Gordon-Conwell Blog

Quest for the Games or the Gospel?

January 06, 2012

Megan Hackman

(SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read the Hunger Games series, it won’t bother you to continue. But if you’re in the middle of book three, this may spoil the ending for you.)

The goal of the Hunger Games is survival. This is the quest. The only quest. The only conceivable quest for the districts, the tributes, and even the President is survival. As modern readers, we want more. And so we’re given a love triangle, science fiction creatures, futuristic fashion, weddings, funerals, Roman-like arenas, history lessons, herbalist and medicinal instruction… there really is something for everyone! I caught the craze, and with a list like that, I can see where others have as well.

And yet, the quest is not our quest. Is life just about survival? What about hope? Identity? A future? Redemption? Even for those not as consciously theological, I can imagine a dissatisfaction that the characters are unable to be successful on quests for revenge, success, or even legacy in light of their overwhelming need just to survive. These goals are all taken away from the people of Panem (the nation of the Hunger Games) by its totalitarian rulers who require a yearly child sacrifice as penalty for their rebellion.

So why are we so wrapped up in a story line that ends with the achievement of mere survival for barely more than one character? (sorry, warned you about the spoiler alert) I know I’m fascinated by its nature as a cautionary tale. What if this world were only about survival? Would you still value your life? What kind of reaction would I have to such authority over me? Could I survive?

What if we had a Creator God who stepped away and said, “May the odds be ever in your favor,” so to speak, and then sent us into an arena in which survival were only merely possible? There you have Panem. You have a de-humanized authority and a hero who does not have the power to save. Who is unable to redeem. Who is horrifically broken and unable to be healed, even after the quest for survival has met its end. And I hear in the speech and behavior of friends outside of the Church a similar expression of God—in which the Creator has left us to a life of luck and a quest for success against the odds. Yet, there is a belief and a drivenness today that one might actually by his own power save, redeem, and overcome.

I was struck by how unlike this quest is from the message of the Gospel. In our story, the ultimate authority has become the most intimate of creatures with a quest not for survival but for the healing and unity of the entire world. The shock of the Gospel message is, too, that the means for “life and life abundantly” (John 10:10), is through the sacrifice of our hero in death (1 Corinthians 5:21)!

While reading the series, I rode the wave of hope that this one young girl symbolically became hope for an entire nation, unifying people under the symbol of freedom. But the symbolic hope she represented was surpassed by her own quest for a survival. Finally, both quests lead not to the healing and unity of the entire world but a dark commentary on the individual’s and the world’s resonate brokenness.

I finished the first book months ago and the series over Christmas, and yet, I cannot get these themes nor the characters out of my head. I think the series’ magnetism for me has to do with the people I know in this world who are living under this false quest to survive with a false belief that they, themselves, have the power to overcome but without realizing that the work of healing and redemption is accomplished by Jesus. It’s like I want to sit down with Katniss and Peeta and talk about life as so much more than survival. I want to assure them that there is eternal and present justice for their brokenness. I feel like Suzanne Collins must know this because she gave us plenty of diversions so that we would maintain hope for the people of Panem. To me, though, the finishing tone was hopeless and broken.

What do you think has you enthralled with the series? Do you think survival is Katniss’ sole quest? Do you think a social and economic commentary is all that can be harvested from this series?

Megan Hackman and her husband, Larry, are M.Div. students at Gordon-Conwell's Hamilton campus.

Tags: Author: Megan Hackman , equipping leaders for the church and society , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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John, I had not thought of what you suggested! By the time I got to the end of book 3, I suppose I had forgotten how Katniss got involved in the Games to begin with. When I thought about having a hypothetical conversation with fictional characters (what has this book done to me?! Ha!), I hadn't thought about Peeta's character in comparison with Katniss. Great distinction. Thank you for pushing me to think about survival in different terms! I'm thinking more in the direction of survival in this life in contrast with hope of eternal life when I think about survival. Even Katniss' move to offer herself as tribute was a guard against Prim's life in the "present." I was surprised by the lack of hope beyond this life and the possibility of healing and redemption for this life. And so, the quest for survival was a quest to see survival in this life but the hero was unable to bring about anything more than mere, individual survival. This is what is rendered so dark and ultimately hopeless because the characters are unable to provide for themselves healing and redemption in their lives. The modern person and the characters of this book could not hope for anything beyond the best of what this life could offer within their own power. I'm a verbal processor... keep it coming!
Megan Hackman 9:03PM 01/07/12
Dear Megan, Your blog seems to hit on several different issues. I have a lot of things I want to say in response, but they are not exactly interrelated. So, I'll start with a basic book review. Is life just about survival? I’m not sure if Katniss would say “yes,” as you seem to imply she would. If she wanted just to survive, she wouldn’t have taken her sister’s place in the games in the first place. Also, don't forget that she was planning to kill herself at the end of book 1. So, I think this is evidence that she believed in something bigger than just survival. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem fair to judge her survival instinct so harshly when extreme, external circumstances put her in a game and a war that demanded survival. Katniss was not a cruel person just climbing a corporate/social/political/popularity ladder, stepping on bodies as she ascended. If she were she could have killed her game allies while they slept; she had to either fight or die. What would her lying down and dying have accomplished? So, I think it is incorrect to say, “But the symbolic hope she represented was surpassed by her own quest for a survival. Finally, both quests lead not to the healing and unity of the entire world but a dark commentary on the individual’s and the world’s resonate brokenness.” Considering at the end of the series she was willing to forfeit her life by killing Coin, the leader of the rebellion, to keep the new administration from using enemy children in another Hunger Games, says a lot about her character and willingness to sacrifice herself for the freedom of others (not to mention how many times during the war she ran into a fight to save someone else). Then, you say you wish you could sit down with Katniss and Peeta and explain that life is so much more than survival. As I said, I don't think Katniss believes this, but I certainly don't think Peeta does. Before going into the games he stated he wanted the empire to know they don't own him. He will not become a mindless killing machine for their entertainment. He is a human being with dignity and inherent value. He will not let them turn him into an animal. But, perhaps I am misunderstanding what you mean by the word "survival." When you say that these Katniss, Peeta, and even some people you know only care only about survival and try to heal themselves, what do you mean? Thanks for the thought provoking blog. John
John Hutchins 2008 5:38PM 01/06/12

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