By Eugene C. Scott
“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