The Hunger Games

The phenomena of The Hunger Games, a trilogy of teen novels, written by Suzanne Collins, is worth a comment or two. I read the books, having heard about them from a nephew of mine. I decided to read them to see what it was all about. It is difficult to describe my reaction to these books. I would imagine that one’s reaction would vary, depending on one’s station in life. For a teenager, the appeal would simply be rooting for an underdog facing unbelievable challenges. For an adult with children, the horror of violence-as-entertainment comes to the fore. Collins is definitely deconstructing our violence-saturated culture. She does so through three rather violent books. However, as we all know, violence can be depicted in different ways. In these volumes, the horror of violence is front and center.

I must issue a warning at this point to any parents of teenagers: if you are at all prone to nightmares about your teens, do not read these books. It will certainly give you nightmares. I am not prone to nightmares at all (I rarely dream at all, actually, at least not so that I could remember what I dream), and I could not sleep the first night I read these. Collins is a superb writer. These are page turners. Whether you would read them or not, I would say that these books could have a very beneficial effect on our culture. If any are discouraged from glorying in violence, she will have more than enough compensation for her labors. If any teenagers are discouraged from becoming violent, again a noble purpose is served.

The only critique that I would offer is that she has no real basis for avoiding violence. They are not Christian novels in any obvious way. I could not even detect hints or Christian symbolism. So she offers us no “why” as to avoiding violence. What she does do is depict violence is such horrific colors that you feel like you never want to “enjoy” a violent movie again (at least, not a movie that glories in violence). And some passages will move you to tears, especially the scenes concerning Rue. Rue is a 12 year old girl, forced to participate in the hunger games. She is the embodiment of innocence. She is precisely the person who should not be victimized by a system that glories in violence, and yet so often, the Rue’s of this world are precisely those that get victimized in just such a fashion. Read and weep. But, as Christians, our anger should be focused on the cause of this kind of violence, and on the solution. Sin is what causes violence, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only solution.

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12 Comments

  1. truthunites said,

    March 21, 2012 at 11:00 am

    I haven’t read the books or the movie, but will probably do so.

    Violence used to stop sinfully bad violence is not wrong. Eg., a man using violence to stop a violent rapist.

  2. Reed Here said,

    March 21, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I too will be reading these books. Some of my children have read them and have made some insightful comments about them. Particularly they noted the absence of any overt spiritual dimension (e.g., references to a spiritual reality). Yet, they noted, at the same time there is an explicit dependence on spiritual attributes. E.g., nobility, integrity, betrayal, etc., are all essential qualities that make the series a good read. Without these characteristics the plot line collapses into a rather boring story.

    Presuppositional thinking here helps understand what is going on. The writer may want to ignore/avoid any sense of Deity in the plot line. Yet she cannot write a compelling story without reference to His character or the opposite of His character. She is reflecting her created nature that wants to suppress the knowledge of Him (Rom 1:18-22).

    I know this can be an over-used insight, especially in our circles. Yet I do think it is present, and in such a foundational manner that the series cannot be understood, properly evaluated, and then appreciated by Christians without beginning here.

  3. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    March 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Well said Reed.

  4. March 21, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks for the commentary, Lane. I have wondered about these books. Oh, and you do dream every night – 3-4 times, probably. You just don’t remember them. If you didn’t dream nightly, you’d probably go crazy. Then again . . . maybe that would explain a few things! :)

  5. TurretinFan said,

    March 21, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for this review, Lane!

  6. Jack Bradley said,

    March 21, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks Lane. Having listened to the trilogy, I’m looking forward (with some trepidation) to seeing the movie. Here’s another helpful review:

    http://www.redeemedreader.com/2012/03/hungry/

    Excerpt: “The main question Christian parents are asking is, Should I let my kids read The Hunger Games? I would give a qualified Yes. The violence can be disturbing to sensitive readers, but the books are remarkably free of bad language and sex.”

  7. Mark said,

    March 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks for this review. Haven’t read the book but thinking of checking the movie out.

  8. Frank Aderholdt said,

    March 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Yesterday, my daughter, who is 35, wrote me: “I continue to feel a sense of superiority, having read the first book almost four years ago, long before it was ‘the thing.’” That sounds kind of like a book snob. (Music, too—trust me.) Wonder where she got that from.

  9. March 24, 2012 at 8:40 am

    [...] [...]

  10. Mark B. said,

    March 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    I did read these, Collins is a very good storyteller. I was very surprised however to hear that it was being made into a pg13 movie. That’s not going to be possible without some compromise somewhere, the majority of the first two books are taken up with a cross between the Roman Coliseum and reality TV (I believe Collins stated that her inspiration was Survivor and Big Brother, ect, on one side and the Greek legend of the Minator on the other) She is very clever, for example at the end of the first book, instead of the losers returning as a tribal council aka TV’s Survivor, in a sort of gristly spoof, the dead losers return genetically engineered as a pack of psychotic wild dogs who knaw the face off one of the last living players, leaving him alive…
    On a higher lever, the most striking thing for me was how spiritually empty these books are. I don’t mean just Christian spiritually, but pagan as well. Reed mentions an “explicit dependence on spiritual attributes”, which I think almost gives the series too much credit, I think the spiritual attributes are lacking or muddled at best. I suppose some in the Christian community will find the lack of bad language encouraging, and actually the lack of much sexual imagery seems almost strange, considering the heroine is a teenage girl torn between two loves. The lack of objectionable material and superb storytelling do not, however, (for me at least) make the series worth a read, as I really can’t recall reading anything so utterly lacking in a spiritual dimension. This is so noticeable that it almost seems as if the author has not sufficiently developed some of the main characters.

  11. Mark B. said,

    March 31, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Seeing the movie being promoted all over made me revisit this post. Still not planning on seeing the movie, but the more I dwell on the books, the more I think this review is too kind. For example (spoiler alert here) you mention Rue, and the touching scenes there. But how does the story end? The heroine, who helped Rue in the games, when she has been sucessful in helping overthrow the evil President Snow, what does she do? She votes to hold one last Hunger Game, because, after all, Snow has a grandaughter (like Rue?)….I’m not sure that the author’s intended audience of teenagers is going to see the strong antiviolence message you do.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    March 31, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Mark, you make good points there. I agree that revenge does come into the stories at the end. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, in one sense, because a non-Christian completely irreligious trilogy like this is going to be inconsistent somewhere in a major way. I also agree that teens are not going to see the strong antiviolence message in the books. Nevertheless, I think that message is still there. Teens will probably be identifying with the hero/heroine to the point of simply wondering what is going to happen next, rather than reflecting (what’s that?) on the message of the books.


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