I’m a big fan of honesty in fiction.
I don’t want cookie-cutter personalities, saccharine love, or shallow stereotypes. I want the author to convince me to cheer for heroes and against villains – and I want to know why the heroes and villains are worthy of the label. I want grit and beauty, despair and hope, love and loss. If a story tells me what the world is like, I don’t mind if it’s happy or grim. I want actions to have real consequences, and I want to feel like I ought to feel if the same situation were happening in real life.
I want to believe that some things are worth fighting for and some things are not, and I want to be reminded that people can be redeemed though not all will be.
That kind of honesty.
In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins is honest about the future of world entirely without God. She does not give even the slightest nod to God or religion. As a Christian, I don’t mind. Ms. Collins has done a stellar job introducing a YA audience to a dystopian, godless future that reveals the horrors of unbridled human nature. If an author is going to write about a world without God, then show a world without God. I just want the story to be honest about how awful that world would be – and it is.
- There is no Higher Power to give objective standard for justice. Neitzsche said that when everybody understands that God is dead, they will know they are beyond such petty labels as “good” and “evil” and will simply exercise power. In The Hunger Games, what happens when one corrupt regime is replaced? The next regime moves in with the seeds of corruption already sown. The State kills people without benefit of trial or proof; so does President Snow. So do the rebels. Gale might just be the ideal Neitzschean Superman, finally able to move beyond attachments and emotions and wield his power on behalf of a regime that is new, but not that different.
- There is no Higher Standard for morality. Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote: “If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place. It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner.” Neil Postman once noted, “Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.” Collins’ world without God captures both these possibilities. Those in the Capital who are not abusing or being abused by power are consumed with ease and pleasure. The rebels “fight the system,” but what can they offer to replace it? They are already intoxicated with the power they have. The distorted pleasure will follow, as we see foreshadowed in the agreement to have yet another Game.
- There is no source of hope outside ourselves. Where does one find hope in the midst of the brutality and pain? The only thing the book offers is relationships with others. While I believe in the meaningfulness of community and companionship, that is the only hope in the story. Justice is either brutal, corrupted, or vigilante, and no ultimate justice will one day make things right. There are no miracles, no unblemished saviors, no trustworthy authority figures. There is only others – and even the hope found in them is broken. (The last chapter in the series is simultaneously hopeful and tragic – a measure of peace has been found, but it’s a broken hallelujah).
- There is no purpose to history. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited, White, the nihilistic atheist, says: “The darker picture is always the correct one. When you read the history of the world you are reading a saga of bloodshed and greed and folly the import of which is impossible to ignore. And yet we imagine that the future will somehow be different.” What will happen in Katniss’s world? No way to tell, really, but White appears to be correct. If there were a Book Four, I suspect we would see the new government looking more and more like the old regime. Even the best of the rebels seemed to lose their soul by the time the revolution was complete. The Mockingjay can only repeat what it knows; like the iconic bird, the individual characters appear to be only echoes of the people and events that have formed them. Why should governments be exempt?
Collins did not shy away from the reality of the world she created. There were no false moments. If one can learn truth equally well through a story that shows compelling good as well as disgusting evil, The Hunger Games has done a lot in the service of truth, even if the story is disturbing and grim.
I’d much rather read a story that takes life seriously than one that insults us with beautiful lies. At least now we are in the realm of truth, and the Truth of Christ has the ability to bring hope, life, and light into very dark lives indeed.
(A version of this post appeared originally on empiresandmangers.blogspot.com: http://empiresandmangers.blogspot.com/2012/03/deeper-hungers-and-darker-games.html)
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