(This is not a review, nor is it a plot summary. There are plenty of those to be found all over the internet, I’m sure. This is just my unadulterated response to reading the Hunger Games trilogy [The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins]. This will probably only make sense if you’ve read the books, or at least seen the movies. [Warning, if you haven’t read all three books, there will be some spoilers below.])
After seeing Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie that just came out, I became interested in the story of Panem and decided to read the books. I just finished the trilogy. Yes, I know. As usual, I am way late to the party. As I recently posted on Facebook, I tend to live my life on the trailing edge. But that’s a topic for another blog post. At any rate, my initial reaction after reading this trilogy was: That’s $25 and multiple hours of my time (not to mention my sense of emotional well-being) I’ll never get back.
Actually, my response is mixed. It is a gripping, page-turning story. I could hardly stop reading until I had finished the whole thing. However, it’s also very unsatisfying. The only resolution comes in the all-too-brief Epilogue. The only hints of redemption in the story are there and are merely alluded to in passing. The overall message of the book seems to be that there’s no real, unquestionable good in the world, and hope is elusive.
However, I read (on Wikipedia) that one of the themes Collins’ writes about in her works is the effects of war on children, and if the story is seen from that perspective then maybe it’s a little more understandable. Nevertheless, the outlook of the trilogy as a whole is very bleak.
I found the telling of the story entirely from Katniss’ perspective to be frustrating as well. You don’t get a more objective sense of what’s happening. Everything’s filtered through her viewpoint, which is incredibly subjective and uncertain. So at the end of Mockingjay (book three) we never know for sure whether Coin really ordered the destruction of the Capitol children (including Prim) or if Snow was just playing with Katniss’ head one more time when he told her that. In this and many other ways The Hunger Games is a very post-modern story, since the perspective is so subjective and cynical.
I have to admit overall Collins does a great job with the characters, especially that of Katniss. She is very believable as an impulsive, complex teen heroine. Yet I found Katniss’ untethered impulsiveness to be maddening after a while. She’s completely at the mercy of her current whim and never able to step back and see a larger perspective. Maybe that’s just the life of a teenage girl, especially one who’s been emotionally scarred beyond reason. But it makes for a very chaotic story in the end. I’m sure Collins had her reasons for sticking to this approach. But the ending was so random that it almost made me wonder if the author grew tired of writing and just wrapped up the ending quickly in order to be done with it.
Newsflash: I find it disturbing that this story was targeted for teenagers. The violence and evil in it are so unrelenting, and there is so little of any redemptive nature, that I find myself wondering what Collins hoped to gain by telling this story in this way for a teen audience.
The first book is largely the story of all the mayhem, horror, and death in the arena, ending with the Capital’s anger toward Katniss for defying them. The Hunger Games (book 1) was the first book I ever read where my stomach was literally tied up in knots at the end–a truly unpleasant feeling. There is no resolution at all, and no break from the tension. The sheer terror of the mutts and Cato’s gory end remove any sense of relief or satisfaction over Katniss and Peeta’s survival in the arena, especially since we know the Capitol is infuriated with Katniss’ defiance and that her life is still in danger. I almost didn’t read any further, since I already knew how Catching Fire turns out from seeing the movie. But in the end my curiosity about how the story ends won out.
The second book is a lot more of the same (more mayhem, horror, and death in the arena), with only the growing rebellion to offer any sense of satisfaction for the reader–at least the good guys are getting so sick of being oppressed that they begin to fight back. But in Mockingjay (book 3) even this is thwarted by–you guessed it–more mayhem, horror, and death, and by Katniss’ refusal or inability to see any convincing good in what the Rebels are trying to do. Everyone is evil, everyone’s motives are questionable, no one can be trusted, so it’s every man for himself, you are always at the mercy of evil.
Honestly I didn’t feel president Coin and her Rebels were portrayed as being so terribly evil in comparison to Snow, unless it’s true that Coin ordered the destruction of Prim and the children to bring a speedy end to the war (it occurs to me now that maybe this is intended to call to mind the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought a speedy end to WW2?). However, it’s never clear that this is what happened, since we only have Snow’s word on it. Yet in spite of this vagueness Katniss (again impulsively) kills Coin and allows Snow to live, who somehow still inexplicably dies (what a lame, unsatisfying, and random turn of events). I guess Coin’s supposed bombing of the children and the proposal of one last Hunger Games are intended to convey the idea that even the good guys get tainted by the very evil they are trying to fight. But because we don’t really know for sure what happened, we’re just left to wonder.
Throughout the story Katniss has trouble really holding onto the idea that Snow is truly evil. In spite of all he’s done against her and everyone else, she continues to be tempted to mollify him. I guess this could be seen as a depiction of how someone would think when all they’ve known is an evil totalitarian government.
I found it interesting to think about the story from a Christian perspective. The books make no mention of God or any sort of religion or spirituality, so in a sense Panem is a godless society. As I read the story I found myself feeling thankful that I know God and would have Him and His people to look to if I ever had to go through something as terrible as that. I also thought about the comfort the Christian has in the face of death, which these characters don’t have.
Also, the nation-state of Panem (which Collins reveals is Latin for “bread”) could represent our world, with the Capitol being the U.S., and the districts being other nations, especially the developing world. Seen in this light, then, the books would be a commentary on America’s perceived injustice toward the developing world. However, if that’s the case then it’s a way overblown caricature because the U.S. is hardly a totalitarian state like Panem that rules the rest of the world with an iron fist. Nevertheless the outlandish shallowness and triviality of the lives of Capital dwellers over against the poverty of most of the districts does bring to mind the difference between “First World” and “Third World” living in our world.
While I don’t like the unrelenting violence and terror of the Hunger Games books, I’m reminded there are situations in our own world that are equally harrowing. Africa’s Joseph Kony, who leads a genocidal guerrilla force chillingly named “the Lord’s Resistance Army,” comes to mind. Kony and his cronies’ M.O. is to capture families and force the children at gunpoint to murder their own parents and siblings and then conscript the children as unwilling soldiers in his army–more frightening than the hunger games, and entirely real. While Collins’ “muttations” are scarier and more loathsome than any real threat we could encounter in this world, the idea that these killing machines are the invention of humans is not beyond the pale at all in a world which has known the likes of not only Kony, but Hitler and Stalin as well.
I am always looking for clues as to where someone stands spiritually, not in order to judge them, but just to try and understand how they see the world, and what their influences are. The Wikipedia article on Mockingjay, the third book in the series, says the official promo event for the book’s release in New York City, which was attended by Collins (though it doesn’t say it was planned by her), featured, among other things, tarot card readings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mockingjay). This is revealing, for the tarot is an occult practice, and occult practices are antithetical to Christianity.
The Bible forbids the practice of the occult in any form. One of the key texts on this is Deuteronomy 8: 9-15. While it doesn’t mention the tarot by name, it does forbid the interpreting of omens, a relatively broad category under which the tarot would fall This is not merely an ancient arbitrary prohibition either. The reason is because all forms of the occult originate with satan, the adversary of God. The occult might actually have some power and the ability to reveal things to people, but its power is rooted in evil, and it enslaves those who dabble in it.
The mention of the tarot readings at the Mockingjay release party doesn’t necessarily mean Collins herself practices the tarot of other forms of the occult, but apparently she at least approves of it if she allowed it at her party. This is spiritually dangerous stuff and allows satan to gain power over those who get involved with it.
As I read The Hunger Games trilogy I felt it has a certain dark power to it. The series unrelentingly conveys fear, anxiety, terror, violence, endless nightmares, hatred, hopelessness, and trauma. Yes, we also see some positive things, like the way in which many of the characters care for one another and sacrifice for each other. But even Katniss, who is ostensibly a “good” character, has moments when she nonchalantly contemplates killing another character just because the person irritates her (I’m thinking of Johanna in the third book, for example), or takes satisfaction in the death of tributes she despises. Whatever good there is in The Hunger Games is overshadowed by fear, hatred, evil, and darkness. Even in the hopeful epilogue we are led to believe that Katniss will live the rest of her life in terror that her children’s safe and idyllic existence will one day be swallowed up in evil once more.
Contrast this to The Lord of the Rings, which seems confident that good is stronger than evil, and that good will eventually overcome evil. But at the end of The Hunger Games trilogy I was left with a feeling of uneasiness and unrest, as though some dark pallor had been cast over my life. I just wanted to put the story out of my mind as quickly as possible, because it was all just so horrible. It left me with a mindset I don’t normally live in as a Christian, and which I don’t want to carry around with me. That’s not because I don’t have problems and trials in my life, but because I know there is good in the universe, and that in the end good will overcome evil.
I felt like the ultimate impact of The Hunger Games is negative in many ways, and yet the negativity is conveyed with a great deal of power. This does make me wonder what spiritual well Collins is drawing from, and honestly does make me wonder if she is involved in the occult. Not only that, but it really floors me that a story so filled with violence, murder, and horror is aimed at teens. I have to wonder what effect reading something like this has on their impressionable hearts and minds.
To conclude with something positive I saw in the storyline, purely from an imaginative perspective: I am intrigued by the notion of Panem being the last remains of Western society in North America hundreds, if not a couple thousands, of years in the future (although you get the idea this is all that’s left of humanity, period), and how some things are more primitive than today due to technologies having been lost or destroyed, and yet other things are more advanced.
I also thought the nomenclature of Panem was interesting, how a lot of names and terms are slightly different than ours, just as they would be with the evolution of a language over several centuries; though other names are the same. For examples morphine has “morphed” into morphling, mutations have become “muttations,” and I assume “Peeta” is a futuristic version of the name we know as Peter.
To conclude, even though the trilogy brings up a number of themes that seem to relate directly to our world, I ultimately found it just too disturbing. I admit it would be interesting to see more stories set in the world of Panem. But if they’re going to be as unsatisfying as the Hunger Games, then I guess I would pass.
So what’s your reaction to the Hunger Games trilogy or to the movies?