I really want to keep this point direct and clear: “The Hunger Games” is not the new Harry Potter franchise.
This shouldn’t become a rant. I want to stay civil and controlled; I don’t want to preach for 700 words. But people always fall for the latest hype, and we — meaning the writers watching over all this — have to respond. Usually, it’s a struggle. This time, it’s easy.
This is an open response to the many (more and more by the day) critics and bloggers writing that the recent release of “The Hunger Games” signals the dawn of a new era. As they put it: Meet the next Harry James Potter. Here’s the hook of my argument: How dare you all.
So what exactly is “The Hunger Games?”
It’s very much like “The Most Dangerous Game.” (You know, the old Richard Connell short story? The one about the big-game hunter that gets lost at sea and winds up on the island of a crazy Cossack out of touch with the times? A crazy Cossack that hunts him like a beast? You know, that one?) But in the world of “The Hunger Games,” the big-game hunter is replaced by a gaggle of teenagers, and the crazy Cossack is a sadistic, centralized, authoritarian state that uses a gladiatorial competition to prove a point: Don’t ever dream of rebelling (again).
“The Hunger Games” samples several different tropes of the genre (a cross-section between young adult and dystopic fantasy), but it’s still an intriguing narrative nonetheless. I want to know who the main character is; I want to know why she’s participating in these games; I want to watch her overthrow the system. (Because what else would a reasonable protagonist do in this situation?) But you can’t found a wide-reaching cultural phenomena based on intriguing plots. If they did, then the original “Indiana Jones” trilogy was the Industrial Revolution, while the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie was the South after the Civil War: bombed, depleted and aggressively ashamed.
Seriously, though, I like “The Hunger Games.” But it’s no Harry Potter.
I know we’re only a year removed from the release of the final Potter film, and I know we’re going to have to deal with the repercussions of the empty void that the franchise left in the market. But now we have Hollywood studios slapping a Potter teaser on every book-to-screen adaptation on the block. Of course we can’t blame them. But we don’t have to accept it.
Our generation (defined here as anyone born between 1980 and 1996) swallowed Harry Potter. His story was more than intriguing — it was fresh and relatable. What kid hasn’t sat alone in bed wishing that there was something more out there? After devouring the first 100 pages or so of “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” who didn’t (from then on) wish that an owl would come tapping at their window? Or who didn’t start regarding every motionless cat as a secret witch in disguise keeping tabs on them?
Harry Potter tapped into the childhood collective unconscious. It didn’t so much create a fantastic world as much as it allowed the reader (and later the viewer) to project their own fantasies, and to envision their own adventures. “The Hunger Games” is a fun watch; Harry Potter was a lifestyle.
Because of this, people dove into the series like a holy text: People stood in lines for days to secure midnight copies. Whole Internet communities sprang up out of the woodwork to address readers’ concerns (and read readers’ often deplorable fan fiction). The series was so popular that videos of people shouting “Snape kills Dumbledore!” went viral. After the release of the final book, NBC (and this is half-conjecture) shelled out their Christmas savings to get the first televised interview with Rowling herself.
“The Hunger Games” enjoys no such popularity. It’ll make a lot of money, but it’ll never “Reducto!” the bank like Harry and his friends did. (See what I did there?) I mean, I’d rather buy seven wands and a Mars Inc. chocolate frog than anything I could get in “The Hunger Games” that wasn’t a weapon or a person. That doesn’t mean that the product is bad — I’m just saying this to prove a point.
Honestly, I could go on and on. I could keep spitting out cleverly abrasive non-statements. I could start throwing statistics at you. (The seven Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies combined. The three “Hunger Games” books have sold about 25 million. Basically, that’s 8 million copies per book against 64 million copies per book. That’s eight times bigger. Eight!) But at the end of the day, it’s better for me to just keep this column simple (and keep my editors happy).
Though both book series give us strong protagonists that think with their hearts and have nothing to lose (so they save the world), that’s where the similarities end.
Harry Potter serviced an entire generation. He grew up before our also-growing eyes. He didn’t give us something to aspire to; he gave us a character and a story-world in which we lived. “Hunger Games” will no doubt be profitable, but so was the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise well into its fourth installment. To be honest, it isn’t much more than that: a new, profitable series, one as equally spectacular and dismissible as the kill-or-be-killed plot at the center of it all.
I mean, the girl can’t even speak Parseltongue — what more needs to be said?