I read the book before I knew I was too old. It was only when I was through with the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy that I found out that it was “young adult fiction.” I guess I must be young at heart because I loved it. In my opinion it is much more profound than most of the “old adult fiction” I have read recently.
I am always looking for interesting books to read. As a pastor I try to keep in touch with what mainstream society is reading and thinking. So I regularly peruse the best-seller lists and buy books that linger in the top ten. (The exception to that rule is the romance novels. Sorry, I can’t bring myself to read this so-called “mommy porn.”)
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books have been on the USA Today Best Seller list for over two years. Today they hold the top three slots. They are science fiction, a genre that I enjoy. More specifically they are set in a dystopian future, like the Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. So I downloaded it onto my Kindle and started reading. I could not stop reading until I was finished with all three novels.
For those who are unfamiliar with the books, they take place in the not-too-distant future in North America. The United States has been destroyed by an apocalyptic event and replaced with Panem, with its Capitol in the Rocky Mountains. The continent is divided into twelve districts, one of which was later destroyed for its rebellion against the state.
To keep the districts under its thumb, the Capitol annually requires each district to choose two teenagers to fight to the death in the televised Hunger Games, an event which is a believable hybrid of the TV show Survivor and the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome.
I will tell you why I like the books. First of all they are a scathing critique of American popular culture and politics. The painted coiffed residents of the Capitol are too reminiscent of the cultural elite of our nation. I felt like I was watching the Oscars!
The economy of Panem is easily recognizable as the class warfare decried by Occupy movement - the one percent versus the ninety-nine percent. The government of Panem is the oligarchy of American politics. It is the Demopublican party of the USA, which sends its young men and women to die in war as a way to keep itself in power.
The heroine of the novels is a sixteen year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen. She is the perfect heroine for our time because she is not perfect. She is a deeply flawed and wounded person; in other words she is real. She is deeply spiritually connected with nature; she regularly escapes the prison of her urban ghetto to hunt in the forests of the former West Virginia.
Most important she is willing to lay down her life. At the Reaping (where the tributes from each district are chosen by lot) Katniss volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Prim. She is Christ at Gabbatha, the one who saves another by taking her place. Later at the end of the Game, she offers her life again, showing this was no fleeting emotional outburst, but the core of her character.
And she is a warrior. This is a theme that is missing from much of Christianity today. I was reacquainted with it when I read John Bunyan’s book “The Holy War,” a book just as profound as his more well-known Pilgrim’s Progress. She fights! But she sees that the true fight is not against the flesh and blood of the other tributes in the arena, but against the principalities and powers operating behind the scenes.
This is a deeply spiritual book, even though I do not know if the author is traditionally religious. There are other important themes as well. I will only mention one. There is the secondary theme of the power of art to transform and save. True art is practiced by the hero Peeta versus the faux art of the culture. It is redeeming art, which is deeply connected to Nature, the human soul and the power of love.
That is all I have room to say here. You will have to read the books for yourself. But I warn you. They are revolutionary. If the youth of our nation are inspired by books like these, the future will not be like our present.