Spring Splendors

Spring Splendors

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Books That Were on Fire: My Thoughts on "The Hunger Games" Trilogy

What makes "The Hunger Games" series so intriguing and engrossing? I've connected elements of the trilogy to C.S. Lewis' sermon "The Weight of Glory" for a class paper. I've found the series to be a thought-provoking example for parts of the ethics and war lecture given recently in my American Military History class. I've discussed various plot twists and themes with a friend in my dorm.

Really, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay are on fire with intense action, ideas, and emotions!

If you missed it before, you can find my thoughts on the first book (The Hunger Games) HERE. The following thoughts are on the series as a whole, and they do include major spoilers. If you're really interested in the series and haven't yet read it, I recommend waiting to read this until after you've done so. But if you have read the books, I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments section!

My Thoughts on "The Hunger Games" Trilogy

When discussing this series the other day, my friend asked me if I thought it was possible to love a book but not love it at the same time, or something to that effect. When it comes to "The Hunger Games" trilogy, my answer is, "Oh, yeah!"

I love it. The non-stop action...the tension...the head-on collision with serious, meaningful questions... It's a well-written story that "works on many levels" (as a certain penguin from Madagascar 2 might say, if you don't mind the movie reference!). Horrific, terrifying, and yet completely captivating - that pretty much sums it up.

At the same time, I don't love it. The books are set in a future built on the author's own imagination. Whether all of the assumptions put forth in the book reflect the author's worldview is a call I can't make. But I can tell you that there are indeed assumptions that should be treated with careful reflection by every reader.

As far as I could tell, there were no references to religion throughout the series. Some might say that there is no place for religion in the dystopian world of Panem. And I suppose that is the point. Panem seems to have arisen from an evolutionary viewpoint, with the idea that in the future human beings will have moved past their need for "fantastical myths" and "delusions." It is a place where survival of the fittest is very much the order of the day. The silence created by the absence of any mention of any form of life after death or any type of religious beliefs speaks louder than any words on the subject.

Consider Katniss' thoughts after the assassination of President Coin:

"I no longer feel any allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despite being one myself. I think that Peeta was onto something about us destroying one another and letting some decent species take over. Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children's lives to settle its differences.... The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen." (p. 377, Mockingjay)

Certainly, at first glance "The Hunger Games" series seems to promise absolutely no happiness at all. But at the end of Mockingjay, Katniss and Peeta and some of the others attempt to keep the legacies of those who died alive. Peeta tries to hold onto his love for Katniss. Katniss tries to hold onto "every act of goodness [she's] seen someone do." But even Katniss' admission that "there are much worse games to play" doesn't erase the fact that if there is no life after death, all of it is for naught (quotes from Mockingjay, p. 390).

Why is it all for naught? Consider C.S. Lewis' words in his sermon "The Weight of Glory":

"...even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever."

Lewis is talking about those who seek a sort of "heaven on earth," but I think it works just as well for the "hell on earth with what little bits of heaven we can preserve" picture presented in "The Hunger Games" series. But the thing is, if I am correct in assuming that the dead in this series are thought to simply cease to exist, than there is no point in holding onto any "bits of heaven." As Lewis says (in the same sermon) in regards to avoiding death:

"...as if we could believe that any social or biological development on this planet will delay the senility of the sun or reverse the second law of thermodynamics. Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy."

So here's where I come back to loving the series again. The books show the complete and utter dissatisfaction that humans ultimately have with this world as an end in and of itself. We long for more - legacies that will not fade; total freedom that exists in truth; justice and yet mercy; a safe place to call home forever.

Remember the song that makes an appearance at Rue's death in The Hunger Games and in the epilogue of Mockingjay? It's a song that speaks of hope, safety, and especially love. "Here is the place where I love you." It's what we ache for, a love that doesn't cease when someone leaves this world. A love that isn't bound by time and location.

Here are some of Jesus' words to His disciples (and we, too, are His disciples if we are saved through His grace, by faith):

"If ye were of the world,
the world would love his own:
but because ye are not of the
world, but I have chosen you
out of the world, therefore the
world hateth you....

And ye now therefore have
sorrow: but I will see you again,
and your heart shall rejoice,
and your joy no man taketh
from you....

These things I have spoken
unto you, that in me ye might
have peace. In the world ye
shall have tribulation: but be of
good cheer; I have overcome
the world."

~ John 15:19 and 16:22, 33 ~

That love exists. A Love beyond this world. A Love that has overcome the world. A Love that gives joy, which can never be taken away.

But assurance in eternal life does not mean that we just give up. Not at all! What I really love about "The Hunger Games" trilogy is Katniss' constant battle. She never stops fighting. She never stops trying to hold onto good. We may not be in Katniss' shoes exactly, but consider these verses from Ephesians:

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (6:12-13)

And from Romans:

"Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." (12:9)

"The Hunger Games" trilogy has a lot to say about good and evil, war (like militarism vs. just war theory, etc.), and where the world is headed. But whether or not I agree with everything it says, if it forces me to think critically and examine (and grow) in my faith, then I think it's a powerful story with a lot to offer. In that way The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay really seem to be the books that were - and are - on fire.

(You can find C.S. Lewis' sermon "The Weight of Glory" HERE. Movie poster image 1 and image 2 from Moviefone.com. Book cover images from the author's website.)

20 comments:

Christina B said...

I haven't read any of these books yet, but your summary of them was excellent! (I already know most of the plot just from hearing second hand, so the spoilers won't ruin the book/movie experience for me) :)

I really like how you tied in C.S. Lewis, as well as scripture, to parallel the stories. I think most epic type series', whether they realize it or not, can't help but have some spiritual truth in them because good and evil naturally hold deep religious meaning.

I also agree that even if you don't wholly concur with an author's point of view, there are still usually truths that can be gained in some detail.

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts-I look forward to reading the books and/or watching the movie. :)

Kav said...

Brilliantly done, Amber. And love the C.S. Lewis tie-in. You are a genious!

I like what you take away from the series too. You can appreciate it but also see the difference a Christian viewpoint can make. I actually ached for the characters and the non-believing readers as I read this post. How does anyone cope without God? I can't fathom it at all.

Renee (SteelerGirl83) said...

This is one of the best young adult series' I've read. I love it and I'm so glad you did too! Now who else is as excited for the movie as I am?! LOL!

XOXO~ Renee

Amber S. said...

Christina,

Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed the summary/analysis, and I'm glad to hear that the spoilers won't ruin your enjoyment and interest in the series. :)

And yes, I know what you mean! I think C.S. Lewis had a lot to say about that, although I haven't really read a lot of his works *yet*! I took a Literary Criticism class here at Corban, and while the reading and such was difficult, I absolutely loved the challenge to never turn my brain off - because everything I read and watch (etc.) is saying something. Even books and movies labeled "Christian" should be carefully criticized, because the label can lull us into a sense of safety while the story could be really saying something we shouldn't digest so easily. (On a side note, I also loved how my professor noted that we call things "Christian" fiction or "Christian" music, etc., but really only people can be Christian!)

Anyway, lots to ponder, and I really appreciate your thoughts! We're going to be studying some of C.S. Lewis' approach to literature later on in the semester (An Experiment in Criticism), so I'm curious to learn more about that. :)

Thank you for stopping by, and for your post today on your blog regarding watching our responses to people and situations. :)

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Kav,

*Blush* I so appreciate your encouragement and the time you take in reading my posts here and on the BB blog! :) It really is awesome how God works - I'm so glad I got to read The Hunger Games series and then study "The Weight of Glory" sermon, as well as war and ethics in another class. I could probably do a whole other post (and then some!) on the war angle in the series, but I don't know if I would really be able to do it justice at this point!

I really can't fathom how people live without God, either. Back when I was a preteen I went through a time where I was so worried about doing things right and making sure that I would go to heaven. I prayed over and over again asking God into my heart, but I had to learn through God's patience and grace that He heard me the very first time and I can trust Him. :) He is so good! But if I experienced that worry just wanting to make sure I was saved, how much more horrible would be the worry and fear without hope in a sovereign and loving God?

I started re-reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis for my class, and I thought it was interesting noting that one of the demons' strategy in the book is to keep humans focused on the ordinary - on "real," everyday life. When we get busy with little, everyday things, it's easy to neglect time thinking about God and eternity. Isn't there a well-known quote about the tragedy of the unexamined life, or something like that? How awful to simply exist and not truly live!

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Renee,

I'm really glad I gave it a try - thank you for capturing my interest in the story by posting that movie trailer on your blog! :) While I'm a little bit nervous about how much violence they'll show in the movie, I think I do want to see it. It looks like it will be very well done! :)

~Amber

Katie McCurdy said...

Hey! I'm skipping around this post, since I just got Mockingjay from the library yesterday. But! Once I finish that book, I will definitely be back here to check out your thoughts! :-)

In the meantime, I've awarded you a blog award over on Legacy of a Writer. Seasons of Humility definitely qualifies for one SWEET blog! :-) Check out the link below for details!

http://katie-mccurdy.blogspot.com/2012/01/very-sweet-blog-award.html

Julie said...

Excellent Amber! Great spiritual tie-in!

Amber S. said...

Katie,

I completely understand, and that's kind of you to want to come back after you finish Mockingjay! :)

And thank you so much for passing that award on to me! :D YOU are very sweet! Since I received that award in the past, I added your name to my "Blog Awards" page underneath that award. Thanks again! :)

~Amber

Amber S. said...

Julie,

Thank you! :) I appreciate you stopping by and reading the post!

~Amber

Joy Tamsin David said...

Ooooh, how I loved this series! I know what you mean about loving a book and not loving it at the same time. I loved the romance, but I wasn't satisfied with the ending of this series.

I have a love/hate relationship with dystopian lit in general though. It's easy to get in a dystopian rut b/c there are so many awesome titles in that genre to read. But at the same time, I find if I read too many I get the blahs.

I think it's the feeling of helplessness, the bleak feeling that pulls me down after a while. And often living in a post apacolyptic world, God isn't mentioned much, and if He is, it definitely isn't how Christians know him.

Hmmm, dysptopian Christian fiction...now that might be a genre to explore. Any authors listening?

The best book I read of 2011 was a YA dystopian called Divergent by Veronica Roth. I was surprised by the faith woven in. It's not Christian fiction, but there was defintitely a faith thread that I look forward to seeing play out in the sequels.

So if you liked this genre, you should give it a try!

Amber S. said...

Joy,

Yes, I can see what you mean! Reading too much dystopian, while thought-provoking, can be rather depressing and draining... Got to be careful with that!

Hmmm... Dictionary.com defines dystopia as "a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding." Another definition on the same page says, "an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be." Certainly would be an interesting task to write a dystopian Christian fiction novel! Maybe showing that the Light can shine even in the darkest places, and no one can take away our hope in Christ...?

Anyway, I have indeed heard of Divergent - saw that you and Serena both loved it, actually! After reading The Hunger Games series I kind of wanted to try another book in the same genre, and I kept looking at Divergent... After glancing through the little author interview thing they have on Amazon.com and thinking it over, I decided to order it! :) However, I also pre-ordered a couple of books at the same time, and since I chose Free Super Saver shipping, I guess the books will all be coming together sometime in April, or something like that... But I'm looking forward to giving it a try! :)

~Amber

Bluerose said...

This was just an awesome, beautiful review!!!

I have no plans whatsoever of reading this series(because I'll have nightmares), but I still enjoyed reading your thoughts on the books!

Amber S. said...

Bluerose,

Thank you so much!

And no worries - I understand what you mean! I'm honored that you still wanted to read my thoughts on the series anyway. :) I hope they made sense and maybe encouraged you!

~Amber

Julie said...

Wouldn't the LEFT BEHIND series be considered dystopian? That is the first series that came to mind when ya'll were talking about Christian authors writing dystopian. But since I'm not very good and identifying generes maybe I'm off base?

Joy Tamsin David said...

@Julie,

Left Behind was before my book blogging days, so I'm not sure what they called it...end times fiction maybe?

I'd like to see kind of like a Christian fiction dystopian novel that takes place BEFORE the end times, but after a fictionalized break down of society.

Everybody thinks we're living in the end times right now, but what if things got a whole lot worse?....Hmmm, I might be convicing myself to write something that's not a romance. LOL.

@Amber, the only problem with Divergent is it's a 3 book series and only number one is out now. Sigh. It's going to be a long wait before we see the conclusion.

Julie said...

Ack Joy! I certainly believe that things will get a whole lot worse before the end. Maybe we are seeing the start of our real life dystopian society? Kind of a scary thought. Sounds like you could come up with a good plan for a book. AND you could still mix it up with a little bit of romance added in! Go for it!!

Amber S. said...

Julie and Joy,

Interesting discussion going on here!

JOY: Yeah, I saw that Serena was pretty bummed with the long wait between books... But I'm certainly intrigued with the prospect of another trilogy like that! :)

JULIE: Oooh, that would be fun to get Joy to write that book!! ;)

~Amber

Krissi Dallas said...

OH MY WORD. You hit EVERYTHING in this post that I think and feel about this series- only I love the depth of insight you added with C.S. Lewis's perspective and, of course, with Scripture. I am a big Hunger Games fan and have taught the first book in my class for a few years - it opens up SO MUCH discussion with middle schoolers about worldview, government, oppression, violence, self-preservation, the future, reality TV issues, science, love... I mean, seriously the whole gamut of issues these kids need to talk about and reason through! And as a responsible adult in their lives, I was able to walk them through those experiences and issues in a safe environment. I think Mockingjay was really hard for me because that's the book I started feeling such a disconnect between my worldview and what was coming through in the books. And after I read it (having taught it for two years & taking so many teens on the journey with me), I spent a good portion of classtime one day discussing with my students what my worldview was and how I needed them to know that it did not ultimately align with the series. I think the kids really appreciated that & it led to some deep discussions among us. I'm still a fan of the series - and I'm thankful for the critical thinking opportunities it provides - as well as the adventure and emotional journey! And, heck yeah, I'm looking forward to the movie!! :) Thanks for this post - I have some people I want to share it with!

Amber S. said...

Krissi,

I really appreciate your encouraging words - and for taking the time to read this and share it with others! :) The Hunger Games really does open up the floor for tons of discussion!! That's awesome that you provide a safe and still challenging environment for your students to read this series together with you. :D I definitely think younger readers should have a trustworthy adult to read these books with if they decide to read them - and even as an adult I think it's good to be able to think out loud with others about the implications of the story! Defining our own worldviews and discovering the worldviews presented in literature/media/etc. is so very important, and I'm sure your students are (or will be) grateful for what you're doing. :)

Thank you so much for your comment!

~Amber