Tag Archive | The Hunger Games

Scythe: A Worthy Successor to the Hunger Games

For those who study their history, the fact that all-controlling government “utopias” prove to be anything but is no surprise, yet the youth are often schooled to believe that such utopias should be desired if only the “right” people are in power. Actually, this isn’t so much something the young need to be taught, rather than is a youthful belief that arises from the desire to change things for the good. This desire for positive change is something that makes the young so hopeful…and so stupid. As we grow older, we realize true positive change only comes with time, if it comes at all. Rarely is it instantaneous. And as we age we often become cynical about human-run institutions. Often, these institutions do more harm than good. Given too much power, governments tend to turn murderous on a jaw-dropping scale.

One of the ways to deter the young against eagerly campaigning for more government power over their lives, is to have them read and watch stories in which the true nature of such a “utopia” is revealed in all of its gory detail. Dystopian series such as The Hunger Games conclude that any side that has too much power should be considered dangerous to the common man. The Hunger Games is far more effective in showcasing this phenomenon than say the movie V for Vendetta. V showcases an oppressive Right-wing government, but fails to concern itself with the main problem, which is authoritarianism in the form of totalitarianism, an all-powerful, centralized government of any side that must not be questioned. The Hunger Games shows the true story, which is that both Right and Left can be authoritarian, and hints at a political truth, the scale is not R vs. L, but is collective tyranny vs. personal freedom.

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, is only book one in his new series, so I can’t yet judge the series as a whole in comparison to The Hunger Games, but so far I find Scythe to be a worthy successor. First, there is the necessary government dystopia, masking itself as a utopia as usual. Humans have conquered death by superior technology. Imagine that. They are also run by an internet “cloud” of human knowledge that that records and catalogues everyone and keeps everyone safe. Secondly, despite having their needs cared for (in the Hunger Games this depends on which district you live in), the general populace lives in fear of being murdered by their government. Scythes are the de facto government in place of a president, king, and/or parliament, and they have given themselves authority over death. The reason for this is blandly stated that people must die sometime, but behind that lies the boogeyman of our current time, overpopulation of humanity is the worst thing that can happen to the world. Thirdly, teens are conscripted into the order of the Scythes to become licensed killers, not unlike Katniss and Peeta being forced to kill other kids in the Capitol’s Hunger Games. Both societies are essentially bored with their existence, and these killings are entertainment, both a reflection of the fights in the Roman Colosseum, and a beacon warning us of the dangers of our present society’s boredom and malaise.

A quick, straightforward read, Scythe cuts to heart of the issue in the journal writings of the longterm Scythe members. They live by a number of commandments, feel called to do their work, and are more akin to a religious order than an actual governmental body. The main characters, Citra and Rowan are recruited to be apprentices in the order precisely because they find killing people abhorrent. They soon realize that this abhorrence is not shared by all Scythes and that just as in the governments of old, human corruption and greed reigns in the Scythedom. Just as Katniss and Peeta have to think outside the box to beat the system, so do Citra and Rowan.

As a whole, the Scythe world seems a simpler world than The Hunger Games one, but the board is just getting set up. Scythe is superior in some ways–it’s told in 3rd person instead of 1st, has no love triangle, and makes the slaughters less a game and more of a mission, yet fails in others–at times the story and world seem too simple and non-emotive, and a love story is only hinted when it should have been fully realized. Glaring, is the existence of the Scythedom in the first place. À la The Giver, we get the feeling–or maybe we are just hoping–that there is a big reveal coming, both about the origins of the Scythes and the “cloud” god/government. The biggest similarity to both stories is the truth that when it comes to power, any side, no matter how sanctioned, can prove to be the wrong one when human life is at stake.

Along with believing in utopias on earth, the young often see freedom or liberty as doing whatever you want whenever you want. Grownups know that true liberty and true freedom require core values and adherence and discipline to them.  None of the main characters in these stories are hedonists. They believe in protecting the weak and even that they themselves have a duty to do so. They are unwilling to use violence and only use it if they must. They revere human life, and even the corrupt human institutions, only bringing down either or both if it becomes absolutely necessary for them to do so. These stories do not glorify anarchy, but hold life and liberty dear.

Scythe is setting itself up to be one of the more thought-provoking young adult series of recent years. Like The Hunger Games, it stands apart from so many of the others, most of which are purely fluff and fantasy. There is a silence behind the story of Scythe. It is as if humanity in it holds their breath, waiting for all of the pennies to drop, or rather, for the guillotine blade to fall. They have conquered death to no purpose and still run from it, quaking in fear when the very human grim reaper is at their door. They have thrown off religion and God only to make technology their god. No matter how hard they try, they can’t shake the truth: One day or another, somehow or another, everyone dies.

How Stories Give Us Hope

openclipart.orgIf you’re a story addict like me, you may have spent a good chuck of your life either reading, watching, or listening to stories.  For me, stories have such a spellbinding quality because they give me hope.  Stories of courage, strength, and perseverance give me hope that so much is possible if we just put forth the effort.  Bible stories give me hope that I can be forgiven for the evil I have done, and that there’s good beyond the suffering of this world.  They also give me the courage to forgive others and to love them, because they too can be redeemed.

Survival stories help me consider my own mortality and what I would be willing to do in the face of death — would I go willingly, or would I fight?  If a zombie apocalypse ever descends upon the American Midwest, I am mentally prepared for what I would need to do to survive (however many minutes that might be) thanks to The Walking Dead.  The Hunger Games challenges me to consider how I would live in an oppressive, totalitarian society.  Would I choose safety or fight for freedom?  Would I have the courage to take another’s place if it meant my possible death?

Stories about heroes like The Avengers or Batman or Spiderman give us hope in the extraordinary, that there may be people walking among us who have amazing talents they can use to save and improve lives.  In the real world, doctors, nurses, policemen, and paramedics don’t wear masks or capes, but they are heroes just the same and too frequently have to deal with the “Jokers” of this world.  We relate to story heroes and sometimes wish we could be like them.  Growing up I always imagined I would make a fantastic female Indiana Jones and help save the world from the evils the Nazis would continually unearth.  I wanted to be Superman AND Lois Lane, faster than a speeding bullet and a savvy journalist.

With villains, it’s a little different.  The best villains are often appealing, not necessarily for the bad that they do, but because they are willing to do whatever they want no matter the costs.  Villains challenge us in ways the heroes do not.  They have an edge or even a “coolness” we sometimes wish we had.  And they often wear black leather.  Why is it that we are so attracted to black leather?  Villains also represent the evil in the world and in ourselves.  The battle against those villains can give us hope that the fight for good is worth it.  My favorite thing about Peter Pan and Captain Hook is that they are “worthy” opponents.  Great villains are awesome in part because it takes so much effort and courage, both mentally and physically, to overcome them.  The heroes who defeat them have been found worthy in some way.  That’s hope.  Hope for all of us, that our struggles in this life are not in vain.  What’s the point in defeating an evil that isn’t really, well, evil?

I have to mention romantic stories.  Yes, many are sappy, but almost all have an unflinching belief in true love.  Who doesn’t want true love?  Bella and Edward may be angsty and annoying at times, but they have epic true love.  And sparkly skin.  Sparkly skin and black leather, hmm… Okay, back on topic: Love is the ultimate hope in this world, for it can cover over so many sorrows, it can make us forget our hurts, and it can help us see the world in new ways.  And it can help us reach our potential.  Where would Westley be without Buttercup?  If he hadn’t fallen for The Princess Bride, he would have stayed a farm boy instead of becoming a dread pirate, terrifying swordsman, and cunning wit.

If it were physically possible to jump into any of the stories that I so enjoy, I have the hope that I would be at my best self.  I have hope that I would be able to see the best in humanity, that I would be the best family member, the best friend, the best worker, the best fighter…and then I think:  Why can’t I be like that in real life?  Why can’t I make those dreams of being a better person come true?  With God’s help, I can, and it all starts with stories, with the “dreams we dare to dream.”  Hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

–poem by Emily Dickinson–