Okay, I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile, and have now decided to let it out. Last week I read two articles on the Gospel Coalition regarding The Hunger Games: one in support of the books and one going in for the kill (I used that metaphor on purpose).
While I’m prone to (and really want to) rant about how much I
hate really disagree with one of the two articles, I’m going to try to instead just talk about heroes, heroism, and protagonists, with the recent disagreement about The Hunger Games in mind, because context helps.
I think perhaps my fundamental disagreements with N.D. Wilson’s conclusions (as well as his dad’s) have to do with my view of heroes, heroism, their place in literature, and the brokenness of humanity (notice I said, brokenness, not sinfulness). I’ll leave the fact that they both clearly have only read the first book to another post or try to forget about it.
In N.D. Wilson’s world (full confession: I’ve only read this article and a few others by him that I can’t even remember, so I’m no expert), a hero is a brave, strong, morally upright, knight in shining armor who has no sentimental weakness (except for his wife and children) or clouded judgement. Heroes that see the world in black and white because problems have clearly wrong and right answers. To Wilson, it seems, this is the only acceptable kind of hero in literature. These kind of heroes are indeed wonderful.
In my world, though, that wonderful kind of hero belongs only in fairy tales and fantasy (which I love with the love of C.S. Lewis) because, as we all know, they do not exist in the real world. Not every story is a fairy tale, and not every story should be. Fairy tale heroes should be admired, but let’s not forget that in the real world there was and will only ever be one hero like that.
I love fairy tales and fantasy. I find them both beautiful and useful. But I also think that stories about the possible, plausible, or likely are also helpful and beautiful, and that’s why I liked The Hunger Games. People are broken. Beyond their own sin and the ways that they ruin their own lives, people are broken and hurt by their circumstances and those around them. Every action has a reaction, and people act and react in accord with how they’ve been acted upon until something (internal or external) stops them. Katniss was wounded in ways she never asked for, scarred in ways she never realized, and experienced the deep, deep, grief at the realization of just how much she had been hurt and how much she had injured others as a result of the festering wounds she had borne. And when she rose from these new wounds (one could call it her “un-dragoning,” to use Lewis’ metaphor), she rose a hero.
Those who think that Katniss’ heroism or (so-called heroism) lies in threatening suicide are wrong – even, and maybe especially, N.D. Wilson. Katniss’ heroism doesn’t rise until the end of Mockingjay (which is why it matters so much that Wilsons don’t appear to have read to the end). Her own brokenness finally overwhelms her and brings her to the recognition of the full cost of her actions, as well as the actions of those around her. She is changed. Something in her snaps into place – strengthening her moral fiber and correcting her faulty heroism. Next time, should there be a next time, things will be different.
My life isn’t a fairy tale and I’m guessing that yours isn’t either. Will Wilson’s hero come marching in every time? No. Life is life (what’s the saying? Life is pain!). Life is not a fairy tale. To have only stories with shining white heroes is to create the ideal that this is how life is, and it’s simply not so. So let’s have fairy tales, and let’s have stories that show the complexity and brokenness of people. I’m broken, and I am like Katniss in many ways. She’s a hero because she reaches a point where, in her brokenness, she turns away from evil with strength in her broken bones to fight for good. I want to be like that.
N.D. Wilson’s utopian ideal of a hero constricts his vision such that he’s blind to the beauty of the fact that I am Katniss, and so is every other person who’s been wounded deeply, hurt beyond repair, and wounds in return. Heroes aren’t born, they’re made. The Hunger Games isn’t about a hero; it’s about the making of a hero, and we need stories like that too.
[okay, so that was a little more about the Wilson article than I initially intended. hopefully you still enjoyed it.]