After having belatedly seen The Hunger Games – and having fallen agonisingly in love with Josh Hutcherson – I recently read the corresponding novel out of a combination of curiosity and dissertation procrastination. It was awesome. I reverted back to my early teenage self; so much so that I read the final chapter à la Harry Potter doing his homework secretly at the Dursleys’ – under the duvet with a torch. Closing the book, I faced up to the age-old dilemma that legions of Potterphiles, Twihards and run-of-the-mill teenage bookworms have been forced to confront: do I read the next book in preparation for the second film? Or do I settle down on the edge of my seat for the next few months until I am informed, through the magic of the silver screen, of whether Katniss and Peeta save the world?
I gave in of course. Who wouldn’t? And I didn’t stop there, because the internet in my flat went down for 24 hours, and Mockingjay, the final instalment in the trilogy, was staring at me from where it was wedged in between my dictionaries and textbooks. Sitting in a puddle of shame at the fact that I have no willpower, I noticed, on the spine of the book, a quotation from teen novel It-girl Stephenie Meyer: ‘The Hunger Games is amazing’.
That made me laugh. Yeah, right, Stephenie. Writing that endorsement, Meyer was probably sitting in the Gothic mansion that I imagine she inhabits, weeping and throwing pages of her attempt at a re-vamp (geddit?) of what has become a rather tired formula into the fire. She has been ousted.
In the ongoing struggle to capture the hearts and minds of teens across the globe (Gleeks are of course excepted in this case because they were a lost cause long ago) a popular clique has formed. I like to think of this clique as akin to The Plastics from Tina Fey’s high school comedy Mean Girls. JK Rowling, without a doubt the reigning queen of twenty-first-century fantasy, is the Regina George of the group. Stephenie Meyer, mascara running, is Gretchen. She used to be the right hand girl. Everyone had accepted that Twilight was second-rate compared to Potter, but her tale of forbidden love between the living and the undead turned posh-but-nice Cedric Diggory into a sex symbol. Now Meyer has been unceremoniously turfed from the spotlight by newcomer Suzanne Collins, creator of The Hunger Games. Her heroine is cooler, her character names are weirder and, if we are imagining she is the Cady Heron of this story, her boobs are just way better.
The battle lines have been drawn – the only way to solve this bitter rivalry is a fight to the death.
The battle arena is The Elephant House café on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh, on the same side of the road as Greyfriars Bobby. (A friend of mine, a Londoner confused by all the space, smiles, and clean air in Edinburgh, recently described this statue – a cornerstone in the history of this great city – as “that funny little Bobby the Dog thingy”.) This little café has capitalised on the success of Rowling’s creation, and is now complete with a sign citing it as ‘The Birthplace of Harry Potter’ – one of many locations around Edinburgh which I’m sure can make the claim that The Boy Who Lived was created in their vicinity.
Here, in this humble setting, chairs and tables have been cleared away and Rowling is seated on a throne crafted from only the greatest fantasy novels. She leans her right elbow on Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, adjusting the cushion of J.R.R. Tolkien behind her glossy head. Before her, Collins and Meyer grapple for her attention. The paper ghosts of a sexually abstinent vampire and the broad-shouldered son of a baker square off, at their authors’ requests. Edward Cullen is easily defeated of course. Peeta Mellark has baked a bread crucifix.
I’m glad I gave in and read the rest of The Hunger Games trilogy before the release of the movie equivalents, as I had done with Harry Potter, Twilight, His Dark Materials, and countless others. A literature student is surely duty-bound to favour the written word, and spurn the screen. It’s a pretty obvious observation to say that, in these times, the success of a screen adaptation can change the face of an author’s career. My younger cousin, for example, (a daily consumer of the Disney Channel) would never consider touching a book if its movie version wasn’t completely engrossing. Meyer is probably cursing Kristen Stewart, who is forever her leading lady. Jennifer Lawrence, as Collins’ Katniss Everdeen, is ten thousand times more charming than Kristen – no one falls up a flight of stairs at an awards show like Jennifer. Both actors rock the brooding indie-film world of course (check out Winter’s Bone if you don’t believe me). But if you want a kick-ass heroine, you don’t want one who seems to believe that every time she smiles, it might shorten her life by five years.
After writing the above, I stopped to write a letter of condolence to Stephenie Meyer. But, hey, at least she’s not L.J. Smith. You know, the one who wrote The Vampire Diaries? Now, that really would suck.