This time last year I read the Hunger Games trilogy in three days. As N.D. Wilson describes it ‘the books grab like gorilla glue’. However, that is about the only thing I agreed with in Wilson’s review of the trilogy. And I was bitterly disappointed. I love him as a writer and think that he has his finger on the pulse of society’s culture at the moment. Which is why I just could not fathom how he could infer that Suzanne Collins has profoundly misunderstood human societies, ‘arbitrarily forcing a group or character into decisions and actions they would never choose for themselves given the preceding narrative’. Excuse me while I check if we were reading the same book. What is N D on about? This short blog is an imperfect attempt to counter Wilson’s argument and explain why I think Collins has fundamentally captured the state of society today.
I hate to say this, as I feel claiming that someone is such always leaves the writer bereft of affection in the reader’s eyes, but I think N D Wilson is naïve in his portrayal of a hero. He wants a Gladiator like demi-god to step into the Hunger Games, with all of Plutarch’s defiance and Coin’s self-assurance. Instead we get a teenage girl who just wanted to save her sister, and who ends up killing people to live. You’re right, that is messed up. And its not what we hoped for. We don’t like the fact that she plays at all in the Hunger Games. And we aren’t supposed to!
N D Wilson is right, she is self-centered. She is a puppet for much of the second book, and quite far into the third. She is controlled by others, whether that be the capitol or District 13. No, the teenager who was plucked out of the arena at the end of Catching Fire, half collapsed is not the perfect hero. Wilson is right that Katniss disappoints us from the off by entering into the first arena, and then the second. But as Mark Cosper states in his response to Wilson, Maximus (Wilson’s ‘better’ hero from the Gladiator) disappoints as well -a general of the Roman army, an experienced soldier, and a tactician both on and off the battlefield. He would have known how to kill men, and a lot of them. If he is the pure hero who refused to enter into the game of the oppressors Wilson was appealing to, I think he was looking in the wrong place, especially since Maximus is motivated not for some greater good, but to seek vengeance – see ‘husband of a murdered wife’ speech for evidence. Not quite the Christ-model we wanted either.
Something I think Wilson’s review missed, but Cosper touched on slightly, was the culture of the Capitol and the Districts. Wilson wants a classic dark vs light plot, he wants his Gandalf and his Dumbledore and his Lucy, Edward, Susan and Peter. But what we are given in The Hunger Games is surely a more realistic portrayal of a revolutionary. And that is why I think Wilson is fundamentally flawed in his critique of the books. Collins knows us well. It doesn’t take a genius to look up, outside of our safe Western bubble and see countries like Syria – wrestling for revolution and seemingly failing. Lybia, torn apart by factions and fighting, Egypt, swinging between the goodies and the baddies except no one knows which one is which. If you want the perfect revolution then you have chosen the wrong world. There is only one man who was good and his name is Jesus. To look for the ultimate hero in a character who is merely displaying the full palette of human sinfulness and a rare spark of god-likeness is like looking for a cheerio in a bowl you know is only full of Weetabix. Katniss is not meant to be Christ. She is a brilliant portrayal of every weak thought, every misguided naivity and every bold defiance that the human race is capable of. And the society that Collins paints for us is a brilliant mish-mash of light and dark, exactly like real life.
The Hunger Games are sick – and yet scarily realistic. I’m a Celebrity, Jeremy Kyle, Dr Phil, Big Brother, America’s Next Top Model. What is the aim of these programmes? Entertainment at the suffering of someone on a screen. Sometimes we are entertained by their joy, but most of all we are entertained when they are hurting or hurting someone else. The only difference in the Hunger Games is that the reality TV show is used to muster fear not pleasure. One step away. Same Games, different motive. Same people watching. The truth of the matter is, we are not District 12 longing for a hero to save us from oppression. Most of us watching the Hunger Games fit into the Capitol with our crazy hair, stupid make up and unthinkable fashion. If a Katniss came along to take away our ‘pleasure’, we would probably sue her because we demand our rights up here in the Capitol.
My point is that Suzanne Collins has painted a society that is too close to the bone for some of us to realize what she is saying. We are longing for a hero when most of the time we are the ones oppressing the Districts and enabling the Games. We need a Katniss to slap us round the face. What I fear, is that when society takes the step of using our reality games to muster power, division and fear, we won’t realize what is happening. We’ll be as blind as the Capitol.
I vividly remember being at a dinner party once with a Serbian friend who warned us of a dangerous pride. She said, ‘You think you are safe sitting here in your ‘civilised’ country. But my country drowned in its war very quickly. We thought we were civilized too, but then brother turned on neighbor and it all changed.’ And Rwandan friends say the same thing. Don’t think it won’t happen to you in the West – when humans start fighting the depths of sinful darkness spreads out like black ink that cannot be recovered. Civil war might not break out here, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we started putting a little more danger in our reality games for the sake of the viewers. And when the government wants to inspire fear where are they going to turn – to the thing we are all addicted to, our televisions. Albert Einstein said once ‘I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.’ We are sleep walking into that idiocy.
To return to Katniss, she is not the Christ-like figure we look for. She is an imperfect hero who stands up against a regime for right and wrong reasons. She is a girl torn by the desire to preserve life and preserve herself. She is a woman haunted by the things she has done and the things done to her. She is a person hurting from the pain inflicted on the people she loves and wanting justice to be done. And the great affliction for her and us as readers at the end of the book is that we haven’t moved from dystopia to utopia. Things are still broken. Everything is fragile. In 2013 we don’t have colosseums to watch the expendable killing each other. We do it on TV’s with words. In 2000 years we haven’t moved from dystopia to utopia, we are in a mess. And we need a perfect Saviour to remove our iniquities and peel away this shadow to reveal the new world that is waiting.