Divergence in Dystopia: A Comparison Study

This is a guest post by Kevin Weitzel. 

In September of 2008, Scholastic had no idea that what they had just released would become a worldwide phenomenon. Since then, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins has been recognized as a global sensation that’s changed the lives of millions. Hitting the New York Times Bestselling Lists instantly and selling faster than it was being printer, The Hunger Games had clearly become what people were calling “The next Twilight,” or “The next Harry Potter.” And while there aren’t any wizards or vampires involved, the success level was just the same.

The Hunger Games focuses on the life of teenager Katniss Everdeen who lives in the charred remains of what was once Northern America. Out from the rubble a dictatorship known as The Capitol rose to power and to prevent any future rebellions and wars established the cruelest of laws. Each year, through a raffle, each section of the Capitol’s country Panem must offer up a young man and women between the ages of 12-18 to fight to the death on live television. When Katniss volunteers to fight in place of her sister, she is thrown on a path of danger that will change her life and world forever.

The riveting plot of The Hunger Games, drew audiences in immediately, and a new string of entertainment focused on similar topics burst onto the scene. When a blockbuster movie was produced based on the book, the world went nuts for it, and so began the “If you like The Hunger Games you’ll love…” bandwagon. However, it seem came to the attention of fans and critics everywhere that this wasn’t the first time they had seen something like this before.

Soon enough, everybody came to understand that the “new” genre Dystopia, was not in fact “new” at all. From Brave New World, to Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, everybody had been reading similar books without even knowing it. However, two particular novels stood out significantly.

The first of these was Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. Battle Royale fans instantly attacked with “The Hunger Games is merely a juvenile rip-off of Battle Royale!” and many other complaints. The scariest part about the whole riot was the true significance between the two novels.

Battle Royale focuses on a young teen living the future. The government is a complete dictatorship and in order to keep from losing power, they have installed The Program. The Program takes a group of young people and forces them into a secluded area where they must fight to the death and only one survivor can be left standing.

Sound familiar? Well, Battle Royale fans weren’t the only ones on the scene, so were the millions of people who had read the worldwide classic The Lord of the Flies. The Lord of the Flies in-turn is about a group of young people who find themselves in a secluded area and in order to survive establish their own rules which are quickly overthrown by a savage and primal fear resulting in an “Every man for himself” conflict.

The critics were restless; Suzanne Collins was constantly being called a plagiarizer and still is. However, I have a different viewpoint about the entire scenario. The truth if, literature is recycled. Many ideas are wonderful and unique and creative, but all have their roots from other stories. And if not, somebody can make comparison to other stories. People have been writing for thousands of years and at this point, we’ve somewhat reached a point where every type of story that can be written…has. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t keep publishing and reading new books. There are unique twists to prior-used plots and interesting new ways to keep readers interested. All books have something rather unique to them and it’s important to enjoy that, but as far as “plagiarism”, that’s not what this is.

What critics don’t seem to take a good look at are the differences. For example, the feel of the story. The Hunger Games has a very emotional feel to it, while the plot’s important; it’s a generally character-based story. You really get to meet all of the different people in the story which is why teens can relate to it so well. However, in Battle Royale, it’s much more about the plot. You get to see individual’s stories, but there are so many characters that the importance is just the Battle and who will survive. And then we have Lord of the Flies which is a very interesting mix of the two. The style of this classic novel definitely focuses on characters, but also key events. I’d like to think of it as a “Broad character novel.” The story I think focuses mainly on the characters as a whole and their gradual descent into savagery. Along with that, the actual aura of the story is different. Where Hunger Games is very action packed and intense, it also leaves lots of room for the character to sympathize even over the antagonists. However, in Battle Royale, whenever you see an “enemy” of the lead characters, you hate them straight-away.

Between these three books I think the major difference is the writing style. The voice of the characters. The Hunger Games is a battle of emotions that ranges from love to hate to sadness and so on. Battle Royal is much more black and white. There isn’t too much room for an emotional range, there’s blatant hatred, and complete devotion. Rock-hard emotion dominates the world that Takami has created. And then, Lord of the Flies makes you question any judgment you put on the characters and forces you to see from different perspectives. The Hunger Games is written in 1st person perspective while the other two novels are in 3rd person. This element of the story changes it a ton. Where in The Hunger Games you can only assume certain things since you’re attached to Katniss the entire time, the other books have solid explanations and depending on the reader, that may be even better. I like to think of these as similar stories but for different readers. Where The Hunger Games appeals to the YA, Battle Royale is much more adult-themed, discussing sex and violence much more explicitly. And Lord of the Flies is a tie between the two; it isn’t for just adults, but you need a certain maturity level to deal with the intensity of the story.

So instead of critiquing everything, why not enjoy them for what they are? These three books are all great in their own way. Katniss is unlike Shuya. Shuya is unlike Piggy. I dare you to find a book without any comparison to another. If you stretch it far enough and use the right words, almost anything can be the same. Take Twilight and Harry Potter. They’re both about a teenager who finds out there is much more to the world than they thought, and in order to survive they must harness the newfound secret and use it to protect them against the darkness of the world.

Sounds sort-of generic, right? That’s because it is. The bottom line is that, yeah, Battle Royale is a lot like The Hunger Games, and Battle Royale is also like Lord of the Flies, but they’re all great, unique and enjoyable reads, and if you don’t like one, jump to the other. Suzanne Collins is not a plagiarizer, like all other authors, she’s expressing the story she knows she is meant to tell. And our job as readers is not to tear every story apart, but to enjoy it. So whether you want to read a classic or modern version of a dystopian death-match from North America, England, or Asia, just keep in mind that every book has something you can take-away from it.

Except for Katniss’s bow, she’ll kick your ass if you try that.

Kevin Weitzel is the head of graphic design firm Fourth Element Graphics (www.fourthelementgraphics.com), through which he helped the authors of the SEEDS trilogy develop our, dare I say amazing book cover. Kevin is a writer in his own right, and is the author of the upcoming Tempted Ten series. To find out, more visit his blog www.betweenmypages.blogspot.com, where he blogs about book covers, his favorite new reads, and writing.