Friday, July 13, 2012

The Real Hunger Games

Books are amazing things...
really because stories are amazing things.

Think about it.
Stories well-told keep the little ones in rapt attention on the laps of their parents. They can be made-up stories like the ones in our home (Yacov...or Chocolate EClaire...or Moldysocks). Or they can be true stories that chronicle family history like the ones I remember my grandmother telling. Or they can be stories of memorable heroes who overcame something--be it the enemy within or the enemy without--and were better for it.

The fact that there are good stories necessarily means that...
there are bad stories.
Oh, that doesn't mean that a bad story is a poorly told story, though that may be the case, too. In my book anyway (no pun intended), it means that the protagonist remained unchanged by his conflict. That is always sad because the only hero who never needed to learn anything was Jesus. The rest of us have a long way to go...which brings me to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.

I admit it. It was a page-turner. I wanted to see what would happen next. I cared about Katniss and Peeta. Rue tugged at my heart. Cato couldn't die fast enough or hard enough. I wanted to see Katniss take those games and shove them in the Capitol's collective face. I wanted to see It go down in humiliating flames. Oh yeah. I would have stood up and cheered for that one.

But she didn't.
And I didn't.

Written on a fourth-grade level, complained one of my friends. And no doubt about that one. None. I don't think there were any words over three syllables long. Interesting story line? Sure. I wanted to stick it out for the next canon fire. I wanted to peer into the night sky with Katniss. 'Good' literature. (cough) Make me laugh.

There was precisely one memorable line in the whole 273 pages. One. Katniss observes, quite astutely, "Destroying things is easier than building things." Amen to that, sister. Our fallen state makes it much easier for us to be image-bearers of the Destroyer than to be image-bearers of the Creator. And that problem goes back as far as Eden. As my friend Susan lamented the other day, (in another context),"Stupid Eve."

To be sure, the entire tale is a treatise on senseless destruction.

But when I read the book jacket comment, "Unsettling parallels to our times," I rolled my eyes. Nice try at making this story 'relevant.'

Give me dynamic characters. Give me a character with arrogance or ignorance or bitterness or give me the most wretched bottom-feeder humanity has to offer. Couple him with a conflict that makes him face down his rottenness, see his fallenness, his need, the fruit of his life. Walk him through a change that couldn't have come any other way, and we've got a story worth telling and re-telling. Give me Austen's Darcy or Dickens' Scrooge or The Wingfeather Saga's Igiby children. But write about a character who starts with no hope and ends with no hope...and I'm not sure why we wasted good paper and ink, let alone my time.

The Hunger Games offers no hope.
The characters find no hope.
The games will go on; the tributes will acquiesce; the Capitol will win.

If stories can't offer hope, they shouldn't be written--and they shouldn't be read.
Where's the growth? the lesson? the salvation?
And for the readers, where's the 'wow' moment?

Pointless at best; nihilistic at worst.
But hardly the poignant tale our culture would lead us to believe.
Unsettling? Nah. Far too incredible for that.

But as a parent, I'll tell you what I find unsettling.
The real hunger games.
The appetite that this generation has for this kind of story.

And as a parent, I ask myself, "What are these children feeding on that makes them read a story like The Hunger Games and say, 'Oh, that was so good!'?"
I don't think the answer is difficult. This is the generation, after all, raised on a sponge in underwear. This is the generation who thinks Lady Gaga has talent. This is the generation who texts at the dinner table. And this is the generation who is in serious danger of being called The Dumbest Generation, as is evidenced by a book of the same name.

It falls to parents to cultivate in our children good appetites for good things. We need to start when they are young. It is possible. It is possible for a four year old to hear the finale to Les Miserables and break into spontaneous applause. I know. My first four year old did just that. We need to feed them good things which are worthy of their time and their intelligence. That's hard work. But we don't have a choice.

If  The Hunger Games is the epitome of good literature for this generation, we are in for a world of hurt.

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