Hungry for stories

I did something I didn’t mean to this weekend: I finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy. I probably shouldn’t have: I had grading to do ad infinitum, an (academic) book to read, lessons to plan, assignments to complete. I was short on sleep from staying up chatting with my couchsurfer/apparent long-lost twin. But I sat down and read two novels in one evening (mirroring last weekend, when I read the first book one day and saw the film the next).

The HG books are good. Really good. They’re fast, intense, emotionally engaging. I was a wreck a few times during Catching Fire. Twenty minutes after I finished reading, I went to the store and bought Mockingjay. I had to know the ending. I love reading good young adult fiction, and this is.

There’s no way I could sort out all my feelings and opinions about the series in a single blog post, less than 48 hours after reading. The closest I can come to a review right now is to tell you to read the books. And maybe see the movie, too. And definitely listen to the movie soundtrack (Neko Case and Civil Wars and Carolina Chocolate Drops, oh my!).

What I’ve been thinking about is the series’ popularity. I’m a bit of a latecomer where jumping on the HG bandwagon is concerned. I had some idea that the books were around and popular—friends would put up Facebook statuses like “Does anyone have the 3rd Hunger Games book? Can I borrow it RIGHT NOW?” And I knew a lot of people were excited for the movie.

This is not a new phenomenon—it reminds me of what happened with Twilight (which I haven’t read/seen) and Harry Potter (which I have read and loved) and, to a lesser extent, His Dark Materials (good books that I read to see what all the conservative fuss was about).

And where there are popular books/movies, there are people to parse deeper themes, often/particularly religious themes—you know, the The Gospel According to [Franchise] book that always comes out? Now, I’m not opposed to reading “Christianly.” I’d like to think I do so, with my Calvin College education (including my year as a “cultural discerner”), but I don’t think reading Christianly means hypervigilance regarding religious themes. Do we really need another pop-culture Bible study? Is this relevance?

 

I actually think HG has fewer religious overtones than the other popular young adult franchises I mentioned, and I suspect that inserting explicit spirituality into the books would’ve weakened them (this from someone who has read her share of Christian fiction). What I think the HG series is is a compelling story rich with an exploration of the human condition. This is what makes it powerful. Of course there are things for Christians to learn, to draw from, to think about—there are things for everyone. This is a story for humans.

The richness of the HG story is what draws me to it, and it is what creates resonance with my Christianity, with the story at my center. People are hungry for stories; I think that can be seen in the recent popularity of HG, HP, and others. This week, Holy Week, is a powerful reminder that as Christians we wrestle with one of the most compelling stories of all—that of Christ crucified and resurrected.

The Hunger Games trilogy is not a glitter-and-sunshine fairytale. It is haunting, and troubling, and—I think—ultimately beautiful. The final book in particular has met with very mixed responses from readers. One Amazon reviewer complains that at the end of Mockingjay, we are left with no redemption for Katniss. I don’t agree; I think there is redemption in story.

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Have you read the Hunger Games books? Seen the movie? What did you think? What are your favorite stories, and what do they mean to you?

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