January 06, 2012
(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?