#ThinkpieceThursday – The Hunger Games & Twilight
Young Adult fiction and subsequent movie adaptations have been a saving grace for Hollywood over the last few years. Box office blockbusters based on the Twilight series and The Hunger Games series have smashed opening weekend records as the books topped the best seller charts.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the characters in the two series and analyze how each story works. The material on The Hunger Games is excerpted from my upcoming book on thrillers, mysteries and suspense stories. These are all Power of Truth stories.
The Hunger Games is a classic Power of Truth Story and protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), is a picture perfect Power of Truth Character Type.
Power of Truth stories deal with secrets, lies, conspiracies, what is hidden or concealed, and the larger issues or covert agendas that are secretly manipulating the story world and the characters in it.
In The Hunger Games, the Capitol government runs an annual televised reality show featuring young contestants who fight to the death. The fighters are recruited in an involuntary “reaping” from each district. The games are a way to keep the districts separate and in adversarial competition with each other.
The reality show set is electronically generated– it is a manufactured 3-D world that doesn’t really exist. The conditions, terrain, rules, and contestants are secretly manipulated to generate the most interesting show and to covertly target contestants the Capitol favors or dislikes.
The games are a living metaphor for how the Capitol manipulates and punishes or rewards the various districts on a larger scale. Nothing is what it seems. Boundaries in the Panem district states are artificial and arbitrary. There are hidden traps and pitfalls everywhere. The Capitol sees everything but reveals only what is useful to control the population.
Power of Truth stories also chronicle the most profound and personal betrayals. The story twists and reversals eventually change everything the character believes is true.
During the reality show, contestants in The Hunger Games form temporary alliances, knowing there can only be one victor. Every one is suspect. No one can be trusted. Each contestant tries to use others to his or her own advantage. It is a cut-throat world where loyalty is a ploy and betrayal is the norm.
These kinds of stories explore the very nature of loyalty and betrayal and whether it is ever possible to know or understand the complex mysteries of the human heart. Sometimes loyalty looks like betrayal in the series. And sometimes betrayal looks like loyalty.
Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her much younger sister’s place at the annual reaping. Like most Power of Truth Protagonists, Katniss is cautious, wary, and deeply suspicious of everyone and everything. She can be combative and impulsive, shooting an arrow through an apple at the skills demonstration. The apple is in a roasted pig’s mouth in the middle of a feast for the sponsors. Katniss is impatient with the group’s lack of attention. She can also be silent and withdrawn, keeping her own counsel, watching and waiting, and playing her cards close to the vest.
Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the other contestant from her district, is chosen involuntarily at the reaping. He is scared but seemingly unnaturally happy to be accompanying Katniss. Early on he declares he has been in love with her from afar since they were very young children.
Katniss can’t be sure Peeta’s declaration of love isn’t some kind of ploy to gain advantage or trick her. Early on in the games he seems to be working against her. Then he saves her and later is willing to die with her and for her. Still, she isn’t clear about her feelings for Peeta. Chronic self-doubting and second guessing are trouble traits for a Power of Truth character. These characters don’t fully trust anyone and don’t even trust themselves.
Complicating matters is Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), the hunting partner who has helped Katniss save her family from starvation in the district. Katniss has strong feelings for Gale and feels a profound loyalty to him. This makes her doubly question her feelings for Peeta.
Gale is a Power of Conscience character and becomes key in the revolution against the Capitol in later books. Power of Conscience characters are often moral crusaders. They fall to the Dark Side when they become willing to use any means necessary to promote their cause. Gale does this when he plans an attack on innocents to help publicize and spread the revolution. He is willing to betray anything and anyone for the greater good of the cause.
The Hunger Games creates a rich, complex Power of Truth world. The characters have amazing external conflicts and obstacles (in the treacherous and shifting world of the games), they have intense relationship conflicts (filled with powerful issues of loyalty and betrayal) and they have deep internal conflict struggling between what they want and what they need (and the complex mysteries of love, loss, and hope). For more on Power of Truth stories and characters CLICK HERE
Twilight is a much simpler Power of Love story featuring far less complex characters. Power of Love stories are about lovers or partners who appear to be antagonistic, opposites, or entirely inappropriate for each other. The adversarial partners not only manage to bring out the worst in each other but also the best. The lovers grow and change through the conflict and questions in their relationship. How much must I change to accommodate you? How far can I compromise before I lose myself?
In Twilight, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is a high-school girl who falls in love with a 104 year old vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). He is powerfully attracted to her but fears he or his family will harm her. Bella’s blood is sweetly irresistible.
Bella’s love and her confidence in Edward’s restraint is unshakable. She refuses to heed his repeated warnings to stay away from him. She stumbles into harms way several times but Edward always swoops in to save her. As a result, when Edward leaves her, Bella seeks out danger to attract his attention.
Bella is a Power of Love character. Throughout the series she is willing to risk injury, death, and the loss of her immortal soul to be with Edward. When he hurts her while making love to her as a human, Bella refuses to be deterred and wants him to make love to her again. When she almost dies carrying his child she refuses to save herself and get an abortion. She is so damaged by the birth that finally there is no choice but to turn her into a vampire or surrender her to death. Bella does almost all of the changing and accommodating.
Power of Love characters see their own value reflected in the eyes of their love object. Their philosophy might be stated: “I am nothing without you.” (“And you are nothing without me.”)
Power of Love characters believe the way to get love and keep love is to be helpful, useful, loving, kind and, above all, necessary to the other person. They fear that if you don’t put others first you won’t have good relationships. If you don’t have close personal relationships, then life isn’t worth living. Bella always puts Edward first, over her safety and over her life itself. For more on Power of Love characters CLICK HERE
Edward Cullen is a Power of Idealism character. He is a poetic, musical, and sensitive young man who is in love with someone forbidden to him. This longing for what one cannot have is a hallmark of a Power of Idealism character. In contrast, Bella always believes they will eventually be together. Edward’s appearance, scent, and voice are enormously seductive to Bella, so much so that he occasionally mesmerizes her by accident. She becomes even more compliant and swooning. Edward’s intensity and his rebellious, slightly dangerous, nature is also typical of Power of Idealism characters. For more on Power of Idealism characters CLICK HERE
Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a shape-shifting member of a local Indian tribe, also competes for Bella’s love. He is a Power of Conscience character. He is a fierce defender of what is right and what is traditional. Yet he overcomes his tribe’s hostility to vampires to come to Bella’s aid even after he is rejected by her. Power of Conscience characters feel a profound sense of responsibility and duty toward others. They value what is the fair, honest, and decent thing to do. For more on Power of Conscience character CLICK HERE
Unlike The Hunger Game, which fully explores Power of Truth territory and deals with many complex levels of conflict, Twilight falls short in creating a well articulated conflict-driven Power of Love story. Here are the Twilight series shortcoming as I see them:
1. Love interests in a romance should take an instant dislike, have a deep distrust, or be separated by major philosophical, or personal differences. Love interests should have opposite world views and views on what life and love is or should be. They should not agree on anything. Their values should be diametrically opposed. Bella is immediately attracted to Edward and he to her. The forbidden nature of their love story in Twilight has to do only with physical or external differences rather than deep differences in values, philosophy, or world view.
2. Both love interests must grow or change through their relationship with one another. Something profound should be missing in each love interest’s life, character, and/or personality. This missing piece is an important personal deficiency leading to overall unhappiness. The problem isn’t just that the character is missing someone to love. It should be key to his or her genuine difficulties in life. Nothing, other than love, is missing in either Bella’s or Edward’s personality or character. Neither character needs the other to grow or change. Bella simply wears Edward down in her insistence to become a vampire. Her transformation is almost entirely physical. Edward has little real transformation at all.
a) The external forces, that keep the lovers apart (i.e. differences in culture, class, status, ethnicity, race, gender, age, religion, or social convention). Twilight gets this right and a human and vampire union is strictly forbidden. It is punishable by death.
b) The conflict with others, that keeps the lovers apart. There is some resistance from Edward’s family but it is fairly easily overcome. There is no real resistance from her own family, because her father is generally unaware of the Cullen family’s heritage.
c) The internal forces, that prevent the lovers from getting together (internal values that make each lover question and reject the initial advances that each receives from the other). This most important obstacle is entirely missing in Twilight. The focus is almost entirely on the physical external difficulties. There is nothing within Bella that makes her struggle with her choice. Edward struggles more internally but again his dilemma mostly revolves around the vampire-human conundrum.
Romances work best when there is a strong personal impediment posed by a relationship with an appropriate mate. An appropriate mate is a person who, for a variety of external reasons, SHOULD be a perfect match but isn’t. Jacob also vies for Bella’s love but he’s not a perfect external match (being a shape-shifter) and he is a much weaker contender than Edward. Early on in the first book Jacob is not fully realized as a character. He becomes more important in later books but never stands a credible chance of winning Bella.
In Moonstruck, a near perfect romance, the above three elements work wonderfully. Cher (Power of Love) is no-nonsense, practical, caring, and responsible about all her obligations. This is demonstrated in the opening scenes where she visits her bookkeeping clients. She is so practical she is about to settle for a man she doesn’t love but who is a solid member of the community. During a very unromantic proposal he tells her: “You take care of me.” What she needs is passion, inspiration, and the fiery spark of life.
Nickolas Cage (Power of Idealism) has passion and fire to the extreme. He needs someone to provide more of a stable base and an even keel. He needs to let go of his nearly operatic anger and bitterness and move on in his life. The two lovers challenge and learn from each other. Their exchange of gifts makes each a better, more well-rounded, and complete person.
In a classic love story two imperfect halves come together to form a more perfect whole. Each character brings something that is vitally necessary to the other’s overall well-being and completeness. That critical exchange of gifts is obtained through clash and conflict with the love interest.
Nevertheless the Twilight characters are well enough drawn to compel readers. Emotion and character development pretty much always trumps plot and story structure, in my view. That said– The Hunger Games has completely eclipsed Twilight at the box office and on the best seller list. The Hunger Games series has great characters and a rich, complex, well realized Power of Truth story structure—that is an unbeatable combination.