Harry Potter changed the world. The boy who lived has four hundred million copies and eight movies, all of which are in the 50 highest-grossing of all time, in his name as well as several acting careers that will never be remembered beyond their involvement with the franchise no matter where they go.
When Hollywood gets something this massively successful, it tries — with some rough adherence to the scientific method — to identify and replicate that success. In this case, that meant green-lighting every “young adult” series ever written. The publishing industry, given that it’s essentially the exact same thing, green-lit every young adult author they had who was offering a series about kids who were somehow special.
The resultant trend has come in two distinct flavors — Hunger Games and its clones and Twilight and its clones. All of these movies have been awful. All except for Suzanne Collins’ adaptations.
Some of this is pure filmmaking and acting talent, which the series lucked out on in a big way. But that doesn’t account for the uniformly ridiculous stories of the other series. With part one of Catching Fire hitting theaters tomorrow, it’s time to examine the story pitfalls of these entropic, redundant series and how The Hunger Games has avoided them.
The concept of muggles is one of the most offensive things in modern literature. Some people just aren’t cool enough. They are so useless, dull and unperceptive they literally cannot see the beautiful, special and unique mutant powers manifesting in the main character. Powers that aren’t unique at all and clearly represent puberty, which everybody goes through and thinks it’s special, but that’s beside the point.
Bella won’t kiss anything that isn’t supernatural. The Mortal Instruments series calls them “mundanes” almost as a derogatory slur, and Percy Jackson calls them “mortals.” The point is that some people aren’t special like you and can be safely disregarded. Harry Potter avoids this counting against it because they don’t feature as main characters. Also, this sort of thing only becomes truly offensive as a trend.
Hunger Games avoids this pitfall by simply avoiding the concept. Societal differences on Panem are either inherited through its caste system or earned by winning the games.
Artificially segmented society
Several of the Harry Potter release parties featured mock sorting ceremonies, mainly because that’s one of the only things in the books that’s physically possible to replicate. This is the granddaddy of several series’ policies on societal segmentation.
Divergent showcases a society in which citizens must choose one character trait to develop at age 16 and are forbidden from second-guessing themselves, which seems to be a representation of how no one can never change careers or majors ever and absolutely must make a signed-in-blood decision on their future at age 16, because that’s totally true of our society. Twilight and its followers pit vampires against other supernatural creatures in what essentially amounts to a race war. Even Maze Runner features handy, one-word labels for its characters.
Though the sorting ceremony was akin to joining a fraternity, all of these spin-offs are meant to symbolize or administer oppression in the story, and Hunger Games is the only one that does it right. The 13 districts, each more impovershed than the next, reflect how oppression has really worked in Western Civilization. It hearkens back to the fuedal systems in the Dark Ages and modern economic oppression. Uprisings are met how revolting slaves are met — with continuous, unthinkable violence. It strikes a nerve because the oppression isn’t tied to fears no one holds beyond high school — it’s tied to human history.
Jesus Christ Syndrome
Over seven years, Harry Potter grows into an inspirational character. He’s a born leader with Jesus of Nazareth’s own compassion and empathy. he is a master of conflict resolution and getting the best out of people around him. In the end, he feels only sorrow for Voldemort, and goes on to a distinguished public service career partnered with his brother-in-law and best friend.
This is a stark contrast to Bella Swan, Tris Prior and Thomas, none of whom have any character traits to speak of. They are the major malfunction of their series — each of them is such an everyman that they negate every man’s ability to empathize with them. They are simply the Chosen One, and have no other aspects.
Katniss Everdeen doesn’t want to save the world. She wants to save her sister. She’s a survivor. She’s a lone wolf. She’s real and scared and vulnerable. Collins’ horrifying cop-out of pairing her with Peeta instead of sending her to live along int he woods, as her character would probably much prefer, is the series biggest failure, and the films have done a good job of de-emphasizing the romantic aspects. She’s not inspirational the way Potter is, but she’s more than a neutral action face. That, more than anything, is what sets The Hunger Games apart — its lead character is not an effigy of a messiah, she’s an actual character.