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Why The Hunger Games is the most “Christian” book I’ve read in a long time

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Know what drives me nuts? Prejudgment. All forms of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone prejudging another person, a situation, or a book – it makes me angry. The only thing that’s worse than prejudging, are those who rely on other’s to form their judgments for them.

Now, since I’m a writer, I’m going to stick to books for this Monday Musing. Something that really bothers me among Christians is the idea that all mainstream books must somehow be avoided. If the writer doesn’t spew forth scripture and mention the name of Jesus a minimum of sixteen times in the book, then it’s worthless.

As the Hunger Games series grew in popularity, I waited, because I knew the conservative bloggers and radio hosts were salivating to jump all over these books. And they didn’t disappoint. I read countless times: The Hunger Games is evil! Kids killing kids shouldn’t be glorified! No Christian should read these books! Keep them out of our precious children’s hands!

It was Harry Potter all over again. One radio show I heard spent an hour denouncing the books so when the question time opened, I called. I got through and I asked if anyone on the program had read the books. Silence. Then they answered no, but that they didn’t have to because they knew what it was about. I hung up and haven’t listened to the radio show since.

See, I’ve always been a big fan of using the brain the good Lord gave me.

When the Harry Potter series created a stir I read them. Know what I found? A story that teaches that love is the most powerful force on Earth. A whole series based around the fact that Harry was protected because someone loved him enough to lay down their life sacrificially for him, so that Harry might live. The Potter series is all about sacrificing yourself for others, even people you don’t like. Good triumphs evil. How were these bad messages? Aren’t these the same truths taught in the Bible?

Saint Augustine gave us the idea that all truth is God’s truth when he said, “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God.”

Which leads me to The Hunger Games (a series so wonderfully written and captivating that it took me only four days to fly through all three books). I hear the shouts: It’s a story about kids killing each other, yes and no. Although, I’d have to ask, if it is, how is that any different or better than Aslan sending the Pevensie children into hand-to-hand battle?

For those believing this is a story that glorifies killing each other, I’ll share Katniss’ quote (who is the heroine of The Hunger Games series): “Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.” Clearly, those who miss the fact that this story is serving as a warning, miss the point entirely.

What is the Hunger Games about? Let’s see, little guy volunteers to fight and takes on insurmountable odds (and needs to kill in order to win)….huh, sounds and awful lot like David and Goliath.

I find it funny that these devote Bible-bangers somehow forget that much of the history of the old testament is that of violence and God sending people into war. Often they were instructed to slay every man, woman, and child (as well as livestock) within a city. When God sends the ten plagues, who does he come after? All the first born CHILDREN. Why? Because sometimes we only sit up and listen when terrible things happen to kids.

This is the same theme of the Hunger Games. The people of Panem have watched year after year as their ‘firstborns’ are taken away from them to die, but it’s not until one special volunteer goes to the games and bucks the system that a change in the country can happen (huh, again, oddly like little someday-to-be King David). On top of all this the character of Peeta is a perfect example of Christ-like love. A person who loves to the point of death, a love that isn’t based on the other person’s actions, emotions, or ever receiving anything in return.

And for that matter, my read through the Hunger Games series brought more self-reflection and led to more worshipful moments than any Christian book has in the last five years. I found myself constantly stopping and asking questions. If I was in the same situation what would I do? Would my character be strong enough to be like Peeta and say “If I’m going to die, I want to be me. I don’t want them to change me.”? Or would I be weak and allow circumstances to morph my moral fibers? Could I truly put others before myself, even if that meant my own demise? What does it look like to obey a leader whose actions you don’t agree with? What is true love? What characteristics make a man hero-worthy? When is rebellion allowable — or is it? Am I humble enough to accept help without feeling beholding? Could I lie to my heart for as long as Katniss did? Do I place ideals (like Gale) or people (like Peeta) first? Each instance that I found myself lacking, it drove me to my knees in prayer. It sent me searching scripture to find out what I truly believed. And it challenged me to become a better person.

I can’t name one Christian book that’s caused such thought and change to occur in my heart. Not one.

Bold statement time. I hope someday to write a YA novel engaging enough to catch the attention of mainstream teens. No, I have no aim to sell millions or have movie deals. That’s not it at all, but if I can capture the imagination and thoughts of a handful of mainstream readers, then yes, I believe that would be considered success to me.

Look at Stephanie Meyers – who wrote this way brilliantly. A read through the Twilight series doesn’t smack you in the face with the thought “this was written by a Mormon.” Not once. But you better believe that all the Mormon values are woven seamlessly through the story (purity, roles of men and women, sin, and forgiveness, afterlife). Say what you will about the poor quality of writing or the evils of vampires, it was a story that was told in an engaging enough way to capture the imagination for millions of readers. Any author worth their salt should perk up and pay attention to books that have mass followings. Not to copy (you won’t find me writing about vampires, dystopias, or wizards any time soon) but to ask yourself WHY did this touch people?

Much love -Jess

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