Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bella Has Nothing on Harry, Frodo and Katniss

It took me a few hours to process The Hunger Games, and when I did finally see it for what it was, it made me realise, again, how terrible Twilight is.  I’ll fully admit that Twilight is my guilty pleasure.  When it is on TV, be it FX or Showtime, and I see it, I stop and watch it.  It isn’t quite a train wreck, but it comes pretty close.  I’ve blogged about this countless times and will probably do so every time I come across any Young Adult literature that surpasses Twilight in every way. 

In Twilight, we have a girl, Bella Swan, who doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere.  The beginning of the book places her more as the parent than the child in her relationship with her mother, and this forces her to move so her mother can live a carefree life without her.  This isn’t to say that her mother doesn’t care, but it is clear from the very beginning that the self interests of the characters will always overshadow their concern for one another.  The growing trend of this is made more real by the relationship that Bella and Edward share as the story progresses.  In even the simplest of terms, Edward is controlling and manipulative, to the point that if he weren’t super-human and good looking, any self-respecting girl would file a restraining order and have nothing to do with him.  But not Bella, no, Ms. Swan internalises this and decides that she can’t do better than Edward because he is ‘perfect’ for her and his lifestyle of eternal life is just right for her.

I could deride this story for poor writing, but that would be unfair of me, until I myself publish a novel, I have no stones with which to throw.  However, I would be overlooking the obvious by not pointing out how terrible a role model Bella and Edward both are for young kids, though Jacob is actually, for the most part, a respectable, ‘good’ kid.  He is loyal to a fault and places Bella’s needs over his own in what can only be seen as a true act of kindness and friendship, something neither Bella nor Edward ever exhibit in the entire Twilight Series.

Why this came to my mind I blame on a friend asking me to see The Hunger Games at midnight on Thursday night.  I haven’t read the books, I think I’ve said that enough, but the movie was surprisingly good, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe surprisingly good.  And while I have a lot of issues with the Chronicles of Narnia series, it too shares the same overall theme with the yet to be named books I’m referencing in the title.

One theme that I found in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Hunger Games that is missing from Twilight, but is an important one for kids to learn is sacrifice.  It wasn’t until I watched yet another trailer for the movie when I realised that was the piece that made Hunger Games stand out to me, more than Twilight ever will.  In the first twenty minutes of the movie, Katniss sacrifices her own life for her sister’s, knowing that by making the decision she makes, she has a very strong likelihood, if not absolute certainty, that she will die.  It is in this act that Katniss, and Suzanne Collins, brings her book to another level.  One that is built to slowly in Potter, but is alluded to just as quickly in Rings.

If you’re unfamiliar, for some odd reason, and if you’re reading this blog, you should know better than to come here without this knowledge, but both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter embrace any number of admirable qualities, including willing to sacrifice yourself for the greater good.  In Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins is given the most powerful weapon ever forged, and is tasked by men (and others) much smarter and stronger than he, but he freely and willingly takes on the task of destroying the ring.  Ultimately, his sacrifice comes full circle and he does give up his mortal life, going to the Undying Lands with what is left of Elf-kind.  Frodo is forced to make a sudden decision, like Katniss, and while we come to realise that part of his sacrifice is the hold of the ring already taking effect, much of it is also a wish to save those he cares about most, as we see in his vision in Galadriel’s mirror.

In Harry Potter, a similar fate is bestowed upon the main protagonist, Harry Potter.  In the first few books, Harry doesn’t always come face to face with the sacrifice, so much as impossible situations he can’t possibly survive, as in the first two books.  But it is in the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, where Harry fully realises that either he or Lord Voldemort will have to kill the other, because both can’t live while the other is alive.  The weight of the novels increase both in pages as well as tone once this realisation is made.  Potter goes so far as to try and elude his long-time friends Ron and Hermione in an effort to save them, but they stay with him almost until the end.  As the story draw to its close and Harry is faced with the choice to live, and be on the run for the rest of his life, endangering everyone he cares about, or sacrifice himself for everyone else to live, the choice seems easy.  He goes into the Forbidden Forest to meet his death.

In all three cases, though less so for Frodo, the characters that sacrifice themselves for the greater good are saved, in some form or fashion.  I’m basing The Hunger Games on the first movie only and not the books at all.  They all realise that while they value their own lives, there is something greater to be had if they do what is right.  And then there’s Bella.  The entire goal of Twilight seems simply to have a boyfriend/husband.  And I can certainly admit to wanting one or the other at some point, but to base an entire novel on it, that isn’t a Harlequin romance, and is geared towards kids, seems uninspired.  I think we all want to have a storybook romance, but to have no substance in that romance makes for a hard novel to stand behind.  I am happy to say that the staying power of Twilight isn’t strong, but as a guilty pleasure, I’ll continue watching it for that dream that can’t possibly be real, and puts foolish ideas in my head that are utterly unrealistic, such as men actually being chivalrous or liking you for something that isn’t shallow and derisive.  Twilight is many things, but none of it good.  Hunger Games may fill the void that Potter has left behind.  I often worried that Twilight would fill that gap, but am glad to see that isn’t the case.  I’ve resisted the urge to read The Hunger Games, but will be less able to do so as time goes on.  For those of you familiar with all four series, I am curious what your take on each is, in comparison to one another, but expect no disagreement with respect to the lack of credibility in Twilight as a redeeming novel.

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