We loved Suzanne Collins’ trilogy The Hunger Games (THG). While the movie is okay, we think the books are great. So, when we set out to do a meta-review of Christian writing on THG, we knew we would be biased.
We were curious about how Christians responded to this recent best-selling, blockbuster cultural phenomenon. How far have we come from The Last Temptation of Christ boycotts or the Harry Potter witch hunts? Would the Christian community’s response be fearful, measured, cautious, sophisticated, enthusiastic, or all of these things at the same time? Would THG be viewed as an ally or an enemy?
These questions, and more, drove us to read 32 THG reviews. We gravitated toward reviews on blogs and online magazines because of the ease of access and because it provided us with a group of reviewers from diverse backgrounds (scholars, mothers, college students, reformed Protestants, Anglicans, Catholics, etc.) Even still, we can hardly claim that our study is representative of American Christianity on the whole, but we hope that it gives us some insights into the way that many Christians are engaging with THG.
Of the 32 reviews we read, 23 were positive, 6 were negative and 3 were on the fence. We were pleasantly surprised to find Christians engaging with THG on many levels. The themes discussed in the reviews included: worldview, violence, social justice, public persona, gender issues, human dignity, Christ imagery, dystopian genre, religion, love, and self-sacrifice. Worldview and violence were, by far, the most popular topics for discussion.
We found it interesting that the majority of reviewers who focused on the worldview of THG also received the books very negatively. Douglas Wilson, for example, claims there is nothing it can teach us about “setting our hearts on what is noble and right”.
Those who found THG to be valuable were able to reflect upon their contemporary situation in light of THG. For many, the priviledged Capitol is a clever foil for affluent American society. Julie Clawson writes:
The power of the Capitol where people live in luxury, demand constant entertainment, and are unused to want, directly parallels the power Western countries hold over the developing world today.
Reviewers most interested in worldview, however, typically did not use THG in this way. Some wanted THG to portray a Christian worldview, or, because THG does not portray a Christian worldview, they assumed it portrays such a different worldview that there is little of value to be gleaned. The Hipster Conservative says that THG is simply a “nihilistic world in which evil actions can be excused based on necessity.”
Violence received a lot of attention because it, like witchcraft in Harry Potter, was the objectionable content. Overwhelmingly, Christian reviewers felt that the violence was justified and appropriate. Only two reviewers had mixed feelings about the violence. Marty Troyer, a pacifist, suggests that THG offers a rich picture of the way the world is. Matt Gunter responds to the violence in THG by reading it in light of the Christian history of martyrdom.
One theme that received far too little attention is the complex relationship between personal and public persona. Paul Miller insightfully observes, “Katniss is a cipher for what we become when we are saturated in social media, unable to escape the eyes of digital observers.”
The most interesting question we came away with after reading THG was “How do you read a book?” Some of the reviewers reflect on this very question. N. D. Wilson writes,
As you watch, as you read, shoulder your way into the creator’s chair. Don’t take the final product for granted, analyze the creator’s choices and cheerfully push them in new and different directions. As we do this, the clarity of our criticism will grow immensely. Which is to say, we’ll be suckered far less often than we currently are.
We aren’t sure how, exactly, we’re being suckered, but we do think that this description of reading sounds too pushy.
When we read a book, we need to allow it to have some integrity; to have a voice of its own. Ginny Owens writes:
Collins didn’t create a world in which Katniss can be the kind of hero we want. By the end of the trilogy, the survivors are shells of who they once were, partly because of the choices they made along the way, and partly because of effects of the—can I say war?—against the Capitol and its horrors. The world of the novels simply does not allow the kind of heroism some people are looking for. But we can’t stop at that observation. We must ask why Collins creates her fanciful world this way—what point is she making?
The joy of reading a good book is also the challenge of having one’s expectations challenged and questioned. If you haven’t done so already, we hope you pick up THG and give it a try.
Emily Watkins has a masters from Regent College in applied theology. She is a homemaker and keeps a daily blog on the extra-ordinary of daily mothering and domestic arts. Jim is Emily’s husband, and he is assistant editor at Transpositions.
Reviews: Wes Bredenhof, Chloe, Douglas Wilson, N.D. Wilson, A.T. Ross, Rick Garnett, Father Ernest Daly, J. W. Wartrick, Kate O’Brien, Diane Butler Bass, Matt Gunter, Meghan Murphy-Gill, Marty Troyer, Brad Williams, Julie Clawson (1, 2, 3), Carissa Smith (1, 2, 3), Ethan Bartlett, Rev. Robert Barron, John Gardener, Janie B. Cheaney, Hipster Conservative, April Allbriton, Monica Selby, Kingdom Civics, Ginny Owens, Jann FritzHuspen, Paul Miller, Father John Hollowell.