By way of beginning this post, I want to clarify what I am and what I am not doing. I am not claiming that Suzanne Collins is a Christian or has a Christian message, though this may well be true. Nor am I offering “the gospel according to the Hunger Games” – I am satisfied enough with the gospel according to the gospels, and it strikes me as wrongheaded and potentially heterodox to claim that other stories are the gospel; we must let the gospel be the gospel and stories be stories. What I am claiming though is that the works of good authors reflect something true in creation, and what is true in creation reflects (albeit elliptically) truth about God. Indeed, we should not be surprised if we find in creation and the stories that arise therefrom what Stanley Hauerwas describes as a Christological “grain of the universe.” Therefore, through interpretive scansion of the Hunger Games series and the universe it describes, I am looking for what Hopkins called the inscape that points back to the instress on creation caused by God.
First of all, I want to clear something up about the series. If you read it and thought “this could happen in (insert favorite dictatorship) or a galaxy far, far away,” you have missed the point. Do not let this minor detail interrupt important affairs such as eating and drinking, marrying and being married. Considering such details will only put out your day.
For the rest, one of the latent questions will have to do with the brutal violence, some of which leads in the story to the deformation of identity (I here think of Peeta). Should Christians think about such things? To tell the truth, I was impressed that they were included. There are kinds of unspeakable suffering that will not fit in brown paper packages tied up in string. And some of these experiences we will not understand this side of heaven. Generically, the entire scope of the cosmos is comic. But this does not mean that every story in between is comic, and it does not mean we should work as hard as possible to make every story comic. Horror is horror, and sometimes we just have to let it be without pretending we can redeem it on our own terms by making up stories that we intend as consolations but that only end up making God look evil or like a fool. God does not insult Job by offering him a narrative of “how everything worked out for best in the end,” and we might do well to follow His example.
But to get to the heart of my argument, the book is primarily an exploration of what constitutes salvation. In the series, we encounter a world very much in need of salvation, and it offers two different messianic models, the rebel warrior and “the boy with the bread.” This strikes me as particularly resonant of the Christian story, for these two figures embody the messianic crisis encountered at the advent of Christ. Many were hoping for the rebel warrior, who would in fact overthrow the government and establish political salvation. Instead, they got a Christ who revealed himself in the Eucharistic breaking of bread. Moreover, I would suggest that Christians still face this temptation. We are perennially tempted to take charge and “change the world” in ways that conflate sociopolitical power and Christianity – and we are perennially called back gently to “the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Because I don’t want to ruin the series for anyone who hasn’t read, I will not spoil it by giving away the ending, but I will say that, given this typology, the conclusion thoroughly accords with Christian faith. Whether Suzanne Collins intended this or not, I don’t know – what I do know is that her story taps into the innate human longing for salvation not by power but by the Bread of Life.