The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) is an intense adventure series set in a grim futuristic world. The over-simplified description of “it’s about kids killing each other” doesn’t do justice to a very worthwhile and thoughtful read. It would be more fair to say it’s a story about a futuristic world in which a certain number of kids (tributes) in an oppressed society are chosen to fight in gladiatorial games. The theme itself reflects a lot of ideas from Ancient Rome brought into a modern setting (which isn’t particularly subtle, because they use a lot of Roman names in the capitol).
The main moral “theme” to be found in the story is one of trying to survive a terrible evil and, as it goes deeper, choosing to react in a good way to evil. We have found this to be a wonderful (though at times harrowing!) story to read and discuss with our children. I would primarily recommend it for high school age, though some of our children were younger when they were ready for it.
In general I’m not a stickler for having my kids read the book before they watch the movie. With this series, I am. So much of the story is interior to the characters (especially what goes on inside Katniss’ head) and thus difficult to portray in a movie. Also, I found that the first movie, at least, almost treats the subject matter *too* lightly. They are worth watching, but a great deal would be missed without the books. The other problem with the movies is that you lose a lot of the sense of what the capitol symbolizes. In the books, the decadence is disgusting. It’s hard to portray it at that level in the movies, whereas the books take it to the point that Katniss feels sorry for those she encounters in the capitol, even though they are much more materially prosperous than her and her family.
In answer to the question I have been asked a number of times, I think the books fall into the category of “making me a better person”, at least in the general sense that classics do and certainly in the specific sense of being a good outlet for discussions of dignity of life issues and the very important concept of how to respond to evil. They certainly don’t promote violence any more than a well-made war movie does. They are definitely meant to make you uncomfortable – the kids are forced into the games as a deterrent to rebellion for the people of the outlying districts – who are basically allowed to exist in order to feed the extravagant lifestyles of their oppressors.
You can see I’m not convinced by the naysayers. I see this series as political and cultural critique. It is about war and the ways in which power corrupts. It’s about selling one’s soul for a political end; it explores media manipulation, propaganda, the ethics (or lack of any) in reality TV. It’s about “bread and circuses” — the country is not named Panem for nothing. (And, while we’re on the subject of a circus, does anyone else think we already live in the world of the Panem Capitol’s fashion sense?) The books ask important questions about personal choices, knowing who we are and what we want to be — they examine the lives of people trying desperately to hold on to morality and truth in hellish circumstances.
Along the lines of human dignity another key scene that carries through the other books as well is when a friend of Katniss’ is killed in the arena. Instead of pragmatically and strategically moving on with the games, Katniss reverences her dead friend’s body by decorating it with flowers and offering a short “funeral” service. Because the entire nation is watching live, Katniss’ actions spread a flame throughout all of the people. As art and beauty ALWAYS DO, once again in this situation it reminds all the people watching of the dignity that ALL people have, and the people watching are reminded that FULLER and MORE WORTHY HUMAN LIVING is possible. That image is one that continues to stir the people to action throughout all three of the books.