I wanted to get this out before I went and saw the Jennifer Lawrence version on the big screen. I didn’t want the Hollywood-infused depiction getting in the way of my thoughts, feelings, and general theologizing of the books to be tainted (although I’ll write a movie review later). I struggled to “get into” The Hunger Games not once, but three times, before finally settling in and blowing through the book in one day. I read the second book, Catching Fire, over a few days, and polished off Mockingbird in practically one sitting. And I walked away more impressed than I was when I began, with plenty of food for thought about the world we live in, but interested to see how my interpretations would be perceived by others. [SPOILER ALERT: Fair warning, this is with full disclosure of all three books in mind.]
1. This isn’t anything new. Easily my most unpopular thought (as characterized by the refutations I received on my Facebook page!), Suzanne Collins used story elements that fantasy writers and others have used before. There are several helpings of Stephen King (The Running Man, The Dead Zone), and ideas that seem to have been covered before by Shirley Jackson (”The Lottery”), Stephanie Meyer (Twilight), and William Golding (Lord of the Flies). In fact, I liked the Empire Strikes Back vibe of the Catching Fire the best. None of that makes the book unreadable, and it shouldn’t cause you to ignore it either. [Seriously, Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and that was a LOOOOOONG time ago.]
2. This shouldn’t be mandatory young adult literature. If we’re talking about middle schoolers as young adults, then this covers way too much ground for a diverse group of preteens to consider. Sure, I read the unabridged (in English) version of The Illiad & The Odyssey in the fourth grade, but what I read was a case-by-case situation. Assuming that a whole class of eighth graders is ready for this is absurd. And there is enough “questionable” behavior in here that any parent should consider reading it alongside of or ahead of their teen, and leaving it to a teacher to discuss with the group isn’t quite thorough enough. Just saying.
3. The book depicts a world where adulthood is… lame. I’d say it stronger, but it’s true. There’s a general distrust for adults here, because they don’t give much reason to be trusted or loved. Maybe that’s the Disney motif, where we have Katniss’ dead father as the lone “good adult.” (Seriously, I thought he was going to be the secret head of District 13… a la Star Wars in reverse.) Instead, youth are required to ignore authority and resent decisions which are made for them because the decisions are innately immoral and destructive.
4. Katniss is a Christ-figure… sort of. One of my favorite scenes in the book was when the elder sister takes the place of Prim. I certainly see Jesus pushing his way to the cross (like there was a line) and saying, “I’ll take this for him/them.” It’s a completely different element to her self-sacrificial love here, and later, when she cares for Peeta, that doesn’t surface much, if ever, throughout the books. She’s taking it on for Prim, and trying to save Peeta, but she never really comes into her own, because most of the choices are made for her.
5. This Messiah wasn’t very willing. Reading the story through, I found myself seeing all of the Jewish preconceptions about a Messiah… and how Jesus refused to be used by anyone else’s agenda. Katniss is the agent of change for the Capitol, and then she’s not. She’s the agent of change for the District, and then she’s not. But the theology, if we’re going to go from a Judeo-CHRISTIAN worldview, seems to go all Albert Schweitzer on us, and say that Katniss really got twisted. Because the one choice she does seem to make on her own is not completely pure, but instead makes her like the people she hated within the arena of the Games who killed others. I thought that in Hunger Games, Katniss was given a way out of the impending confrontation with Rue, and that the berries became a “Kobayashi Maru” set-up didn’t completely satisfy me, avoiding her need to kill someone she cared about in both situations. But stopping Coin in the way she did? That seemed to undo any anti-violence agenda that the other books had led me to, as a child became an adult by killing, employing the same tactics as her violent world demanded.
6. And how is this not a slap in the face for female independence? In the end, after being told that this wasn’t the fawning love story of Twilight, and it isn’t, I’m completely disappointed by the “romantic resolution.” Katniss, the one who liberated Panem from a repeat of the Hunger Games, is stuck with Peeta, who she has told us over and over again she doesn’t love. She’s confined to the remains of 12 with the baker (not the hunter who is like her) by his choice, not hers, and we’re supposed to believe that this is the happiest resolution we could’ve asked for? Again, I thought Catching Fire was great, and understood the violent end of Mockingjay, but the closing pages of Mockingjay left me wondering what I was supposed to take away from it.
I’ll leave you with one bonus point: “May the odds be ever in your favor” has to be one of the catchiest and most untheological “blessings.” As we consider the impact of original sin in our world and the impact of our own sinful decisions, our odds are an incredible zero percent. We are sunk, stuck, dead, imprisoned, forgotten, etc. in our sin. And then the death and resurrection of Jesus rises up, “increasing our odds” to one hundred percent. It’s not about odds, but about grace, and highlights again, that while highly entertaining fiction, Katniss is the anti-Christ figure, who takes matters into her own hands through the same violent trajectory which her society follows.