I’ve waited a number of years to review these books, though from the very beginning I’ve enjoyed them. Teen angst and sappy romance are certainly not my usual, but life-and-death struggles, dystopian rebellion, and creativity are. The Hunger Games excel in all these areas, so they definitely do make for excellent reading. Still, as a Christian parent, I feel responsible to state: “Reader Beware!” though perhaps not for obvious reasons.
I have to start with the author, because she plays an important role in this entire discussion. Suzanne Collins reminds me of every girl who ever attended my Creative Writing classes in college, except that she caught the eye of the right editor and then made millions. I believe that everyone has a story to tell, but some also have a better ability to package and deliver that story, and for this, Collins deserves great credit. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a whole group of people—her former classmates—who remember her not as a gifted writer, but (total conjecture) as the girl who praised her own short stories too highly and then gave sub-mediocre critiques of her classmates’ works (yes, I’m thinking of someone in particular). Creative Writing classes are socially harsh, I know, so she’s certainly bound to have some enemies out there.
All that being said, Collins’ inspiration for the books was sound. She apparently contemplated the historical circumstances that would make such rabid violence as the gladiatorial games a cultural norm. Then she considered, “Could it ever happen again?” and “What if the gladiators were children, not men?” Thus was born the basic concept of The Hunger Games, lacking only a believable dystopian world. Collins’ unique stroke here was to divide the former US into districts of manufacturing, backwards in their living, which all existed to serve the ever-greedy Capitol. President Snow was an overplayed character, ruthless to the core, yet begging and never answering the question of “Who were his predecessors, and what had they been like?”
The books which pit male and female children against each other in a fight to the death are also elsewhere fitted with gender battles that move far beyond the obvious. Throughout the series, for example, there is a distinct imbalance between capable male and female leaders (whether military or otherwise), highly favoring female over male. Of course, this is neither surprising (given the author) nor necessarily wrong, but it’s still a constant theme and therefore one worth exploring. Traditional gender roles are present in the books, yet the most exemplary characters are those who buck these roles in favor or “being the real me”. Parents are either non-existent or painted with very poor colors throughout the series, and their failures tend to be remedied only when their much stronger children step in to fix them.
One major issue that some folks have with this series is its apparent love of violence and its inhumanity. However, critics of these things are generally those who’ve only heard the plot but never read the books. Had they, they would understand that the violence was evil and deplorable, despised by the moral masses and was enjoyed only by those gluttons of the Capitol. As each story unfolds, it becomes a true battle of good versus evil, of reluctant heroes, and of rebellion when death is the only alternative. The “good guys” often die, but the bad rarely prosper either, so considering these things, Collins actually delivers a fairly moral tale. That is to say, until you consider the end of Book 3: Mockingjay, which completely obliterates that illusion of morality.
I understand that when an author writes a tale, the tale actually writes itself, but that should never be an excuse for gross negligence on the part of the author. An author always has veto power over what immoral or otherwise contrary turns her book takes. Always. Thus, anything gratuitous is the author’s responsibility and no one else’. The wholesale slaughter of children at the end of the book is neither President Snow’s nor President Coyne’s fault: it’s Author Collins’. Prim’s unnecessary death—after the war had already ended—was no side’s fault but the writer’s. Katniss’s decision to restart the games in a sense of final, equal justice destroys any purity she once supposedly had, and the blame falls squarely onto Collins’ shoulders. No “For Prim” could ever change that. It does not matter if Katniss never asked to be a hero, and it does not matter that she’s an imperfect human being. The audience fell in love with her character for murdering out of necessity: are we supposed to remain in love with her when she murders out of vengeance?
Suzanne Collins had total power and control over the path her story took, and the “realism” or tragedy (or whatever she wants to call it) with which she chose to conclude her book was a choice she made, and no one else. Quite honestly, the cowardice she showed in choosing to let her story overrule her own conscience says a lot about the author’s character and the blackness of her own heart. For this key reason, I say about the entire series as a whole: “Parents Beware!”
Luckily for Collins, she had an opportunity to redeem herself when the filmmakers came calling. The rewrite needed for the film adaptation allowed her to prove herself human again. The slaughter of the children and Prim’s own death suddenly become plot-driven, not gratuitous. Coyne’s evil is far more on display. Katniss’ vote of “Yes” becomes one of reluctance, portrayed as a calculated risk, not bloodthirst.
Everyone has darkness in their hearts, whether they’re believers or not. I have at times let my hands do the writing, and I’ve been terrified at what they’ve created. But no matter the art that these things might involve, I would have no excuse to get such stories published. In fact, I have a responsibility to my readers to burn them instead! As a book geared toward youth who are already struggling and experimenting with their own dark sides, Suzanne Collins had a responsibility to guide them down a better path. She held Katniss in her power, and only she could finalize the decisions that this reluctant hero would make. Sadly she chose the wrong path, and her morally sound series ends on very shaky ground.