I mean, don't get me wrong, I love reading and all things books. Before I moved to Springfield, MO to major in ministry, I was attending a state university for English and Spanish and hoping to focus on literature in both languages. I can't just read a book. No. I highlight and bracket and mark and make notes...sometimes I even fill notebooks with thoughts throughout a particular piece of literature. I like all sorts of books. Books that inspire personal reflection and growth, best sellers, mysteries, biographies, historical fiction, but at the end of the day, I am a Jane Austen kind of girl. I have a special place in my heart for the classics. I have never really been much for fantasy or books filled with magic and wizards and all that jazz. Call me crazy, I just have a love for very real, very relatable literature, and I have yet to find a way to connect with and relate to wizards or vampires or any part of their worlds.
All that to say, I was as shocked as anyone when I fell in love with The Hunger Games series.
A few of my friends really wanted to go see the first movie when it came out a few years back. I didn't mind going, but whenever I can help it, I like to read the book before seeing the movie. I am actually pretty strict about it. I also had some parents from back home asking my opinions about the books since there had been some controversy in schools and such. I had heard good things about the books and also some pretty scandalous things, and since the first one was fairly short, I decided it wouldn't hurt to give it a read. I honestly didn't expect to love it or even like it very much...
But very early on it became clear that I was wrong. I was hooked.
Of course I had been a skeptic, ignoring everyone recounting how they couldn't stop reading and didn't sleep for days until they finished, of course that wouldn't be me. These books were not my style and they were for teenagers at that.
For years now I have been meaning to sit down and write a series of posts divulging all of the amazing take aways from the series and the characters. I have literally filled notebooks analyzing the themes and ideas displayed in those pages. I own the books on my Nook and also a set of hard cover copies. I have sacrificed sleep for four years now in order to be at midnight showings of each movie. And unashamedly I admit that I have both dressed up as the characters and made shirts to wear to these events. I have hosted movie marathon parties with themed snacks and someone even threw me a Hunger Games Themed birthday party a few years back...
Yes. I am that girl. That reader.
Last month the final movie in the series premiered and I was thrilled to be able to see it along with the rest of the world and at midnight of course. I decided that before this final chapter, I should of course reread the series once more. (And I I am being honest, probably not for the last time.)
That would make four times that I have read that series from cover to cover.
And you would think that by now I could just casually skim them.
Still I found myself making notes and realizing new things and loving different moments than I had before.
About half way through the second book, I paused on my couch to ask myself a couple of questions.
What in the world is it about these books that I love so much!? I mean sure it is great, suspenseful writing and there are so many great themes that can get any reader thinking on a deeper level personally and about their role in soceity... It's impossible (in my opinion anyways) to not adore Katniss and want to be just like her...But I have felt that way about a lot of books, so I knew it had to be something more. I thought through themes and quotes and characters...
And then it hit me.
There's a line in the second book (Catching Fire) when Katniss makes a statement something like this. She says in so many words that she doesn't even know who she is anymore now that she is not consumed with survival and keeping her family alive. All she had known for so long was to wake up each day and hunt and do whatever it took to keep her family from starving. Without that, she feels confused and lost and unsure of who she is.
That's when I knew.
For as long as I can remember, my heart has been for completely broken girls. Girls who have been orphaned, abaondoned, and abused. Girls who have seen way too much at their age and who are parenting when they still need parents themselves. Girls who don't know where their next meal is coming from and who carry the weight of their family's survival on their shoulders. Girls who have been taken advantage of by everyone who should have been looking out for and protecting them. My heart has always broken for them and longed to reach out to them.
Katniss represents in every single way the girls that my heart beats for and breaks for.
A 16-year-old girl who has been consumed with her survival and keeping her family alive since before she even hit puberty. A girl who has been raised in a soceity where nothing and no one is trustworthy. The people and the systems that should protect her are the very things that hurt her the most. She has seen death and hunger and cruelty in alarming and damaging amounts. She has been forced again and again to fill roles and carry responsibilities that she is not ready for. She has been the parent when more than anything she needed a parent.
And I realized in that moment, that's why I go back again and again and again. Because even though she is a fictional character (and I promise I realize that) my heart breaks over and over again for Katniss and her story and the world and the life she is forced to sruvive in. Because I love the opportunity to be inside the thoughts and feelings of the very girl my heart longs to rescue. Because I wish so much for things to be different for her. Because I love to watch her endure and overcome with courage and bravery whatever she faces. Because I believe that every girl like her has those things inside of her and that more than anything they just need someone to come along side of them and tell them so. Because I want to be that person that helps them to be brave and strong and to change their world for the better. Because I want to learn what it looks like to be a person they can trust.
That, I realized, is the main reason I can devour these books year after year...
And there's one other thing as well (several actually but I will spare you the nitty gritty...)
The overarching theme in these books is my favorite to find in any piece of literature.
Hope > Fear
Now. I will not for even a moment try to tell you that the author had some hidden spiritual agenda or that she was trying to somehow weave Biblical/spiritual principals into these stories. Of course I don't think that's the case as all. But that's what I love most about litreature. That's what I love most about God. Authors...artists of all sorts really...without even trying or realizing so often create based on who God is. I love the idea that His character and His ideals are innately inside of us and that they come out in all sorts of ways even when we don't intend for it to happen. You can see it all over literature and in art and in music...good winning out over evil, one person standing up for what they believe and making a difference, hope in the face of darkness and adversity...They are the stories that we love most, the classics if you will, and that I believe is because they are rooted in the nature of God and the fabric of who He created us to be.
By far my favorite quote from this series is said by one of my least favorite characters. The evil president Snow, in explaining to one of his leaders how their awful, fragile system works, says,
"A little bit of hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. Hope it is the only thing stronger than fear..."
Not to get all spiritual on you (and not that this is what the author was referring to) but coming from a Christian perspective, I can't help but love the thought.
President Snow controls his "empire" with fear. He lies and cheats and kills and destroys to stay in power. He convinces people that they must rely on him and his government to survive and if they turn on him there will be consequences. He has a people gripped and controlled by fear and it is all built on lies. Life for them is dark and sad and empty and meaningless....hopeless if you will. There seems to be no way out, no light, no joy, only fear. He turns them against each other and twists their truths. He convinces them that no one can be trusted except him...
Katniss says at one point, "All I've been able to think about since the reaping is how afraid I am."
And that, my freinds, is how Satan "rules." He lies and cheats and twists all of the truths that we know. He convinces us that no one (especially God) is to be trusted and that it is every man for himself. He hates unity because unity creates hope and hope courage and courage change. He wants us to stay afraid because as long as we are afraid we won't hope. Life caught in his lies is dark and empty and hopeless and as long as we are stumbling around in the dark lonely and afraid, we will not have the stregth or the courage to stand up and find truth and come together to cause change.
The saddest thing in these books to me is that they lack hope...well real hope anyways. But the idea of Katniss (the Mockingjay) to me is a glaring example of what Jesus is in our lives. In a world that is dark and hopeless and empty, these people find hope in Katniss. She is willing to stand up for what is right and true and she is willing to give her life for those she loves and even those she doesn't in order to spread that light and truth and fire. Isn't that why Snow hates her!? He hates her because she represents hope and because he knows that hope vanquishes fear...and of course fear is the only thing that keeps those people in his clutches.
And isn't that exactly why Satan wants Jesus and the whole idea of him dead!? Because as long as Jesus lives and remains in the hearts of people, He remains a figure of hope. His sacrificial love shows us that the lives of others matter more than our own and that idea creates unity. Jesus unites hearts. Satan knows that if people have hope, they won't be so afraid and then he ceases to have power or control. And what's worse is if they have hope together. Satan hates Jesus and He hates the unity and selflessness that comes from knowing Him.
Oh what a lovely reminder that because I have Jesus, I have hope and because I have hope, I do not have to be afraid. Death itself cannot scare me because it is not an unknown to me.
I can't help but love the deep sense of hope and purpose I feel every time I finish this series and the refreshed sense of courage and strength to stand for hope and light despite the darkness surrounding me. After all, one person can make a difference and every voice matters.
Of course I could go on and on digging into all of the cool themes and symbolism woven into these books, but I will just leave you with those thoughts (for now anyways) because they are my favorite take aways.
If you haven't read the books, I would encourage you to give them a chance. And that opinion is coming from the mouth of a skeptic. I promise you they will be uncomfortable in moments (and I do not think that's a bad thing.) They will make you think in deeper ways and even see parts of yourself and your culture that are not so pretty. But they will also inspire you. Absolutely these books are not for every age group. I don't think they should be read until late high school or sometime in college when the maturity is there to pull out the right things and ideas and to handle the difficult ideas that are presentsed. I think they are great for reading and discussing.
But that's just my opinion.
Latest challenge for me...reread the series in Spanish and discuss them with a friend...also in Spanish. I will be sure to keep you posted on how that goes...it will be entertaining to say the least.
Remember friends, that literature is a powerful and precious thing. Sure it is entertaining and enjoyable, but it also allows us to think and feel and experience things that we never would in our own lives and that gives us insight into the worlds of other people.
I would encourage you to mull over that thought this week.
Write it down somewhere and remind yourself in the toughest moments that hope will drown whatever else threatens to pull you under.