How many times have I heard that in the two years since The Hunger Games came out? Too many too count. And I have to say, it continues to baffle me: These novels could not be more different. Stephenie Meyer’s is more of a traditional romance (populated, I grant you, by some pretty untraditional characters); while Suzanne Collins’ is a tale of war and survival.
Is it that both books star unforgettable women? I suppose you could say that in the most sweeping and general sense, Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan are alike: Both have cores of steel. They know what they want, and they aren’t going to back down. But for me, any similarity ends there.
Forged by famine, disease, and unbelievable hardship, Katniss, 16, regularly slips beneath the electrified barbed wire fence to hunt and forage for her her family–a crime punishable by death. She’s not interested in romance. She’s not big on forgiveness (even when it comes to her own mother). And when her younger sister, Primrose, is selected by lottery to participate in the barbaric murder ritual called The Hunger Games, Katniss steps in and takes her place. Bella, on the other hand, has known sadness but not poverty or want. Arriving in Forks to live with her dad, knowing no one, she’s the shy girl, the outcast, who’s suddenly plucked from obscurity by the ravishingly handsome Edward Cullen. Hers is the stuff of classic fairy tales; she’s a princess who must be rescued, time and time again, by her one of her two prince charmings, either the vampire or the werewolf. Frankly, compared to Katniss, Bella is simply the more passive character: For the most part, things happen to her. Katniss, on the other hand, copes with disaster by strategizing–and bulldozing–her way through the situation. Does she ever need to be rescued? Absolutely. But she also rescues Peeta–a real or feigned love interest?–more than once along the way.
That brings me to the love triangle issue. Could it be that people compare the two books because their heroines must choose between two men? Again, I don’t find this valid. Bella, it seems to me, never wavers in her love for Edward, despite Jacob’s devotion. In contrast, I’m left with the feeling that Katniss may very well not know what love is at all. She may have been too badly damaged by war, by deprivation, by emotional and physical torture to ever be able to love fully and normally. Whatever she feels for Peeta or for Gale, it isn’t the headlong devotion Bella has for Edward. More importantly, the question of whom Katniss will end up with isn’t what drives the narrative. In other words, the question isn’t, Which one will she marry? The question is, Will she live until the end of the book?
So weigh in, Shelf Lifers. Do you think Twilight and The Hunger Games tread the same territory?