A summary (Because if we literally covered every possible way in which “The Hunger Games” is better than ‘Twilight’ we’d be writing a book, not an article, and it would still be better written than ‘Twilight’)
Ever since Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” trilogy arrived on the young adult literature scene, it has been compared to “The Twilight Saga” by Stephenie Meyer. Now that “The Hunger Games” movie is coming out, more and more we’ll be hearing that it is “the next ‘Twilight.’” Not only is this comparison completely illogical and bizarre, but it’s offensive. To compare “The Hunger Games” to “The Twilight Saga” is to suggest that they are at least equal in quality, which is of course preposterous.
We compare apples to oranges. We do not compare apples to moldy, putrefying globs of vegetable matter that hate Christmas and kill puppies for fun. Thus, there can be no comparison between “The Hunger Games” and “The Twilight Saga” because (and I want to make this abundantly clear) “The Hunger Games” is actually — good.
There are those who believe that “Twilight” is a good book. They’re wrong.
Those who believe that the movies based on the “Twilight” books are good are also wrong. And those who believe that there are books based on the “Twilight” movies are wrongest of all, on a number of levels.
We can allow for different literary and film taste. After all, there’s something for everyone, and there must be someone out there (some out-of-their-mind person) for whom “The Twilight Saga” is the be-all and end-all of literary greatness (they’re wrong, of course, but let’s humor them for the sake of discourse). Their high opinion of “Twilight” is valid as far as opinions are concerned, and so we shouldn’t look down on someone simply for their love of “Twilight” (though we do).
No, Twihards are welcome to love “Twilight”. But the moment they imply that the affront to the English language and feminist sensibilities that is their sparkly glorified abusive relationship story is equal to “The Hunger Games”, those of us with fully functioning brains must take a stand.
Ladies, gentlemen, and Twihards: “The Hunger Games” is in no uncertain terms way better than “Twilight” and I’ll tell you why.
For one thing, “The Hunger Games” has a plot. If we’re just focusing on the first book in either series, on one side of the arena we have a complex coming-of-age story with a heroine who defies both authority and gender roles in the name of survival and building a better world, which deals with adult themes of life-and-death magnitude. On the other side we have a story about the importance of having a cute boyfriend, to paraphrase Stephen King.
Nothing happens in “Twilight.” We spend the first three quarters of the book marveling over Bella’s hackneyed descriptions of Edward’s hunky marble ass and watching her brush her teeth. Then Stephenie Meyer remembers that books are supposed to involve some kind of conflict, so she throws in a bunch of meany-pants vampires who conveniently want to suck our heroine’s (and I use that word lightly) heart out through her neck. It’s lazy writing, and it means that about 70% of “Twilight” could’ve benefitted from the backspace key.
By contrast, a whole helluva lot happens in “The Hunger Games.” We begin the story by getting introduced to our heroine and her world. Collins sets up clear rules and systems for Katniss’s society right away, and then the rest of the plot revolves around how Katniss alternately bends to those rules, or learns to break them. There are characters outside of the love triangle who are fully-realized and important to both Katniss and the plot. And speaking of the love triangle: It exists, but is not the most important thing in “The Hunger Games”.
The most noticeable difference between “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” is the main character. For one thing, “The Hunger Games” has one. Don’t ask me why Stephenie Meyer thought it was cool to have a limp noodle narrate her magnum opus. I’m still trying to figure out why she thought it was ok to cast all the people of color in “Twilight” as savage beasts (the appalling cultural appropriation rampant in “Twilight” is for another article).
Bella Swan is both a blank slate and a completely negative role model. Meyer has been quoted as saying that she deliberately wrote Bella with very little character description so the reader could more easily slip into her skin and experience the story as Bella. For one thing: That’s a bullshit excuse for lazy writing. For another: Writing a character who spends every waking moment criticizing herself, thinking poorly of herself, and submitting to the wills of other (male) characters as a vehicle for the imaginations of impressionable teenage girls is utterly reprehensible. If I had a teenage daughter who was at all unsure of herself, I would be terrified to expose her to the ideas of self-loathing that are glorified in “Twilight.”
Not only does Bella have literally nothing good to say about herself, but she is perfectly willing to let others walk all over her, or to walk all over others. She has one of two reactions to everyone around her: 1) “I worship the ground you walk on and will endure physical pain and emotional degradation if you so wish,” or 2) “I can’t be bothered to acknowledge you exist or care about your petty feelings, Charlie, Jessica, Mike, Angela, Eric, or all of my other so-called ‘friends.’”
Katniss, on the other hand, is a fully-realized and complex character. She has mommy issues. She was raised in abject poverty. She makes decisions fueled alternately by a calculating ruthlessness and desperate emotional instinct. Katniss is a person in a way that Bella could never be because Katniss is not a blank slate, and yet she is still remarkably easy for readers both male and female to relate to. Katniss has a strong sense of self that allows her both to admit that she is in the Hunger Games to survive, and to admit that she is confused and conflicted about her feelings for Peeta and Gale. She is strong in her moments of weakness. She is a contradictory character… much like real people in the real world.
Then there’s the romance. Again, “Twilight” is a story marketed to teenage girls. And speaking as a former teenage girl, I know what balls of unpredictable hormones and self-consciousness they can be. The Prince Charming romance is tried and true, but in “Twilight” it takes a darker twist.
Bella’s relationship with Edward is horrifying. He sneaks into her room at night to watch her sleep. He stalks her. He dictates who she can spend time with and when. He controls her comings and goings. He admits to wanting to kill her. He withholds physical intimacy and makes her feel guilty for having perfectly normal feelings of attraction. When they consummate their relationship he leaves her black and blue from head to toe, and by that time she’s so indoctrinated into the Cult of Edward that she basically tells him “Oh no, dear. It’s perfectly fine that you severely injured me during my first sexual encounter. I completely forgive you for not being able to control yourself and avoid hurting me. It’s perfectly understandable”
Parents of teenage girls: This is not a healthy relationship. This is not a relationship you want your daughters fantasizing about. This is not the relationship you want your daughters to find normal when they’re grown up and at the mercy of real life Edwards who will terrorize and abuse them. Stephenie Meyer is blatantly irresponsible by glorifying an abusive relationship to teenagers.
To be fair, Katniss’s relationships with Peeta and Gale are by no means healthy, but they are at least semi-normal. And Katniss’s romance with Peeta in particular subverts gender roles in a way that is both empowering to young people reading the books and utterly romantic.
While Katniss is a hunter with deadly skills in archery and snaring (a traditionally masculine role), Peeta is a baker and an artist (traditionally more feminine skills) and a gifted speaker. Yet they complement each other. Peeta’s talents don’t make him a weaker person than Katniss, or make him obsolete to the woman who can both feed and defend herself. On the contrary: Peeta’s artistic skills allowed him to camouflage and save himself in “The Hunger Games” until Katniss could find him. They also give him a vehicle for expressing his emotions that make him in ways stronger than Katniss. His eloquence proved invaluable in uniting the districts during their victory tour, and his paintings of the arena expressed quite vividly the experiences that Katniss found it difficult to share with Gale and her family.
So in short, Katniss and Peeta are equally matched, though their strengths lie in different areas. When one treats the other poorly, it is not glorified by Suzanne Collins. When Katniss drugs Peeta so she can go to the cornucopia without him, Peeta feels betrayed and has difficulty forgiving her. As he should. Katniss, like Edward, believed that she was violating her partner’s rights to keep him safe, but unlike Bella (who simply rolls over and accepts Edward’s decrees on her behalf), Peeta does not simply excuse Katniss’s violation.
Beyond the plot, the main character, and the romance, there is one other fundamental level on which “The Hunger Games” kicks “Twilight”’s ass. Suzanne Collins can write. I’m not sure what Stephenie Meyer thought she was doing for four massive books, but it certainly wasn’t a credit to the English language or artistic expression.
It has been argued that Stephenie Meyer’s writing isn’t bad it’s just “her style.” In the words of Dana from the anti-“Twilight” blog Reasoning With Vampires: “Fine. Her style is tacky.” Good writing is not simply about being grammatically correct. It’s about knowing the rules of grammar and understanding when it’s effective to break them. Both Collins and Meyer include sentence fragments in their writing, but the difference is that Collins’s use of fragments is meant to heighten the tension of exciting scenes and spur the action forward. Meyer’s sentence fragments simply indicate that she doesn’t know what she’s doing.
Meyer’s syntax choices are baffling, her spelling is laughable (I don’t know about you, but if I had a “moat” of dust stuck in my eye I’d be screaming in pain), and her over-use of the thesaurus makes for humorously purple prose (Edward’s “liquid topaz” eyes were just a little too much for me, but I guess when every other sentence is used to describe the physical perfection of Sparkle Boy, one has to change it up somehow). The only thing natural about Meyer’s writing is that it reads like a tenth grader’s creative writing assignment.
But Meyer is not a tenth grader writing a story for school. She’s a professionally published author writing for the public market and somebody somewhere along the line should’ve forced her to revise. As a publishing professional, I’m a little embarrassed on behalf of Little,Brown’s editorial department. Just because the romance of Bella and Edward sprang fully-formed from Meyer’s dreaming mind does not mean that that is the best possible way it could have been written. Quite the opposite in fact, since many professional authors will tell you that shoddy first drafts are a necessary step in the writing process.
Collins writes for the same young adult audience that Meyer writes for. Both “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” are narrated by teenage girls. And yet Katniss’s narration manages to remain fresh, interesting, and intelligent throughout three books. No one ever excuses the prose in “The Hunger Games” because “Well, the narrator is a teenage girl and that’s just how they think/speak/write,” and yet defenders of “Twilight” use that excuse all the time. It is possible to write in the voice of a teenager without writing like a teenager. Collins does this beautifully, even while including sentence fragments and unorthodox syntax.
“The Hunger Games” comes out in theaters on Friday, and no doubt the “Twilight” comparisons will go into full force then. “Will ‘The Hunger Games’ dethrone ‘Twilight’ as the reigning teen craze?” the entertainment writers will ask, just as they did of “Twilight” “dethroning” “Harry Potter” (another ill-fitting comparison).
The main character is a young woman and the story contains a love triangle, but the similarities end there. While there are probably some fans who enjoy both, the two stories aren’t even in the same ballpark. In fact, “The Hunger Games” is way out of “Twilight’s” league.