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The Hunger Games

March 30, 2012

(Image credit: The Hunger Games official Facebook page)

Last night I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning finishing The Hunger Games, like so many others who’ve been captured by this series.

I first started hearing about them around a year ago. My friends started reading them, but I wrote them off. I’m not really into teen fiction. I’m not really into the futuristic genre either.

However, I finally caved as more of my friends–whose opinions and tastes in literature I respect–read and raved.

I too was captured by The Hunger Games plot. The plot is what drives this book, after all. I can’t help but wish that the books wasn’t a YA book, though. I longed for the writing to be a little meatier, although I have to say I’m glad the YA slot it holds kept the violence toned down.

Due to an uprising in the nation of Panem, it’s twelve districts must each send a girl and a boy to participate in the Hunger Games, which is a fight to the death, televised live for all it’s constituents to watch. The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen as she takes the place of her sister as tribute in the Capitol’s annual games.

One can’t help but view the Hunger Games and it’s arena as a futuristic version of Rome’s gruesome games at Colosseum. Nor could I shake the image of Katniss and her companion for the games, Peeta, being herded onto the train headed to the Capitol as being not unlike the image of the Jews being carted off to concentration camps during the Nazis regime in Germany. Clearly, this book is a statement about government overreach and corruption.

Also, this book calls our idea of entertainment into question. In a nation that takes in a steady diet of entertainment via reality TV in such shows as The Bachelor, Big Brother, and Survivor, such parallels are also obvious. These shows may feature challenges both mental and physical, but the real entertainment value is in the use of gossip, back-stabbing, character assassination, and false alliances. But it’s all in good fun, we tell ourselves. After all, these people sign up of their own free will. Nobody actually gets hurt. But perhaps the real question is why do we find these shows such addicting entertainment?

Most books are better than their film adaptation counterparts. However, I can’t help but wonder if a film adaptation of The Hunger Games will add a dimension to the questions Collins raises in her novel that could not otherwise be appreciated. In the book, the games are intended to be televised and watched by the entire population. And so, the movie reenacts this element of the novel. It is true that this story showcases characters who portray humanity and selflessness. And many of us–me included–plan to watch the film with the intention of cheering on these characters, and the good qualities they represent. In the end, Katniss and Peeta choose to not play by the rules of the Hunger Games, instead undermining the Capitol’s power to control to some degree.

But wait.

As thousands line up for tickets to see The Hunger Games, I cannot but help to see the irony that instead we could be proving the most chilling implication of all: that we are not so unlike the Capitol crowds that clamored for more gruesome Hunger Games exploits. Instead, we take the Capitol’s place as the audience.

And actually, deep inside each human heart we have the capacity to be just. like. them.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2012 9:52 pm

    Yet again, you comfirm that I will willingly miss out on this cultural trend at the moment. I have wondered whether or not to read this as it seems EVERYONE I know is doing so. But, I think I’ll be content w/ knowing enough from folks’ reviews of the book to hopefully “hang” in any conversational references that may arise from this point forward.

    • March 31, 2012 6:41 am

      My intention was not to deter readers, Bri, so sorry if I did so to you! But instead think about what comments Collins was making on our society. The book is extremely thought-provoking in a very good way.

      • March 31, 2012 12:10 pm

        I couldn’t agree with you more, on every single point that you’ve made. I do plan to see the movie, as I feel I’ve given the book and its premises much thought. My qualm is with the thousands of teens (or adults) who read the book with an entertainment mindset, and continue to reinforce their shallow grasp of its message by getting caught up in the media hype, how to braid their hair like Katniss, mimicking the Capitol’s fashions, etc. As I’m cheering on the admirable qualities of Katniss and Peeta, I’m predicting there may be some who will cheer when the competitor tributes die…and thereby proving that they missed Collin’s point entirely.

        The book HAS to be followed with a sober and sensitive discussion.

        Appreciated reading your review, Danielle!

  2. March 31, 2012 3:33 pm

    Danielle, I just found your blog through The High Calling, and this was a great post to come across.

    Last night a group of us were talking about your final point — whether enjoying The Hunger Games makes us not far different from the citizens of the Capitol, cheering on the brutal killing of teenage tributes. Our ultimate conclusion was that Collins painted that spectator mentality as an evil, and there is a strong difference between celebrating violence for its own sake and enjoying a series that is violent in service to a greater message.

    But none of us has finished thinking about it. That’s why I think posts like yours are a great thing: as Christians we ought to be discussing things like this.

    • March 31, 2012 3:51 pm

      Hi Josh! Thanks for visiting and your comment. I too think books/films that promote such thoughtful discussion is an excellent thing!

      I too agree that ultimately “there is a strong difference between celebrating violence for its own sake and enjoying a series that is violent in service to a greater message.” Absolutely. But like Krista says in her comment, I hope everyone will take the message of these books to heart, and not simply see them as adventure and romance.

      • March 31, 2012 5:15 pm

        That’s a great point, Danielle (and Krista). With all books, readers ought to think deeply about what they read.

  3. April 1, 2012 10:40 am

    I loved the books and just saw the movie yesterday. And my conclusion is what you and Josh have said: the story is chilling because it isn’t a completely unthinkable turn of events. If they were, say, taking in tributes to kill them and serve them as a feast, the story would be more gruesome but not nearly as gripping. But cheering them in a “game” that just happens to include their deaths — hey, Rome did it long before we were around. Even during the book and movie, you have to keep reminding yourself that these celebrated tributes are going to DIE by MURDERING each other. It is completely worth the read.

    Neither the book nor the movie celebrates the games. I’m not saying that every moviegoer is going to be mature enough to understand the terrible detachment of the Capitol crowds, but surely most people will find it hard to cheer along with the alien-looking Capitol when you’re seeing Katniss terrified to the point of numbness. (Jennifer Lawrence did a top-notch portrayal, by the way.)

    These books ARE more than just adventure and romance. There are some very deep issues — in a YA package, no less! — and I’m glad they’re widely read. (Also, because I like them so it shows how good people’s tastes are. 🙂 )

    — SJ

    • April 1, 2012 11:59 am

      So glad you commented, Sara. Interestingly, thinking about whether people will cheer or not for the tributes death made me think of a scene in the Bonhoeffer bio I’m reading. Apparently, when he went to go see “All Quiet on the Western Front” he was horrified when American youths started cheering when a French soldier kills a German. Even though it was depicted in a non-glorifying way but instead to expose the horror, there were those in the crowd who missed the point entirely.

      • April 1, 2012 12:00 pm

        Kinda illustrates how down the ages the human heart is always the same.

      • April 2, 2012 9:38 pm

        The 18yo who babysits for us is quite taken by the books and movie. But she, too, misses the point a lot of the time. She didn’t understand why I reacted so strongly to the talk-show host — she thought he was friendly and was helping the Tributes feel comfortable and confident. Yes, I said — so they could go into the Arena and kill one another for his viewers’ entertainment. Oh, right, she said.

        Same with the Gamemaster, who in the movie is young, handsome, and friendly. I explained how he arranged the games, with its deadly horrors, with excitement. He had no concept that the kids who were subjected to his creations were, in fact, human. They were resources and entertainment. He was a monster on the inside. Oh, true, she said.

        So what I hope is that there are enough responsible adults around to guide the kids’ thinking. Because we don’t want a society that cheers others’ deaths.

  4. April 3, 2012 10:10 am

    I haven’t read the books yet {or seen the movie}. All the hype, and your review, has me interested but I don’t know if I want quite such a heavy topic right now. My book friend at work has just started reading them so I suppose I’ll have to cave soon 🙂

  5. April 3, 2012 10:55 am

    Sara, yes, there are so many “teachable moments” you can use literature/film for. If something deals with hard topics I think the approach for parents can be “let’s watch this together and think through the implications” vs. “no you can’t watch this.” That way you’re helping your child be a critical thinker. Of course some books/films might be off limits, or at least until a certain age, but I think guiding is better than censoring, in many cases.

  6. April 7, 2012 1:19 pm

    “Guiding is better than censoring”…well said, and I seek to take this approach w/ my kiddos. Down the road, I trust we may read this trilogy together or something like it. For now, I know my limits emotionally and mentally, and my imagination would run wild w/ the images I’ve heard portrayed in this series. Trust me, at times I lament the fact that I am so incredibly sensitive. But, I also trust the wiring GOd’s given me and am learning to be ok with the emotional boundaries I have to put in place that others do not. And, I perceive as a parent that some of my children are wired similarly. It’s a balancing act knowing when I, as their parent, am “protecting” them in wisdom and when I’m “sheltering” them out of my own fear and desire to control. For that, I rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me and Christ’s blood to cover me when I get it wrong which I’m sure to do!

    But, I also must agree with others here who have expressed gratitude for your thoughtful reviews of this book and others. It is incredibly helpful to have these dialogues within our community of believers. I agree that they are needful and helpful. Iron sharpening iron.

    • April 7, 2012 1:25 pm

      I like your distinction of protecting vs. sheltering. A good way of thinking through wisely helping your kids vs sheltering for your own ease or control. A good way to think about that balance!

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