The Hunger Games books and movies have made dystopic stories popular in a way they never have been before. I would imagine that many fans in the series don’t realize The Hunger Games fits in a certain category or make the connection between Hunger Games and its dystopic predecessors (The Giver,Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, etc.). We don’t have to make the connection to enjoy the series; it’s a creative, exciting, and well-told story.
Nevertheless, there are reasons dystopia intrigues us. I have written before about how fantasy can place reality in a removed context, enabling us to deal with it (Escaping Reality to Face Reality). But recently, I’ve realized a reason why specifically dystopia engages us: Dystopia is our reality.
For those of you who are already lost, a dystopia is a fictional, often-futuristic world where something is just “off.” Usually, some kind of natural disaster and/or human conflict has significantly altered the course of society. Things are simply not the way it seems they should be.
I just started reading a dystopic series (which I’m not going to name here so that I’m not giving anything away). In this series, there’s a point where the main characters leave the strange place they have always lived and encounter their natural environment. Even though they have never been in the “real world” before, they finally feel as though they are where are meant to be, where they belong.
When I read that section, something “clicked” in my brain, and their transition reminded me so much of the transition we all hope to one day experience: finding relief from our broken world and all being set right as it was always meant to be.
Our world is “off.” There is so much that grates against our sensibilities of the way we are meant to live: death, war, abuse, and depression, to name a few. This dissonance is acknowledged by Christians and non-Christians alike. Francis Weller writes about “expectations coded into our physical and psychic lives” in a way that we miss something we never had (Entering the Healing Ground). It creates a hollowness we all experience but are hesitant to name.
This is another commonality between dystopic fiction and our reality: some people are always more willing to acknowledge that things are wrong than others are. I have said this so many time and in some many ways, but naming the wrongs is imperative to dealing with them. Francis Weller continues, “How good to name it, to bring it into the room and sit with it. How important it is to keep it in front of us, instead of having it trail behind us, out of sight, pulling us away from others and from life.”
We must acknowledge what is lost and broken in order to engage with what remains. We have to know something is missing in order to be agents of redemption here and to anticipate full restoration in the future. If that means we recognize we are living in dystopia, I’m all for it. (Can I get an “Amen, come Lord Jesus!”?)