A little belatedly, I would like to add my two cents to the conversation about The Hunger Games, specifically responding to: this Gospel Coalition blog‘s guest post (where author ND Wilson whines about how bad readers are at reading) and this concerned father’s post (which floated around my circles on Facebook for a while).
1. You’re not done reading Hunger Games until you’ve read all three.
2. You heard me. Read. Not watch. The movie is a companion to the book, flattened by the need to streamline the story.
3. Do not compare Hunger Games to Harry Potter. Do not compare Hunger Games to Twilight. Why do people do this? Fantasy is not the same genre as science fiction is not the same genre as romance.
4. Do not be confused. Suzanne Collins is the author. She gets to decide what situation her characters are thrown into. I’m sorry it’s not something you see happening this week in middle class America. But sometimes ethical choices are really hard, and Collins decided to make the circumstances in her story extreme to highlight something, to drive home her message.
5. Katniss is a round, consistent, complex, original character. She is revealed to us over the course of the three books. In the first book, she was not a revolutionary. She takes the easy way out sometimes. She lets the Capitol manipulate her. Wilson says, “She needs to stop giving a rip about her own survival (the most dangerous men and women always forget themselves).”
I respond with his own words: “File this under misunderstanding humanity, which is just another way of saying that [Wilson] misunderstands courage, inspiration, oppression, and nobility.”
As Katniss develops she does choose the harder path and suffers for the sake of everyone who the Capitol is oppressing. But let’s not forget that every human hero remains human. Jesus is the perfect hero–he forgot himself completely in his heroic acts. Katniss is a human character–she will still act within her flawed nature.
6. Peeta. How I love Peeta. Wilson’s accusations against him descend from a flawed understanding of gender. “[Peeta is] fundamentally passive and submissive,” Wilson says, using that as ground to bash Peeta for letting Katniss initiate their relationship. Read this blog post and look again at the accusations from Wilson. Someone has their knickers in a twist over middle class Victorian ideals.
Peeta is, in fact, fundamentally passive and submissive. What I don’t understand is why ND up there thinks that’s such a bad thing. I’m thinking of that perfect hero again, and how he was led like a lamb to the slaughter and did not open his mouth. Passive and submissive? Yes. The ideal heroism.
7. Yes, refusing to eat the berries could inspire a rebellion.
8. Gratuitous violence is violence that doesn’t have a point. Hunger Games violence in the arena and in the battles to follow serves the specific function of driving home a point about the nature of culture and violence. So… it’s not gratuitous.
9. A potty mouth, let us be clear, uses swear words excessively. Katniss says “hell” and “damn” at appropriate moments of surprise or anger.
10. Why would portrayal of “a body-pierced homosexual” offering “respite from the madness” be a problem? Who were “Dad and Emily” even talking about? What?
11. Cheer for the right winner.
The Generations With Vision post summarized like this: “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.” I included this post in my discussion at all because of this point–one that I considered as I sat in the theater at midnight watching Katniss being called into the arena.
But “Dad and Emily” miss what the Capitol audience is cheering for. The Capitol audience is not inside Katniss’s head like the reader is. It sees star-crossed lovers when we see Katniss struggling to keep her family safe. The Capitol audience cheers for its favorites in the arena, thriving on the bloodshed, and then wonders what’s for lunch, while the reader suffers with Katniss as she agonizes over her position in the arena, as she slowly learns to shake off the presuppositions that the Capitol has relentlessly driven into her worldview.
Suzanne Collins wrote a page turner. She trusted her readers to be thinking as they read. Hunger Games succeeds in making people think about difficult ethical dilemmas, violence in entertainment, and the making of a hero. But the books actually give an answer, the right answer. Collins doesn’t stop with making you ask questions; she answers them.
But I don’t want to give anything away. Go read the books. All three.