By Josh Sewell, Researcher of Film and Television Trends
Even before the movie version of The Hunger Games started making a ton of cash at the box office, it was constantly being declared the next Twilight by various magazine articles, websites and entertainment programs. Sure, the tales have surface similarities: both are classified as young adult lit, both have teen girls as the main character and both include a love triangle of sorts (though in The Hunger Games this barely counts as a subplot).
But on the whole, Suzanne Collins’ parable about a bleak dystopian future couldn’t be more different than Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural romance. Here are a few reasons why:
1. It’s sci-fi, not a soap opera
For me, hearing these two pop culture behemoths compared is like somebody describing the similarities between Star Wars and The Notebook. Granted, there are probably one or two on the surface, but they’re completely different genres. The Hunger Games is a futuristic action thriller about kids fighting to the death to appease a tyrannical regime, while Twilight is a melodramatic romance about a teenage girl trying to choose between two boys. Speaking of which…
2. The stakes are higher
Collins’ characters are struggling with forces that are literally life and death. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of The Hunger Games, lives in a world where she must illegally hunt wild game so her family doesn’t starve to death. Then she must volunteer to take her sister’s place in a barbaric game where only one person walks out alive. Bella Swan, on the other hand, is a Mary Sue whose primary concern is whether she will end up with the right boyfriend. Sure, those are huge stakes on a personal level, but making the wrong decision isn’t going to end with Bella stepping on a land mine or being executed by the government. Those wildly different worldviews lead me to believe something else…
3. Katniss would tell Bella to stop whining and grow up
As you might imagine, this is where we go from facts into the realm of opinion. The main characters in these series represent two completely different kinds of young women. Katniss is headstrong, resourceful and aggressively self-reliant. After the death of her father, she becomes the sole provider for her family. Ultimately, her strength makes her the face of a national resistance movement. She is participating in the Hunger Games by choice, instead of by mandate, volunteering to take the place of her little sister. It pains her to ask others for help, even though it is constantly offered. There’s a wonderful complexity to her character that allows readers/viewers to see her simultaneously as a bow and arrow-wielding fighter and a terrified 16-year-old girl.
Now look at Bella: because she is a Mary Sue character, she has to be a blank slate by definition. At no time does she think or act for herself. Any decision is reactionary, based on something her two suitors say or do. Again, her entire story arc is making sure that she picks the right guy so she doesn’t feel sad. This also means that she treats her father horribly, simply because he commits the unspeakable crime of being concerned for her well being and explaining that he has a few more years of life experience. I’d love to see a conversation between Bella and Katniss about their priorities. That’s mostly because…
4. Collins is a better writer
In a little less than 1,200 pages, Collins creates dozens of complex characters, a ruthless dictatorial government that combines oppression with entertainment, throws them into chaos and wraps up the story in a fitting way (it might not be a happy ending, but it makes sense). Throughout the narrative, she wryly comments on subjects as varied as class status, modern warfare, love, parenting and reality television – all while writing from a teenage girl’s point of point of view.
Meyer also writes from a teen girl’s perspective, but in service of a much weaker narrative that accomplishes less storytelling in twice the pages. She never met an adverb she didn’t like, and any subtext found in her novels is there by accident. Sure, she just made more money in the last 10 minutes than I’ll ever seen in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mask the fact that her writing skills leave a lot to be desired. I think that’s why Meyer’s books will eventually be seen as a fad, while Collins’ will likely join J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as something people will be reading 50 years from now. Why? That ties into the final difference…
5. The audience is wider than teen girls and soccer moms
There’s nothing wrong with writing a four-novel series about a high school girl with relationship issues, but it severely limits what kind of people – and how many of them – will read your stuff. As the subhead suggests, in an admittedly oversimplified fashion, the target demo for Twilight is adolescent girls and a curiously large number of middle-aged women.
The Hunger Games novels have already broken through the typical young adult lit constraints (and thankfully the comparisons to its inferior predecessor), and are being read by a wide range of demos, including the tough-to-reach preteen and teen boy group. Heck, even pop culture-curious old fogeys like myself are reading and enjoying them. And now there’s a whole new wave of readers that are just now hearing about Collins’ books due to the smash success of the movie. That bodes extremely well for the big screen incarnations of the last two installments.