Why? What about this story has grabbed hold of so many? I'm sure there are as many answers as there are fans, but I have a few thoughts.
There are so many directions I could go with this. There is the fact that it is about finding out who you really are in the midst of adversity. There is the disturbing commentary on our society today. Panem in a lot of ways is an extreme version of our culture: the premium value put on entertainment, the reality TV phenomenon, the disregard for the poor and outcast, and the utter devaluing of human life. There is how Katniss learns that love is a choice, not a feeling, a lesson lost on our romance-addicted culture. All of that is in there and more.
But all that is symptomatic of our deepest needs, our ultimate purpose, the reason we were placed on earth. Whether Ms. Collins meant to or not, she has struck at the heart of who we are. And why stories like this mean so much to us. Ultimately, The Hunger Games trilogy is a story of redemption, setting captives free, and standing up for "the least of these." And doing so at great personal cost. It reminds me alot of a true story, one that happened about 3,500 years ago.
Spoilers ahead both for the movie and ALL THREE BOOKS
If you haven't read the whole trilogy, you'll want to stop here. But please read it soon and then come back!
"What am I going to do?" I whisper to the walls. Because I don't really know...What they want from me is to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. (Katniss Everdeen, Mockingjay, Chapter 1)At this point in the story, Katniss is being asked to do something great, something a lot bigger than herself.
The whole story has been leading to it. In fact, that is one of the the things I love so much about the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games. By cutting back to the Capitol during the games, they give us a glimpse into what Katniss is unwittingly stirring up back in the districts of Panem. We see concern growing among the powerful, and hope growing among the downtrodden. (The cutaway to unrest in District 11 is priceless.) So as the first movie comes to an end, and President Snow delivers his passive-aggressive little speech, we know something much bigger is afoot.
So she struggles. Is this her destiny? Is it worth it? Is there even a chance of it working out? Most of all, will she risk her own personal interests (including her family) to do something great? We know that she is capable of great sacrifice, because when we first met her she volunteered to meet near-certain death on behalf of her sister. And she has been willing to die in order that Peeta might live. So can she do it again?
What am in going to do? Is there any point in doing anything at all? Of course I hate the Capitol, but I have no confidence that my being the Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring it down...What am I going to do? Could any good I do possibly outweigh the damage?How many times has this been asked? I'm just one person. Do you ever feel that way?
But then, due to a shocking event she witnesses involving someone she loves, she ends up here:
What am I going to do? I take a deep breath. My arms rise slightly - as if recalling the black-and-white wings Cinna gave me - then come to rest at my sides. "I'm going to be the Mockingjay."This struggle rings so familiar. About 3500 years ago, another people was in slavery and bondage, and needed a Katniss. They had been enslaved for 400 years and needed a leader to bring them freedom.
His name was Moses.
But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11, NIV)Sound familiar? I'm not the one. I'm inadequate. I'm out here in the country minding my own business and have been for 40+ years. Why me?
It goes on, as Moses struggles with his role.
"What if they do not believe me and sat 'The Lord did not appear to you'?...I have never been eloquent...I am slow of speech and tongue...Please send someone else." (Exodus 4:1,10,13, NIV)As God was making it clear, through a burning bush no less (Moses! The man whose bush is on fire!), that he was the one needed to bring freedom to the captives, he was full of excuses. But God had an answer to every one of them, so ultimately he obeyed. He confronted the most powerful man in the world. And the rest is history.
Our story is one of bondage; it always has been. There is an enemy, and he has subjected us to slavery just as surely as Pharaoh did.
Or President Snow. Or Darth Vader. Or any number of other fictional characters who are created from deep in the heart of an artist who senses the truth.
We live in a world of growing despair. Hunger. Violence. Injustice. Meaningless, empty physical relationships. Broken families. 147 million orphans. The list goes on and on.
We are desperate for a real live hero, someone who will set us free from our despair. Someone who will be willing to sacrifice their own life, if necessary, to free us and give us meaning.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Yes, we do have someone! Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry that this was exactly his purpose. And, when the time came for him to fulfill his purpose, he also struggled. He prayed in great agony, pleading for there to be another way. So much agony that he sweated blood. Redemption is never easy - it's costly, more costly than anything else. But he accepted the cup of God's wrath on our behalf, and has bought freedom for all of us.Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21, NIV)
We need more heroes in our books and movies like Katniss Everdeen. Heroes who, though flawed, rise up to do great thing. But most of all, heroes who remind us that there is hope. That no matter how our own version of the Capitol beats us down, there is One who has beaten it and can give us hope as we struggle against it.
And that is a story worth telling.
P.S. (please read): There is way too much in The Hunger Games for me to even scratch the surface. Hey, you're probably already thinking this was the longest post ever. But there are two excellent posts that do it more justice than I, and come at it from a different angle. Please take the time to check out the two links below:
Let The Hunger Games Begin: Why the story of Katniss Everdeen resonates with so many readers
In the Open Space: Why we need dystopian stories like The Hunger Games
Happy reading! "Thank you for your consideration."