A few weeks back I shared a few items on my summer reading list. Well, I decided to get a head start (and already made it a good chunk of the way through the list!). A couple weeks ago, I read The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Going in I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was surprised to see that I enjoyed the experience of a “just for fun” read. But I was also happy to see that I learned a fair bit while reading the books.
Here are three of the lessons I learned (I’ll do my best to keep the spoilers to a minimum):
1. Thoroughly Unlikeable Characters Remind Us of… Us (even when we don’t want to admit it)
Katniss, the lead character in the series, is a self-centered, grumpy, brat. She’s disrespectful and dismissive of authority. She can’t see past her own issues. She’s completely oblivious to the feelings of those around her (including the two young men vying for her affection—Gale and Peeta). In other words, she’s a pretty normal teenager (if normal teenagers were also skilled hunters in a post-apocalyptic world). Granted a few caveats need to be put in place: She was raised in extreme poverty, forced to become the provider for her family at a very young age, and manipulated by all who saw her rising popularity via the Games as an opportunity to build or defend their cause.
The other characters in the books are pretty vile as well, whether the malevolent and manipulative President Snow, scheming rebel leader Plutarch Heavensbee, or the obviously Communist President of District 13, Coin. In fact, there are really only two reasonably likeable characters in the entire book—Katniss’ sister, Primrose (Prim), and Peeta, the baker’s son who loves her (though she doesn’t know it). They’re the only two characters who’ve not succumbed to the darker impulses of humanity in the series.
Truthfully, these are the kinds of “heroes” that are fitting for the spirit of this age. When people are driven by little more than preference or the need for survival, we see the darkest parts of ourselves (and the worldview that permeates the cultural air we breathe—but more on that in a minute). What I respect about Collin’s work is that she doesn’t seem to try to turn Katniss into the heroic figure that those around her are attempting to create. The character constantly rejects the airbrushed, polished, shiny version and the darkness in her heart comes through.
The same is true for all of us, isn’t it? We all want characters who show the “nicer” versions of who we want to be, but in the end, it’s the thoroughly unlikeable ones that remind us of who we really are… even if we don’t want to admit it.
2. It’s Harder to Write a Satisfying Ending Than You’d Think
Honestly, the last third of the final book was weak. A rushed conclusion that didn’t really deliver the dramatic payoff that the previous two and a half books had built up. Without giving too much away, I was expecting a big, explosive finish—a grand, epic battle. And there was one, but it happened off “camera.” Instead, the lead character was blown up (she survived) and sat the whole thing out. Along with that, a very effective plot twist (the boy who loves Katniss is turned into a weapon to destroy her) is more-or-less dropped without a clear resolution. He just goes back to being the boy who loves Katniss. And they live together ever after (not necessarily happily, because she’s still kind of a pill).
This makes total sense to me. While (in theory) a writer of a trilogy would have the end point in mind… sometimes that doesn’t exactly happen. Some trilogies are accidental (like pretty much every movie series these days). Some are intended from the beginning. But whether planned or unplanned, course corrections and detours happen that change how you think things should work out. As a writer, I can definitely appreciate the difficult task Collins would have had trying to write a satisfying conclusion. (And let’s face it—these days a lot of us stink it up on the conclusion anyway.)
3. A Worldview Built Upon Pragmatism is a Worldview Without Hope
The purpose of existence in this series really boils down to one thing: Survival. It’s pure pragmatism. Indeed, it’s probably the best depiction I’ve seen of an absolutely godless society outside of those depicted in Scripture. The reason for that is, ultimately, it doesn’t really give you much to hope for. And it’s pretty honest about it. Perhaps more honest than even the author intended.
I don’t know the author’s worldview; I don’t know if she’s even open to the existence of God, but she’s captured the despair of the Darwinian worldview beautifully when she writes this exchange near the end of the final book:
“Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” I ask.
“Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says. “But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss.”
“What?” I ask.
“The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that.”
There’s a resignation to the fact that things aren’t going to get better that echo in Plutarch’s words. A recognition that for all our talk of being better people, of evolving, that really, we’re beastly, “fickle, stupid beings with . . . a great gift for self-destruction.” That captures the hopelessness of pragmatism and Darwinianism better than virtually anything I’ve ever seen—and it makes me appreciate the sure hope that we have in Christ so much more.
For where we have a great gift of self-destruction when left to our own devices, Christ will intervene and there will be a day when there are no more tears and there is no more suffering. Where our fickleness and stupidity will be replaced with rejoicing and marvelling at our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So that’s a bit of what I considered as I read the books. While these are certainly not ones I’d let my kids read until they’re a fair bit older (think early-to-mid teens), these books are a great reminder of the opportunities to sow the seeds of the gospel as we engage in conversation with the non-Christians around us.
Have you read The Hunger Games? What stood out to you?