Monday, March 5, 2012

“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

It has really become an age-old tale. Government uses violent “sport” to entertain, distract and control the population… “panem et circensus.” It is a favorite theme of writers looking to satirize or highlight negative aspects of the culture. Star Trek did it in “Bread and Circuses,” Doctor Who in “Vengeance on Varos,” Stephen King in “The Running Man,” and, most controversially, Koushun Takami in his novel, “Battle Royale.”

Suzanne Collins isn’t trying to hide the fact that she is telling this sort of story. She even names the country in which her story takes place “Panem.” It is not the originality of her idea that accounts for “The Hunger Games” popularity; it is her story-telling skill. She writes an engaging page-turner of an adventure.

The question we need to ask ourselves when we read (or later watch) “The Hunger Games” is not whether she is telling a new story or if she had knowledge of “Battle Royale” before she wrote her book. It is not even ultimately a question of what she was trying to say about our current culture with her satire or allegory. This sort of story has been told frequently enough that that message is clear and well known by most. What we need to wonder is: what does she have to offer?

Anyone can point out the flaws and shortcomings in todays culture… our obsession with entertainment, our drive to distraction, the way the powers that be capitalize on those factors to get us to cooperate with them in maintaining the status quo. Some, in fact, are limited to simple description—to highlighting the problems and expressing discontent. Ultimately, though, our condition is only negative if there is something better to be offered. Does Suzanne Collins direct her readers to any sort of hope? Is she calling for a change, or merely pointing out that things are bad?

As we reach the end of the games, she does not offer anything better. The best she can come up with is a voice of rebellion—a hint that death would be better than the way things are. But wait! There are two more parts to this trilogy. We can reserve judgment for a time.

Should we hold out hope for hope in Panem? If not, then this is not a story about bread and circuses. Instead it is a disturbing example of the way our society derives pleasure from violence for violence’s sake and of how we search for distraction and entertainment in life rather than meaning.

(See here for thoughts on "Catching Fire")


  1. This is fascinating. I think we must have read completely different books. Maybe its a man/woman perspective. You read a high level political/government/cultural commentary tale that had to come to a conclusion to be satisfying. Interesting the its lack of statement made it somehow flawed for you, especially in your line of work where the lines of black and white are often a much more complicated rainbow of grays. I read a beautifully written first hand account of how trauma and violence devastate the people in its wake. Especially young people who end up being used and abandoned by those whose responsibility it should be to take care of them. These themes get repeated as the books go on. Critics claim the plot slows in the coming books. I disagree. Because the plot is merely the vehicle for her to channel Katniss's thoughts and reactions to being thrust into situations where there are no good choices. And she must learn to live with the horrible things that have been done to her and that she has had to do in order to survive. As a minister in a postmodern context, with so many truly wounded people out there, this book registered with me on a completely different level than just an 'action' book with a familiar plot. It landed a a very well written work of surprising insight into the mind and heart of the wounded.

    1. Sorry, Deanna. I did like the book as a read, I just worry about what I see as the underlying worldview emerging. Don't hate me for tomorrow's follow-up on "Catching Fire"! I don't know if I will have "Mockingjay" read in time to review it for Wednesday yet. Once I get it read, I will be better equipped to discuss the whole story fairly. I may have turned around on the whole thing by then, if not you can work on changing my mind. ;)


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