In the wake of the conclusion of the Harry Potter franchise and the impending end of the Twilight series, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games filled the void existing in the epic teen genre with sales of over 13 million between 2010 and 2011 alone. Following in the footsteps of both Harry Potte” and Twilight, the series is being adapted into a blockbuster move franchise and advance ticket sales for the first film have already broken records. However, despite its obvious similarities to Potter and Twilight, Collins’ series is a major departure from what we’ve seen from this genre, primarily because of its protagonist, Katniss Everdeen.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss displays a fierce independence that neither the titular characters of Potter nor Bella of Twilight have ever shown. Where the others owe much to their fellow lead and supporting characters, Katniss does not. Her only friend is Gale Hawthorne, with whom she hunts and gathers to provide food for her family, and while he taught her to hunt and trap, alone she is a highly skilled archer. She is strong-willed, stubborn and physically tough, and while teenage love plays a major role in the series – as in the others – Katniss seems almost stripped of sexuality and romantic propensity. The only emotions she seems to possess are the desire to stay alive and take care of her mother and younger sister Prim.
Like Harry Potter, Katniss has a great tendency to save those she cares about, but the major difference here is, of course, that Katniss is a female protagonist. The female lead in Potter, Hermione Granger, is an intensely passionate and brilliant young woman but she lacks the leadership skills and iconography that are inherently tied to Harry’s characterization – both of which Katniss possesses. In Katniss, Collins created the ultimate teen female lead. Unlike the Twilight series’ Bella, Katniss does not need nor wait to be saved by anyone, least of all a boy. Rather, later in the series she is the one who saves the male lead.
I am unfamiliar with most of Twilight, but the character in “Potter” Katniss most resembles is probably the psychotic worshipper of Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange, one of the most ferociously drawn witches and characters in the series. Both Bellatrix and Katniss are strong, seemingly vicious and mostly unperturbed by emotions. They are driven by the efforts of their causes, which they strongly believe in and do not hold curb their power. Yet, unlike Bellatrix, Katniss falls at the feet of no one.
It seems common in sci-fi and fantasy novels for the side of evil to contain female characters that are comfortable displaying the true arc of their abilities and are unapologetic in doing so while those fighting for good are more likely to show restraint. Yet here stands Katniss Everdeen, a female protagonist who fully embraces her prowess and yet fights for the dawn of a better day. Collins has created a truly powerful lead female figure who hopefully signifies the advent of a wave of female leads in the same vein.