Synopsis: The Underland Chronicles consists of 5 books written by Suzanne Collins. The Underland is hundreds of miles under the earth’s surface and consists of humans and giant species of rats, mice, bats, cockroaches, spiders, etc. There is an ongoing conflict between humans and rats, which eventually leads to an all-out war.
In my opinion, Suzanne Collins does a great job of detailing the horrors of conflict and war. She also wrote the popular Hunger Games series (which I blogged about here). The Hunger Games was written for young adults, while the target audience for The Underland Chronicles is probably 3-6th grade. Even with the younger age group, Collins does not let up on the tragedy of war. These are not happy, feel-good books. The books are full of violence and death, and the reader is often left contemplating the reasons for decisions made during a war.
Gregor, the narrator, is an eleven-year-old boy from New York who falls into the Underland. The books are full of his thoughts about the conflict and war. As an outsider, he doesn’t understand the inherent hate the two sides have for each other. He is not part of their history and doesn’t understand holding onto travesties that happened years ago. He cannot convince them to forgive or even see the other side as creatures with hurt and pain caused by the conflict. Vengence and wanting others to hurt solely based on their species is a common theme. At times, Gregor was considered a traitor for only having compassion for the ‘enemy.’
Discussion of war with children: War is a complicated concept, especially when contemplating the idea of a just war. Are there times where war is necessary to stop violence? To read the Catholic Church’s teaching on war, one can read paragraphs 2302-2330 in the Catholic Church’s Catechism.
I would stress two points with my children from that section.
CCC 2317 “Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war.”
CCC 2308 “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.”
In my lifetime, I have seen seven presidents of the United States come and go. Of the seven, six started a new war during his presidency, and only one did not create a new war. I do not believe the US government is living up to its obligation to avoid war. Many of those six presidents started more than one!
Most of us are not in the actual decision making about going to war and can only control peace in our surroundings. I would stress this with my children – as much as possible – avoid conflict and keep the peace.
St. Francis has a prevalent prayer they can use:
Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console.
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The last thing I would stress with my children is the idea of prophecy. Each of these books contained a prophecy that Gregor fulfilled. In Book 5, a prominent character revealed he NEVER believed in them. His goal was to manipulate the outcomes to fit the prophecy, mainly by stressing they never correctly understood them, given they were poems or a song, and many times they were not specific.
During times such as the year 2020, some religious folks begin discussing revelations given to ‘mystics,’ or we focus more on the ‘end of times.’ Some Catholics, lately, seem to focus a lot on the ‘Illumination of Conscience.’ I say we should focus on what Jesus said,
Mt. 6:33-34 Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness . . . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
If I am seeking first the Kingdom of God, does it matter if the ‘Illumination of Conscience’ happens? Understanding my actions will occur at the Last Judgement anyway, so thinking it will happen sooner in no way should change my behavior. Besides, we are human. I think we will end up doing what the characters did in this book. We will force certain events to fit what these ‘mystics’ predicted. Therefore, I don’t give them much thought, and I would encourage my children not to worry or think about them either.