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It's dystopia season at the movie theater again. On November 1, the screen version of Orson Scott Card's science-fiction Ender's Game arrives; three weeks later, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins will attempt to match the performance of last year's installment of The Hunger Games, the third-best-grossing film in the United States in 2012. A dark take on mid- or post-apocalyptic America seems to be required for box-office success these days—the two films that surpassed The Hunger Games' $408 million were The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

But the current crop of dystopias has an even darker twist: their heroes, and victims, are children, perpetrating and witnessing distinctly adult levels of violence. When Stephen King (yes, that one) reviewed the book version of The Hunger Games, he dared: "Let's see the makers of the movie version try to get a PG-13 on this baby."

The 2012 movie, and this fall's sequel, did achieve a PG-13 rating, for what that's worth. But even many admirers admit that the violence requires a heavy dose of parental discretion. One of those fans, Mary Pols, explained to readers of Time.com "Why I'm Not Taking My 8-Year-Old to The Hunger Games," citing a passage where genetically altered dogs gnaw a particularly vicious player for hours (and over the course of four pages). Finally, "the raw hunk of meat that used to be my enemy makes a sound. . . . Pity, not vengeance, sends my arrow flying into his skull." Pols imagines reading to her son at bedtime with the family dog at his feet, saying, "Sweet dreams kiddo! I'll just take the dog with me after this chapter, shall I?"

Defining Dystopia Down

Literary critic ...

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November 2013

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