The next 'Potter'? 'Hunger Games' takes kids to darker, more violent place.
The buzz over the 'Hunger Games' movie suggests a new blockbuster young-adult franchise is being born. But the coming-of-age tale set in a fascist future has less humor than 'Potter.'
Renee Jones Schneider/The Minneapolis Star Tribune/AP
The movie version of book one inÂ â€śThe Hunger Gamesâ€ť trilogy is still a week away, but if fan-site buzz and advance ticket sales are any sign, another blockbuster young-adult franchise is being born.
"Harry Potter" begat â€śTwilight,â€ť whichÂ begat â€śThe Hunger Games,â€ť butÂ each begetting has its own quirks.
This series â€“ starring a trio of teens, a format familiar to Harry Potter fans â€“ features a 16-year-old heroine at the helm. It is darker, more dystopian, and less humorous than the tale of the young wizards faced with saving their world from the evil Lord Voldemort.
This time, the foe is aÂ bloodless government that has the people ofÂ aÂ fascist, post-apocalyptic futureÂ firmly in its grip.Â The 12Â districts of Panem, the entity that has replacedÂ the USÂ in this grittier and quite forsaken devastated land,Â are annually forced to send child warriors to battle in a televised, lethal, American Idol-style elimination game.
Green skin and cat eyes aside, this is a far less fantastical place â€“ only one survivorÂ can emerge.
The appeal of this tale is very similar to that of the Harry Potter books, but it takes the narrative to a slightly more mature place,Â says Elisabeth Gruner, associate professor of English at the University of Richmond.
â€śThese are more sophisticated, more violent, and they aim forÂ an older audience,â€ť she says. But, she points out the key similarity in all these recent multi-book narratives, one that is common to much of childrenâ€™sÂ literature.
â€śThey put children in the middle of the action, positioning them as the saviors ofÂ a larger, more confusing adult world,â€ť she says,Â pointing to everything from the Lewis Carroll Alice tales, where Alice is at the heart of the story, to Lord of the Rings. â€śThey may have been Hobbits,â€ť she notes, â€śbut for the purposes of storytelling, they were perceived as adolescentsÂ up against a far more powerfulÂ people.â€ť
Many of the fans have embracedÂ Hunger GamesÂ with as much commitment as they did Harry Potter. Boston-area high schoolÂ sophomore Abbie Kaplan says the violence in Hunger Games was an adjustment.
â€śIÂ had never read anything that detailed before,â€ť she says, â€śbut after I got used to it I really got into it.â€ť The 15-year-old Boston Latin student says she found many parallels between the descriptions in the books and the contemporary world around her, and in some waysÂ found this discouraging.
â€śIt is very corrupt,â€ť she says of theÂ politics described in the book, and adds, â€śthe book obviously exaggerates things but clearly the author has some feelings about the world we live in today.â€ťÂ She ticks off the issues she seesÂ surfacingÂ throughout the narrative, including â€śmanipulation of power and innocent people dying for no reason.â€ť
But, Ms. Kaplan also identifies with the coming-of-age story that lies at the heart ofÂ KatnissÂ Everdeenâ€™s struggle to survive and fight backÂ against overwhelming odds. The central character takes the place of her younger sister, who has beenÂ designated to fight in the Hunger Games contest.
â€śShe chooses to sacrifice herself for her younger sister,â€ť she says, adding that she has a younger brother the same age. â€śI donâ€™t know what I would have done,â€ť she says, noting that because theyÂ are nearly the same age, she relates to the characterâ€™s thoughts and feelings, adding, â€śshe has such amazing courage and strength.â€ť
The storyâ€™s violence has been raising concern about theÂ power of the imagery when it migrates from the page to the big screen, points out Us WeeklyÂ editor Albert Lee.
But, he notes, â€śpeople have beenÂ wringing their hands about violence and children ever sinceÂ Disney killed off Bambiâ€™s mother.â€ť
Mr. Lee says director Gary Ross has gone to great lengths to keep the violence suggestiveÂ more than graphic. But, he adds, this grappling with terrifying forces is at the heart of a good childrenâ€™s story.
â€śGo back to the scariest fairy tales in the Brothers Grimm and you realize this is what good childrenâ€™s stories are about,â€ť he says, â€śthe stakes are high, but it shows children they can deal with a scary world.â€ť