We’re wrapping up our conversation (begun here) with Morgan Lee and Caity Kullen on the effect of The Hunger Games on the audience it was written for, namely older teens and twenty-somethings. This week I wanted to talk about the trilogy’s relevance (if any) for Christian kids and parents.
A question for both of you: Phillip Reeve, who has written some dystopian novels himself, worries that young readers are getting too much bad news: “It’s entirely natural that YA authors should try to reflect the fears about the future that young readers feel, but I’m coming to think that we also have a duty to challenge the prevailing pessimism of mainstream culture through reading them.” (Here’s his article.) Do you think there’s a place for, as he puts it, “a few utopian novels to set beside them,” or is that so much pie in the sky?
Caity: Utopias may be a good tool with which to reintroduce ideas of future hope and life. Although readers may find them unrealistic given the state of their world, it is fiction after all. I suppose that I would need to see an example of a modern day utopian novel looks like to fully understand the direction that this genre would take. When readers have been inundated with bad news for as long as they can remember, a utopia may seem like a breath of fresh air.
Morgan: I believe that human nature as a whole wants to believe in hope. I also believe that my generation suffers from a low tolerance for failure, a bad case of impatience, and a lack of vision. “What sort of future awaits a society whose young people are taught that there’s nothing to look forward to but decline and disaster, and that decline and disaster may be all that they deserve?” asks Reeve in the penultimate paragraph. I believe he’s dangerously close to the truth. I see many of these books he references as reflecting a larger sense of cynicism in culture and playing to it instead of posing solutions. Publishers, with their understanding that misery loves company, churn out one dark work after another, as art imitates life and then life, art. Reeve’s article suggests that at best the authors are empathizing with teenage angst—but what they ought to be is challenging it and firmly coaxing (pushing) Millennials to problem-solve and innovate their way out of the bleakness. Pandering to despair may boost book sales today, but some tough love encouragement might inspire some solutions tomorrow.
The author seems to take a strictly materialist view in these books: at least I could find no hint of transcendence at all. Do you think that was on purpose, or just her own worldview coming through? What purpose might spirituality have served?
Morgan: Karl Marx famously declared that “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Although the land of Panem may bear some remnants of long-lost western civilization, it’s been entirely stripped of religion. No obvious iconography, language or rituals decorate the pages of the text or fill up the lives the citizens. Yet this is likely a conscious decision by Collins. She instead takes attributes of God—omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and all-benevolence—and creates a governing body, The Capital, that twists these for cruel effect, through the annual Hunger Games.
Omnipotence: Ability to coerce the 12 Districts to send 2 of their own children; the rule changes during the games; the “natural” disasters and predatory attacks.
Omniscience and Omnipresence: The constant television presence, the fact that all Districts are forced to watch it, the constant understanding that tributes have that they are being watched.
All-benevolence: Perhaps the most warped of all, as it is nearly impossible to make any decision based on benevolence in the Games. Indeed, the entire Games are arranged in such a way as to force selfishness.
In some ways, Collins has presented her readers with a reality where God has been recreated in almost all of His attributes in some way or another. For Christians, this helps us understand that his benevolence is really what keeps Him unique. Indeed, what we usually recognize as “Christ-like” are those gestures that exhibit this selflessness—even and especially when it comes at a cost. In the first chapter of the book, Katniss’ takes her sister’s place at the games, undermining the ruthlessness of the games’ intent from the onset. Smaller acts of mercy pervade the book—from Peeta’s saving Katniss’ life to her decision to take care of his (even when she knows she’s quicker and safer alone and still she remains faithful.)
What particular value do you see in these books for Christian readers?
Caity: For Christians, I see this book as valuable because it is it is a cultural phenomenon. In order to engage culture and understand the world that we are living in, we must participate – although discerningly and thoughtfully – in popular culture. Another reason the I see this trilogy as valuable for Christians is that it does not hold back in its commentary on our society. The Hunger Games explores the realities (i.e. violence, vanity, gluttony, poverty, etc.) from which Christians often try to shield themselves and their children.
Morgan: My devotion to Hunger Games primarily rests on just how meaty I see the text. Unlike my High School Musical craze several years ago, I didn’t just gush about how infatuated I was with the characters, but rather engaged in stirring conversations about truth, sacrifice, reality TV, violence, PTSD and morality in amorality. I highly recommend you read these books with your children so that you can explore these subject with them in the context of the story, before the characters turn into 2012 action stars [That’s happening already—see Katniss Barbie and Hunger Games action figures]. Suzanne Collins wanted to be provocative—not necessarily for the sake of dollars—but to challenge her audience’s beliefs on all of these issues. Letting your children interpret these beliefs through the lens of pop culture undermines her intentions and makes the violence–the harrowing, stomach-turning, nauseating, jarring violence–gratuitous and pointless.
Caity: I would recommend The Hunger Games to ages 14 and older. Parents should definitely allow their children to read this series. I do not believe that the books contain anything that children have not already been exposed to through television, video games, music, or internet but if parents are concerned, they should read them before allowing their children to do so.
Thanks, ladies! We should do this again sometime. Has anybody read Blue Like Jazz?