I’ve just completed the Hunger Games trilogy.
Magnetic books, those three.
Each time I encounter a new and compelling work of fiction, I experience afresh the powerful gravitational attraction of a well-woven plot, nuanced characters, a couple hundred pages bound together…
… a story.
Stories are catalysts. Take, for example, young Harry and his Hogwarts, Aslan’s Narnia, Frodo and the fate of Middle Earth… or (even) Edward and Bella’s codependent love triangle (poor Jacob). These stories were born as written words — simple, black font on white pages. Yet I can’t help but gape at the tidal waves of influence, obsession, and creativity which they’ve each uniquely spawned: films, soundtracks, spin-offs, games, images, etc.
Let’s be honest: the Twilight series is not on the verge of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature – in fact it’s about as far away from the ‘verge’ as a vegan from bacon. Yet, while critics and literature purists might slander its syntax, more than 10 million Twilight series books are in print.
My my my, that’s a lot of books.
Twilight. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Each series has held captive the iphone generation, tethering it to the written word when Angry Birds, Xbox, blue ray, and Words with Friends are beckoning.
Yes, stories are still mighty.
However, as I finished off the final page of “Mockingjay” (the third installment of Hunger Games), I was left with a sense of dimming lights, of muted finales. The Hunger Games story, as much as the series engrossed me, couldn’t deliver something transcendent through its last pages. I’m trying to say that the story, although gripping, was – at its ending – so very temporal. It couldn’t climb outside of its own darkness, the darkness that (I’ll admit) initially hooked me into reading the books so voraciously.
I felt the same of Twilight. Of Harry Potter.
All three series catapult into the realm of enthrallment, vying for massive amounts of time and space in the voracious reader’s mind.
The transcendence is missing – that thread which illuminates longings for something wider, deeper, for something beyond here, beyond this world.
Twilight, Hunger Games, and Harry Potter remain, in every way, within the walls of this world. Their stories can deliver no more than a passionate human romance, a tomorrow-world fraught with violence and desperate for heroes, and a young boy enveloped by his chosen-ness in the face of peril, his singular calling. Compelling? Yes. Worth reading? Indeed.
But so very confined – confined to the limits of the human imagination, a rich source to be sure, but dry dust compared to the whispers of Eternity.
Those whispers are heard in Tolkien’s Middle Earth… in Lewis’ Narnia. Tolkien scripted it best: a good story “does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies universal final defeat…giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy; Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” I read his books, and I feel the tug – indelible, fierce, and silent – towards that which lies beyond these walls, beyond my eyes, my ears, my fingertips… my mind.
The waking reality, the golden horizon, the shore beyond the sea.
HE writes the mightiest stories. His caress transforms the forgotten into the thunderous delight of heaven – a leper, an adulteress, an illiterate fisherman… a Man on a cross.
Scripted in the tender strokes of His own blood, His words – carved in a deep, piercing red – fall to the page more real, more transcendent, more final, and more alive than any other story my eyes might find.
All just wisps of fog, thinning and fading as the swift sunrise rides across the sky – sure, strong, and so very far beyond the walls of this world.