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The Hunger Games Trilogy–a primer on non-violence

The Hunger Games trilogy is quite a read. If you saw the film and enjoyed it, the books are more gripping and far more violent, but they are an extraordinary read. In fact, I think I would recommend them as a must-read on any course on non-violence or peace studies and would love to see them on the curriculum of schools here in Northern Ireland. But don’t imagine from that that they are dull or dry, the books are real page-turners and Suzanne Collins is a good writer. The characters are well imagined and three dimensional. The villains are frightening and genuinely malevolent and the heroes are not without their shadow sides. And she resists a Hollywood ending, so it will be interesting how the final film imagines it.

I found the books deeply moving, at times repulsive in the violence and in how they portray human beings in their endless creativity for causing hurt. And despite some criticism in some quarters I found the ending very satisfying, with a proviso. As my daughter predicted, I shed tear or two, in a manly sort of way, and because I was in a public place when I completed Mockingjay, they were covered by appropriate coughs and nose-blowing.

Some things I learned:

  • violence is wholly inadequate to the maintaining of peace. It makes everyone afraid, rulers and oppressed, and eventually someone will react, often with violence.
  • reality TV is a progressive evil. It ends in the colosseum.
  • consumerism is a narcotic, it dulls the mind and empties the brain.
  • if one’s character isn’t up to it, the possession of power is destructive.
  • the use of violence in the pursuit of national self-determination results only in more violence. Local heroes take note.
  • violence is never neutral in its effects, and always negative. Nobody escapes unhurt, perpetrator or victim.
  • suffering changes us, and perhaps the infliction of suffering changes us most, and not in a good way.
  • war has generational effects.
  • rage and hatred cannot sustain, like fire they are destructive. Life is sustained by promise and hope.
  •  art, in this case fashion, music and food (and maybe film making) can be endlessly subversive of power and is to be feared by those who want to control.
  •  symbols are dangerous, subversive and long-lasting, thus need to be handled with wisdom. And we need them to survive.

There is nothing new in anything there, but truths are told in these books in powerful, distressing ways. As one character says, “We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction”. We know that here in NI.

In the end, characters get to live with the pain and develop coping mechanisms. The depiction of PTSD here is powerful. But I’m not sure what Collins offers by way of healing and reconciliation.

Highly recommended, but it’s tough.

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I wrote this within 10 minutes of finishing the final book in the trilogy earlier today, but for a more considered view it’s worth checking out http://blog.chron.com/thepeacepastor/2012/03/hunger-games-indicting-violence/ (apologies you’ll have to cut and paste…having problems with wordpress links) 

4 thoughts on “The Hunger Games Trilogy–a primer on non-violence

  1. Thanks for this. I just started the book, more with the idea of previewing for my kids who will be asking to read them sooner or later… I think they’re young yet for the level of violence. I’m looking forward to the challenge to our cultural norms in my own reading.

  2. Thanks Maria. The violence is pretty extreme, both the physical and the mental/psychological, so probably wise to preview. I rad them though, at the urging of my 16 year old daughter because she wanted to talk about them. On the day I finished them we spent over an hour together at a local coffee house talking about the ideas the books throw up. It was special, I’ve got to say

  3. I agree with everything you say here Glenn. I really enjoyed the first two books and found them thought-provoking. But I thought that she was very courageous with where she went in the final book, and it elevated the trilogy to something much more profound. I’m looking forward to reading and discussing them with our kids when they are old enough.

    Debbie and I have moved on to the “Chaos Walking” trilogy by Patrick Ness and our current feeling is that it probes many similar themes in an even more powerful (and gripping) way. It’s good to see fiction for young people that is wrestling with big themes in such compelling ways.

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