a punishment called the Hunger Games in which chosen members of the districts’ children are forced to fight to the death in an outdoor arena. As further punishment, it is televised and all citizens are required to watch.
Dystopian indeed. Fast-forward 74 years from the beginning of the Hunger Games and the story begins, focused on Katniss Everdeen, the storyteller and heroine of the series.
In reading the series (which you absolutely should do) I discovered two things were glaringly missing from the storytelling.
Firstly, the rest of the world is not mentioned at all. The story gives no explanation for what may have happened to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America or any other landmass you can think of and it also doesn’t give any explanation as to why the people in these places don’t intervene to stop the horror that occurs annually in Panem.
Secondly, religion is not mentioned at all. It is not alluded to. It is not a cause for fighting. Religion doesn’t exist. To be honest, I don’t know how to feel about this glaringly purposeful act of neglect by the author. The timeline is a bit unclear, but I think it is safe to say this story would be centuries from now, but not millennia.
It’s hard to pinpoint the author’s motivation. I like to think that perhaps she felt a lack of religion was the only way to make the lack of morals present in the idea behind the Hunger Games believable. On the other hand, the idea that a place like Panem could exist without pockets of underground believers boggles my mind.
Despite the glaring lack of faith in the trilogy, the series does have faith-applicable recurring themes running throughout it. Sacrifice, compassion, hope and love headline the list.
The entire crux of the story is bent on sacrifice. Katniss volunteers to compete in the Hunger Games so that her sister, Prim, doesn’t have to. Throughout the series, she risks her life to save others and others risk their lives to save hers as well.
Panem is not a very good place to live, especially District 12, where Katniss lives. People never have enough food, and accidents occur in the coal mines with some frequency, stealing the lives of the district’s inhabitants. Katniss’s first memory of Peeta, her fellow competitor in the Hunger Games, is of him having compassion on her, finding a way to give her bread as she and her family near starvation. Compassion is very clear in Katniss’s family, especially her mother and sister who are both healers, taking care of injured people even though their patients have no way to repay them.
The style of first person storytelling allows the reader to see just how difficult it is for Katniss to have hope, how she gives up, how she knows death is coming only to be miraculously saved. Hope comes and goes for Katniss, but it propels her forward in ways that only hope can.
Above all else, love is obvious in the Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss’s love for Prim, Peeta, her best friend Gale, her district, people in general, all of the love that is in her is what seems to make her an easy target for the Capitol to take advantage of her.
While those very Jesus-like attributes are present in The Hunger Games, one attribute that is lacking is forgiveness. In my opinion, this is one of the only problems with the series; forgiveness of others, forgiveness of self, forgiveness in any way is not important, really in any character at all. As I said before, compassion for those who are supposedly innocent is there, but forgiveness for those who have intentionally done wrong is nowhere to be found.
The penultimate thing I want to say about The Hunger Games, as both a compliment and a criticism, is the way the series handled deaths. There were a lot of deaths in this series. Some of people you loved, some of people you hated, some of people you weren’t sure about, some of people you didn’t know at all. The way Suzanne Collins showed death reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five: “So it goes.”
I think the author’s point in such deaths is pretty simple. War sucks. Death sucks. People shouldn’t be killed by other people. I largely agree with that idea.
Initially I compared this series to Harry Potter and Twilight. I still haven’t read Twilight (and have been discouraged from reading it over and over again). I have read Harry Potter (three times now) and I can say that whatever happens with the popularity of The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series, at least in novel form, will always be better and I think deaths are what separate the two.
It’s not that J.K. Rowling does a better job of choosing who dies and who lives; it’s that she shows how deeply it affects the people who knew the deceased people. The best example is Harry’s reaction to Sirius’s death and the conversations that follow with Dumbledore and Nearly-Headless Nick. Those dialogues evoke such incredible emotion and do such a great job of balancing hope and despair that the reader is shaken to the core. We don’t see Katniss having those profound reactions and conversations even though she’s telling the story. She could make us feel what she feels but due to the action, the pacing, or whatever else, we just never see it like we should, especially in the third book. The deaths are in every instance (aside from Rue’s) lacking the desired emotion.
Finally, The Hunger Games trilogy should certainly be on your reading list and on your movie watching list. (Doesn’t the trailer look amazing?) It is a great exploration of psychology, sociology, anthropology and science fiction. It makes you think. It encourages you to have compassion. It persuades you to keep turning the pages (or keep pushing the button that leads you to the next screen).