What If “The Hunger Games” Were True? A Book Review

By Eugene C. Scott

What if?

“What if” is frequently the central question submerged in good fiction. C.S. Lewis asked, what if a Christ figure came into a completely different world from the one we know? In answer to his question, Lewis invented Aslan the Lion and Narnia. J.K. Rowling seemed to ask what if there were an invisible, magical world existing alongside ours and in that world of wonderful, powerful magic, love was the most powerful force of all? Hogwarts and Harry Potter sprang to life.

Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times best sellers, The Hunger Games Trilogy, asked an age-old science-fiction question: what if the world as we know it was destroyed, leaving only a remnant of human life.

Collins’ trilogy tells the sad, violent story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl living in the dystopian world of Panem–all that is left of the United States after a nuclear war–with her emotionally broken mother and her 12 year-old sister, Prim. Panem is divided into 12 districts ruled from the Capitol by a malignant government. The outlying districts function as slave labor. The ultimate tyranny of the Capitol is that once a year two children, ages 12-18, are chosen from each district to compete to the death in The Hunger Games. The chosen children must murder each other with only one walking out scarred but alive.

Collins is a good writer and an even better story-teller; her best talent being pacing. Her prose is nearly invisible and sparse, which fits the story. But the books do contain literary elements. Collins lays in many bigger themes worth mining for, if one chooses to do so.

Katniss is as conflicted and as complicated as this type of story can bear. Her complacency with and repulsion to the evil in her world is realistic. Her search for love and for her purpose is obvious but well told.

Also to Collins‘ credit, the high level of violence fits the story, if not the YA label the book carries. Like Rowling, she is not afraid to kill off several main characters.

These books deserve the stir they have caused and are not only worth reading but are worth discussing.

Especially meriting conversation is one “what if” Collins may not have placed in the books intentionally.

What if God did not exist? Nowhere in the three books is there any hint of a belief in a higher power. It’s as if religion were the main target of the bombs. No character uses spiritual language, even in non-technical, slang ways. When one character close to Katniss dies, Katniss almost pictures an after life, but not quite. No one cries out against God for the evil God is allowing nor does anyone cry out to God for help. Rather a song Katniss’ father taught her, that she remembers in her toughest times, seems to reflect a belief that in the world of Panem, this difficult, unpredictable, unfair, unjust world is all we get.

Near the end of the last book, one character comforts Katniss by telling her humans may yet evolve away from senseless evil and into love. Maybe, maybe not.

This is not a criticism of Collins or the books. The books do contain humor, love, and insight. And Collins may have built her dystopian world this way on purpose. There are two books of the Bible where God is never mentioned. God’s absence there is as powerful of a message as being there. Sometimes a need is best pointed out by its absence.

What would the world look like without God? Unfortunately, because of our refusal to grab God’s outstretched hand, there is violence and ugliness worse than in The Hunger Games. The difference being that without God there is no real reason to believe we can learn and change. Evolution promises no such advances.

Fortunately, God’s presence gives real hope and tangible help. Looking at history the only cultures to seriously slow the march of evil have been those directly impacted by the intervention of God and the Incarnation of Christ. And even those cultures have been flawed. Imagine where we could be without Christ coming? Unintentionally or intentionally The Hunger Games imagines that world.

For my part, this is what I liked about these stories. They left me with questions.

Too much story-telling in the Christian world seems afraid to let God narrate to the reader out of the story and therefore, the human narrator provides pat answers and unrealistic solutions. I believe God can and does speak even through stories that contain no overt mention of God.

It could also be true that Collins may actually believe there is no such Person as God. Thus a fictional world that contains only the slightest thread of human hope may actually exist for her and for many others. I don’t know. Our continual propensity toward evil makes such a belief more plausible.

This, along with a story well told, is what brought tears to my eyes at the end of The Hunger Games Trilogy. I was crying for Katniss as an archetype of the modern person.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “What If “The Hunger Games” Were True? A Book Review

  1. Elna

    It’s so easy to say that Christians don’t live up to their God’s standards. Doing business or working for a Christian is bad because they can’t keep their word, etc etc. Really? Go work for a atheist that has no moral code that you can keep him to… At least with a christian you can hit him with the Bible ;))

    • Elna:

      Sounds like you have personal experience there. I have a Bible big enough to hit anyone with, but of late, I’ve used it less that way. 🙂

      And the truth is, none of us live up to God’s standards, thus the need for Christ’s death and resurrection.

      Have you heard of these books? Are you much of a fiction reader?

      Eugene

      • Elna

        No I haven’t read any of them but will keep a lookout at the local library. I do read anything, fiction and non-fiction.
        The truth is one can only hit somebody with a closed bible and not an open one ;))

  2. Georgie-ann

    I agree with Elna’s point,…it’s great to be able to reference the Bible, when need be,…

    And I agree that the plight of modern man is profoundly difficult and sad, especially under the imaginary and vain illusions espoused by intellectual, pride-ridden and emotionally peculiar declarers of hedonistic and nihilistic nonsense, purporting to be “reason” and reasonable. “The head is sick.” Woe to those who become captivated by morbidity, twisted vengeful emotions, and dark motives.

    The fresh instincts and life and enthusiasm of one little tiny real puppy are a far superior experience to encounter, in my own opinion, compared to the jaded and “wounded” human world that defends its own bitterness, pain and festering sores, while refusing the guidance and correction offered to them by the Author of the Universe, Himself, God.

    (-:

    I haven’t read the books, so I’m NOT at all able to comment specifically on them! — just “in general.”

    I went to a lecture at our public library a few years ago, to hear a “popular” secular authoress of “fiction for sub-teenagers” speak — really just out of curiosity. And I was completely “blown away” by my disappointment. I felt as if I were listening to an overgrown, self-impressed, tantrum-prone child — (who seemed to need a “handler,” btw!) — with a fairly bizarre imagination and “sense of humor,” a big vocabulary, and very little integrated human maturity and “sense of responsibility.” At best, an aged, immature adolescent writing for actual immature adolescents. This left so much to be desired!

    “Ah so!” I said to myself. “No wonder fiction that omits or bypasses a godly and reasonable foundation, is so bad, mal-nourishing and potentially misleading. The author, the head, is sick. The blind ARE trying to lead the blind.”

    And our very secularized public school systems, in omitting God and choosing this kind of deliberately skewed and forcefully slanted literature instead, are profoundly responsible for this trend and its vapid effects, if not worse. I do pity the generations raised on such emptiness.

    If we are continually being reassured that the “conceptual cardboard” that we are perpetually being fed daily, really is “real intellectual food,” where will the resulting devastating “hunger that develops within” eventually lead us?? Uncontrollable angers and frustration?? sex, drugs, violence, mental illness and suicide?? This is a very big question for modern people in modern times.

    It would be great to see a reversal in these trends. Our “hungers” are pretty obvious, and they are leading to our self-undoing. Perhaps our “intellectual diet” needs tweaking, beginning again in the very early years. Letting God “back into the equation” in our public schools might just do wonders.

    • Elna

      Yes Georgie-Ann the world seems to be getting more stupid while believing that they are more intelligent because of the ‘information age’ It seems that we will be all experts and specialists…we will know a lot about little …until we know everything about nothing…

      • Georgie-ann

        Elna,… you’ve certainly said “a mouthful” there!!,… amen to that!!,…

        hava nice day!!,… (-:

  3. Michael Gallup

    I’m nearly done with the first one and I can’t help but feel a sense of conviction as a well-fed American in an age of hunger. The perspective of Katmiss and here struggles to obtain food in comparison to the affluence of the Capitol is powerful. Ms. Collins is indeed making quite a social commentary on the extremes of wealth and poverty in our society.

    • You are right, Michael. My first review was a bit longer because I wanted to talk about the many big and powerful themes she lays in the story. But I cut it down.

      For me, a good story has to expose, conquer, play with (or something) bigger themes or the story is not worth reading. I believe these themes buried in a good story are one of the things that separate “literary fiction” from a simple beach book or page turner. But they need a good story too. She does both pretty well.

      And you are right about how her description is a commentary on our American culture. I found the shallowness of the Capital very convicting as well. In making Katniss a hunter, Collins also contrasts nature and the simple life against technology and complexity. Katniss may be hungry but she is closer to who she was “created” to be as a person close to nature.

      Thanks for the response.

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