I recently read the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I really enjoyed reading it, but I was surprised at how dark it was. It left me with a vague feeling of sadness, one which I think speaks to a universal human desire.
The sadness I felt at the end of The Hunger Games reminded me of the way I felt when I finished reading The Lord of the Rings. The books are similar in that their respective main characters, Katniss and Frodo, endure great suffering, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Both books were well-written enough that I felt a strong emotional attachment to the characters, so I reacted when they were in danger or suffering. But when I was in the middle of the books, I didn’t feel sad for them as much as I felt afraid for them. The darkest and most dangerous parts were the ones I read the fastest, because I wanted to find out what happened and make sure the characters would be safe. In fact, I almost screamed when I got to the end of The Two Towers, (when Frodo is almost dead and captured by orcs) and then saw that The Return of the King began by talking about what was happening with a different set of characters.
I may have felt pity for the characters when they experienced particularly painful events, but that was nothing compared to the sadness I felt at the end. This may seem strange because (spoiler alert) both stories end pretty well, with the forces of evil defeated and most of the main characters still alive. But at the end of their adventures, both Katniss and Frodo are left with emotional and physical wounds that we know will not fully heal.
The scars that remain at the end of the stories made me sadder than the far more intense suffering the characters endure during their adventures. This is in part because it is more long-term, but I think there’s more to it than that. Before the end of the book, there is still hope of healing for the characters. Injuries, trauma and even death in some cases have the possibility of being resolved. But when you turn the last page of the last chapter and the pain remains, there is no more reason to believe that the characters will recover. We know that the characters will be haunted for the rest of their lives.
Leaving the characters with painful memories is a good choice on the authors’ part because it resembles real life. We should be used to this idea. But that fact that this makes us sad is a reminder of the universal human desire for wholeness and healing.
Ken Boa once said that we all have “broken stories.” The stories of our lives are filled with pain, sorrow and discouragement. But, “the way you fix a broken story is by … embedding it in a larger story that begins and ends well.”
If our stories consist only of our lives on Earth, we are left with wounds that never fully heal. Actually, it’s worse than that because all of our stories will end with our deaths. That’s why it’s so essential to look beyond ourselves, our pleasures, our goals and our desires. We need a greater story so that the worst things we experience will not be the last chapter.