The Hunger Games

I read the Trilogy , as did the Equuschick, Jenny, and Pip. The 16 y.o. did not read them because she doesn’t like dystopian fiction. The 13 y.o. did not read them because he is not allowed to yet for reasons that are mostly specific to our family and our son. However, one of them is that he is not at an age where it’s helpful to him to read about some of the details in the book. My husband and older girls went to the see the movie along with Strider, who also read them. They said all the details that would be problematic for the 13 y.o. were pretty much absent from the movie, although the language was worse. My 13 and 16 year old took me out to the movie for a birthday present (they provided candy, a coke, and popcorn, too.  Aren’t they sweet?).

I liked the movie. I thought they did a good job. I wondered if somebody hadn’t read the books if there weren’t some things that might be confusing, but my youngest two picked up on everything I thought they might miss. I did think at one point there was going to be a drastic change to Peetah’s character, and that would have been completely unacceptable, but that didn’t happen.

It’s always a bit of a risk to review the first book in a trilogy.  The Hunger Games is one body of work where this is particularly true.  It’s a trilogy for a reason, and not just because Collins wanted to tell a story over more time than one book would have given her.

There are two reviews in particular that I read recently that illustrate this point.

I guess you might call the next paragraphs spoilers, although I’m not sharing details.  But if you don’t like spoilers of any sort at all, you should skip off to some other post now.

This one is by Doug Wilson, who has more smarts, deeper insights, and bigger vocabulary words in his little pinkie fingernail than I have in my brain.  When he talks about the game of Scruples he makes an interesting point in his amusing style (amusing for those who like spiritual skewers, and I confess, I do).  And, as I said, he is way smarter and keener of intellect than I.  However, when it comes to The Hunger Games, there is something else he is: nonetheless mistaken:

Katniss volunteers to take her place, which is good and sacrificial and noble, and that is the point of the whole set up. 

I am pretty sure anybody who has read the full trilogy can spot the flaw in that.  If you’ve only read the first book (or only seen the movie), then of course you agree with him. You’re supposed to. That’s what Collins craftily wishes you to think, right up until somewhere in the middle of the third and final book.  But I think if you read the three books you will reach a different conclusion.  Not only is that sacrifice not the’ point of the whole set up’, Katniss herself is not even the point of the book. She’s not even the ‘hero,’ and the Equuschick and I don’t even consider her the main character.  These are the mistakes made by a reviewer who has only read one book in the trilogy, possibly two, but definitely not the third.

So if you are going to allow your children to read the book, you’re in it for all three books.  That won’t be hard. I’m not sure how anybody reads the first book and stops there.  I was so anxious to see what came next that when I finished the first book and discovered I was something like 12th on the waiting list for book two, I did something I have never done and paid more than a dollar or two to get Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) on my Kindle so I could begin immediately. (Of course, that was before unemployment).

But back to the reviews.

 Here Wilson is more right than even he knows:

Katniss is tough and edgy enough to be a survivor in the Hunger Games (which means she will have to kill other people’s brothers and sisters), and soft enough to be likeable. The reader can begin to identify with her . . . if the reader takes his eye off the ball. I don’t like books that make me choose between the fat guy and the skinny guy.

It’s a minor quibble, but I have to say that Katniss is not that likeable, nor is she really supposed to be, IMO. One of the most common things I hear from others is that they found her very annoying, or irritating. People kept reading because of the gripping plot, not the finely crafted writing (because it’s not so finely crafted) and so much because of Katniss’ charms as in spite of them.It’s also a running theme through the book- she isn’t likable, and she knows it, and she has to work to get others to like her. 

But about that ball…. .  Wilson thinks he kept his eye on the ball, but while he was looking at a ball, the author exchanged it for a pea, and she put it in under a cup in a classic bit of misdirection. She will reveal the misdirection and the pea in the third book.

Another reviewer who missed that pea is Kevin Swanson, who went to watch it with his daughter Emily.  He says he was horrified, and here is the first thing that horrified him:

It was the fact that there were two audiences watching the game, and everybody on both sides of the screen was rooting for the winner.

Awkward. But then again, Collins has done her work well, very well. Having read all three books in the trilogy, I think the first sentence here is one with which the author of the books would agree.  I further think this point of view she comes around to revealing in volume 3, rather adeptly turning the tables on her readers.

It was the fact that there are 50 million children who are raised with no concept of a 1500-year legacy of Christian ethics in the west.  They are being programmed to accept situational ethics of the most brutal form.  During the Nazi and the Communist holocausts of the previous century, at least one nation still held to a Judeo-Christian ethical base of some sort.  That is disappearing now.  The Brave New World inaugurates when the Harry Potter and Hunger Games generation matures – in about 15 years.  Things are going to get interesting.

The second paragraph here is a bit of a litmus test, really.  If you are a professing Christian and it makes you uncomfortable, fidgety, even the tiniest smidgeon of resentful, I suspect that would be because you have imbibed a way of thinking which reveals just how desensitized most of us are to a relentlessly secular worldview in which our culture is steeped. Personally, I think what he says here is a great springboard for an excellent discussion with your kids, one you could have profitably many times.

Things you might discuss as a Christian family:  Why didn’t it even occur to Collins that there might be people of any faith at all in her dystopian future, Christians who might have something relevant to say?  Was that deliberate or worse, an oversight because Christians have become so negligible an influence in the present?  Can there by truly dystopian futures if Christians are doing their jobs.  Yes, no, kind of?  What would a Christian’s role be in such a time and place (look to the Christian martyrs of the early centuries in Rome for clues, or in modern day Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Turkmenistan, the Sudan, and on and on and on.. 

The absence of Christians from the pages is an interesting discussion point for this or any other book these days, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Once upon a time Nancy Drew went to church, John Christopher include a people called the Kris in his dystopian future, and Susan B. Cooper’s Dark is Rising series was not unsympathetic to Christian faith at its start.  I don’t agree that the absence of Christians (in praxis,not merely in name) from the pages of The Hunger Games is a sound reason not to read the book unless it is a sound reason not to read any book published since 1950. There are reasons, for those who want them. It’s not like this is the next great Fahrenheit 451 or Animal Farm, so you don’t need reasons or permission if you prefer not to read the trilogy.  While I would encourage anybody who is going to read them to read all three of them before publishing reviews which may come back to nip you, I don’t see the point in encouraging somebody who doesn’t want to read them at all to start.

In spite of my disagreement with Swanson and Wilson on their main point, it’s better than the Harry Potter debacle,when countless believers offered opinions and reviews on the books when they obviously hadn’t read one of them, and said reviews were often riddled with errors. In fact, much better, even though I think most of the above criticisms miss the mark when it comes to the point of The Hunger Games.

But what I really find even more interesting is the positive reviews of the series based only on a reading of the first book or a viewing of the first movie which are also egregiously wrong, possibly even more so.  That’s always a little bit risky with a trilogy, but it seems especially, well, prone to error, with this one.

Here is one examples:

If you’ve been ignoring “The Hunger Games” because you think it is nothing more than trite tween escapism, you’re making a mistake. It is an action-packed ode to freedom that any small-government conservative will love.

And here is another:

Hollywood bigwigs would sooner vote for Rick Santorum than make a movie promoting conservative themes, but whether they realize it or not, that’s exactly what they’ve done with The Hunger Games.

And this one, written by somebody who admits he’s only halfway through the second book at the time of writing hiw review:

The Hunger Games has a huge conservative Christian message. Interestingly though, it doesn’t come at you overtly. This is the story that takes place in the remains of the United States after the demonic liberals have succeeded in erasing God and Christ from the culture completely by successfully creating their own Utopia- which is really a distopian nightmare for anyone not in the liberal ruling class. The ruling class lives in Panem, a hipped-out modern capitol city. The inhabitants are all a bunch of trust-fund children of trust-fund children of trust-fund children who live meaningless lives without consequence. We know they’re all liberals because they have wild haircuts, facial tattoos and cat-whisker implants. That, and they live a life with no consequence, completely oblivious that others don’t have that luxury.

Um, wow.

Am I the only one who suspects that a number of gung-ho, fight the evil empire types are going to like this series much less than they do now when they finally get to the third book? 

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20 Comments

  1. Mama Squirrel
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Did I mention that our public-high-schooled ninth grader is studying this book right now in English class?

  2. Rick
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Well done! I don't know that I'll ever have time to read these books (three of us have, and really liked them), but the third-book twist you hint at is exactly the sort of thing I like–not so much for the thrill itself, but to see how she does it.

    I'm also curious about books that aren't high literature and don't pretend to be, yet still manage to say profound and powerful things. Sometimes we forget that technique is only a means to an end and not the end in itself. This passage from David McFarland reminded me of that:

    I was watching American Idol last night, and Randy Jackson said something that you will hear over and over again when anyone discusses any art form, yet he said it simply enough to make it profound. He said, “The purpose of a song isn’t just to show off your skills, go through the riffs and croons, it’s to transmit emotion to the audience.” You have to make them feel, in order for the experience to be genuine. This is true in painting, it’s true in singing, and it’s true in storytelling.

    Transmitting emotion isn’t hard. It can be done by fairly inept writers whose only skill seems to be in building interesting characters and conveying scenes just enough so that the reader is transported. Any bestseller is doing it. But you can take it to a higher level.

    I'm suspicious of any singer/writer/songwriter who doesn't recognize this, since they often mistakenly attribute the power to technique, rather than the message that technique is used to convey.

  3. Malcolm Kirkpatrick
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    Your essay has the flavor of Orwell's literary reviews ("Inside the Whale", "Raffles and Mrs. Blandish"): wide ranging, direct, and informal. It was a pleasure to read. Your meditation on the waning of the Christian ethical tradition deserves a mental bookmark or totem, so that omens will be read when they appear.

    Great comment above. I listened to Maddie Grace sing "Mary, did you know" on youtube just before I clicked on over here.

    From a devout Materialist (non-Christian),
    thank you.

  4. Cindy Watson
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I love the Hunger Games trilogy, love her other series much more. I also have not read the last one. My husband left me right when Mockingjay came out. I still have no been able to read good storytellers with deception in them( majority of books out there!) Love your review and the questions it raises. Which John Christopher has a character named "Kris" ?

  5. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Cindy, you come across as having a raw courage I can only admire.

    I may be remembering wrong, but I read all of John Christopher's books I could find in jr high and high school, and I thought I remembered one where the post-apocolyptic world contains a tribe of people called the Kris, who are not necessarily nice- their Christian traditions, like most of the other survivors, have degenerated in the case of the Kris into something cruel- but the book ends hopefully, when in the wake of their destruction in another war, one of the survivors takes their sacred book (which is obviously the Bible) and plans to use it to rebuild.

    The Sword of the Spirit trilogy is another post apocalyptic world which kind of resembles a combination of Rome and Druidic England. The Christians are a despised minority, but they are good and decent people. Their decency largely is why they are despised.

    There are also Christians in his Fireball series- in the beginning they are an oppressed minority, but in the end they have achieved power and abuse it just as much as their oppressors did (abuse of power is a frequent theme in his work).

  6. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Rick and Malcolm, thank-you so much for your kind words.Mama Squirrel, I really like The Hunger Games. There are far worse books she could be reading and there is good stuff in them.

    I am thinking I must have mixed up the sci fi book with the Kris in it, it must have been by another author. I was cleaning out the sci fi shelves at that time.

    However, I also just found, sadly, that John Christopher (Sam Youd) only died this past February.=(

    There is a fascinating interview with him here.

    "Q. It seems like the great theme of your work is freedom, which unfortunately is rarely in the proper amount. Sometimes there’s too little, like in the moon Bubble or a Wild Jack city, and sometimes there’s too much, like in The Ragged Edge where anarchy brings terrible suffering. If that‘s right, can you tell me why?

    A. As with the overwhelming majority of writers I don’t have a moral programme to enforce, and I feel it should fall to someone else to analyse any preoccupations that crop up. But I also feel that the main one is not freedom but responsibility. The apple tempting my characters (in The Lotus Caves especially) is not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil but its sinister twin, the Tree of Ignorance. See also The Guardians: wouldn’t it be nice to accept the good life and not worry? Or would it?"

    And there I learned that I always misunderstood The Lotus Caves.

    Also mildly interesting- in most of his books Global Cooling is a background issue. =)

  7. SchrefflerFamily
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Hrms. I LOVE Suzanne Collins Gregor the Overlander series but have been avoiding Hunger Games because the premise turned my stomach. You almost make me wonder if I should read it anyway. But the thing is — is it worth 2.5 books that I'm going to cringe at to get to the carrot?

  8. Timotheus
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I have the first book (it was a Christmas present), but I've been slow getting into it because of an issue that you didn't even mention yet — present tense. What I've read is not as jarring as I expected, but I still think that present tense novels are a gimmicky fad that essentially constitute reader abuse.

  9. Melanie
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Oh, yes, well worth it. (And we are Gregor fans, too, hi!) There is just so much in the trilogy. The first is my personal favorite, the second not so much, then a great wrap-up in the end.

    The premise sounds awful only if you don't understand the history and the "why" of how their society got there. On the surface, with minimal explanation, it just sounds like all of society has gone bad. That couldn't be farther from the truth.

  10. twolittlehands
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Having read all 3 books in the trilogy to try and find something redeeming, I was unable to. I recently discovered a blog that voices all that I find objectionable in the Hunger Games much more eloquently than I, currently they are the first 4 posts available.

    http://www.misfitcygnet.com/

    While I love your blog and generally can't wait to hear your opinion this time I disagree.

  11. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Timotheus, I really dislike the writing style. I only read them because I was trapped in the car with Pip who was listening to them on CD on the drive. By the time she got through the first CD I wanted to know more.

    Twolittlehands, I did say I would never encourage anybody to read them, only if you start, you should read all three before deciding what they are about.

    As for finding nothing redeeming, that seems a bit extreme. For me, Peeta was the redeeming feature. He is the star of the show. His is the voice of the author.

    Essentially, they are pacifist books, and I am not a pacifist. But I did enjoy them.

    Sarah, I really cannot answer that question for you. I don't know if you'll find them worthwhile or not. While I liked them there are, as I said, also good reasons not to read them. It's just that Wilson and Swann were wrong about what they are.

    Thanks for the link to misfitcygnet. I agree with soem of what she said (the nude scenes are why my son can't read the books), but I disagree with a lot of others.

  12. Cindy Watson
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    love the info about John Christopher, I'm going to have to go re-read the Lotus Caves!!! I have re-read over and over his tripod series. And I love Gregor the Overlander!!

  13. raventhreads
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I'm really enjoying this series right now (midway through the second), and I am excited to hear that there are some good twists and turns ahead 🙂

  14. Frances
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    "We know they’re all liberals because they have wild haircuts, facial tattoos and cat-whisker implants."

    Thanks for that – best laugh all week!

    I've read the first two books and put off the third, feeling rather overwhelmed with death and destruction, but have ordered it from the library.

    I don't usually find first person or present tense narration distracting if the story grabs me.

  15. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Francis, I know. It cracked me up, too. I thought you'd like it.

    Twolittlehands, thanks again for the link to the misfitcygnet page. I am really enjoying reading her other posts. Very interesting blogger.

  16. Rick
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    DHM,

    After just finishing the first book of the trilogy, I went ahead and read the Doug Wilson post you linked. You are far too kind to say that Wilson was simply mistaken. He knew what he wanted to say about this book before he picked it up. How quickly must he have skimmed the book in order to write this? This describes the book Wilson assumes Collins wrote, not the book she actually wrote:

    The author does not reveal whether or not Katniss will be willing to kill when it gets down the bitter end, and her opponents are innocents like she is. In other words, you have a likeable protagonist who is fully expecting to do something that is perfectly appalling by the end of the book.

    I'll grant that going in I had the advantage of your advice, and paid fairly close attention to how Katniss was portrayed. But still!

  17. Rick
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    DHM,

    I just finished the trilogy last night. The books are definitely anti-war, but I wouldn't call them pacifist. Pacifism proposes a specific answer to the problem of war, while I think the trilogy deliberately avoids proposing one. Which I think allows Collins to paint a fuller picture, since she's not burdened by the need to make a case–and slant the story in its favor.

    Myself, I see Peeta and Katniss as judges out of time, heroes who could have delivered the people if only the people wanted to be delivered. Instead, the people (both Capitol and rebels) chose to put their faith in princes, with predictable results. Peeta and Katniss both continually chose to do what was right in their own eyes, making them impervious to being co-opted–and ultimately irrelevant.

    Since this thread seems to be done, I'll be rude and quote the entirety of 1 Samuel 1:8, which for me explains the puzzle of why godly government is so elusive.

    And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.

    Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”

    So Samuel spoke all the words of the LORD to the people who had asked of him a king. He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

    Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” Now after Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the LORD’S hearing. The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and appoint them a king.” So Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”

  18. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 9, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    You know, I knew that pacifist wasn't the word I wanted almost as soon as I typed it. I kept meaning to go back and change it, but I never got around to it. It's not pacifist, but a lot of people who thought this was conservative red meat are going to having a dish of another sort on their faces when they finish the third book.

    I'm glad you finished the series and enjoyed it, or rather, appreciated it. I liked it the first time, but the more I think about it, the more I like it, and I think I will read it again.

    • Jennifer B
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      I am glad to see this comment. I had finished The Hunger Games trilogy about three weeks before this was posted, and saw the movie on opening night. When I read this entry and the comments I was just sort of dumbfounded as to how you could have found the books to be pacifist. As someone who considers herself to be a pacifist of a fairly hard set sort, I could not see that as the result of these books. In fact, the end left me feeling highly uncomfortable, exactly because this change up midway through book 3 lead to a story that I fear happening here and now. And that terrifies me. The way all civilians fighting the government with war and not discussion terrifies me, as valuable as I am willing to admit the second amendment is. So landing back at this entry and seeing that pacifist is not the right word gives me a bit of relief. I, too, would like to reread the series, but the stomach-turning end makes me wary of my reaction, so I’ll not be doing it in the near future.

      • Headmistress, zookeeper
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        I think the author would agree with you that fighting the government with war and not discussion is terrifying. That’s the reaction I believe she was aiming for.

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