A 50-year-old mother of two, Suzanne Collins is the author of The Hunger Games . Before penning the novel, she spent most of her career working in children’s television, including scribbling stories for Clarissa Explains It All and Nick Jr. show Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!
Somewhat fittingly considering the content of Hunger Games , Suzanne Collins is very rarely ever seen in public. Unlike JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, she’s not welcomed fame, and often refuses to be filmed. She’s not even on Twitter…
Collins’ first novel was Gregor The Overlander , the first entry in The Underland Chronicles . It follows 11-year-old Gregor, who finds himself dragged into an underground world populated by giant insects. With war on the horizon under the streets of New York City, Gregor goes on a quest that may lead him to his missing father.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games was published by Scholastic in 2008. By February 2010, it had sold 80,000 copies. There are over 2.9 million copies in print. The plot is set in a distant dystopian future, where every year, children between the age of 12 and 18 have to fight to the death on TV for entertainment.
Though the plot for Hunger Games is remarkably similar to that of Japanese novel Battle Royale (by Koushun Takami), Collins actually came up with the idea while watching TV late one night. Flicking between channels, she kept switching between footage of the Iraq war and a reality TV show. An idea was born.
Speaking of, Collins says that she had never heard of or seen the movie version of Battle Royale – and still hasn’t – prior to writing Games .
“I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in,” she says. “At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: ‘No, I don’t want that world in your head. Just continue with what you’re doing.’”
Collins reveals that she was also inspired by the Greek myths, and in particular the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur.
“I was also heavily influenced by the historical figure Spartacus,” she says. “Katniss follows the same arc from slave to gladiator to rebel to face of a war.”
Part of what pushed Collins to write The Hunger Games was a desire to educate young readers in the reality of war – something she felt strongly about having grown up in a military family.
“If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have?” she told The New York Times . “We think we’re sheltering them, but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.”
“This is not a fairy tale,” Collins says of The Hunger Games . “It’s a war, and in war, there are tragic losses that must be mourned.” Which means just about anybody could bite it in Games . Expect the unexpected, then.
The Hunger Games has been interpreted differently by different people. In The New Yorker , writer Laura Miller commented that Hunger Games was best when read as “a fever-dream allegory of the adolescent social experience”.
However, Collins is adamant that it’s more than just an allegory for adolescent experience. “I don’t write about adolescence,” she says. “I write about war. For adolescents.”
In The Hunger Games ’ dystopian future, Panem is the name that has been given to what once was the United States of America. Divided into 13 ‘Districts’, the citizens of Panem are under the control of The Capitol. Each District has a special trade that benefits The Capitol, and the people who live in the Districts generally work hard and live rough.
The head state of Panem, The Capitol is a beautiful place (think the Emerald City) where only the rich and beautiful live. People in The Capitol live lives of luxury, never wanting for anything. The Capitol also plays host to the Hunger Games every year…
Each year, two youngsters from every District are selected by The Capitol to play in The Hunger Games. There, they will fight to the death for a reality TV show that is broadcast across Panem. There can only be one survivor. The Games are used to keep the Districts in their place, and as a reminder of the Capitol’s all-encompassing power.
Furthest away from The Capitol, District 12 is a mining community. The working conditions are often terrible, meaning deadly cave-ins are frequent. It is one of the poorest of the Districts, and has not won the Hunger Games in nearly 25 years.
The 16-year-old heroine of The Hunger Games , Katniss is a born survivor. A resident of District 12, her father died in a mine explosion, meaning it’s up to her to look after her mother and 12-year-old sister, Prim.
Luckily, Katniss is a dab hand with a bow and arrow, and frequently sneaks into the woods outside District 12 (which is illegal) to catch wild animals for food. When Prim is selected for the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place…
Another District 12 resident, Peeta is the same age as Katniss and the son of a baker. Though he and Katniss have never spoken, he took pity on her one night when she was desperate for food and gave her some burnt bread.
He’s also selected to fight in this year’s Games, meaning he’ll either have to kill Katniss or get killed himself…
The black market of District 12. Here, Katniss often takes her kills from the forest and sells them. Katniss often trades with a woman called Greasy Sae, who’s renowned for her ability to make a decent stew no matter what meat she’s working with.
The most destitute part of District 12, and the area that Katniss and her family live in. It is on the borders of the District, by the woods. The people of The Seam generally all look similar, with black hair, grey eyes and olive skin.
Another word for the competitors in the Games. Each year, 24 tributes take part in the Games – two from each District, one boy and one girl.
A ‘career’ is a Tribute from a wealthy District who has spent most of their life preparing to be chosen for the Games. Careers usually come from Districts 1, 2 and 4, which are the more well-off areas of Panem, and they view being selected for the Games as a great honour. They also usually win.
This is the name given to the draw in which the two Tributes from each District are randomly selected to participate in the Games. Each Tribute is randomly selected. In District 12, the honour of the reaping draw is carried out by Effie Trinket.
District 12’s escort. It’s Effie’s job to escort Katniss and Peeta to The Capitol where they’ll begin their preparations for the Games.
Effie likes to think of herself as equal to those living in The Capitol, and dresses accordingly in outrageous clothes, while her hair is dyed pink. She’s a kind-hearted snob who values manners above all else.
The Victors Village
The only place in District 12 that resembles The Capitol, the Victor’s Village is where Hunger Games victors are sent to live comfortably. Each District has one.
Because District 12 has only won the Games once in recent memory, the village has just one resident in the form of Haymitch Abernathy…
Haymitch won the 50th Hunger Games when he was a teenager. Now, haunted by the memories of his time in the Games, he’s become an alcoholic and a joke to the District.
It’s his job to mentor the District 12 contestants when they’re selected to play the Games – which only drives him to drink more, as he knows they’re all but doomed to death.
Children eligible to participate in the Hunger Games are able to put their names into the ‘reaping draw’ numerous times in order to receive food. This process is known as Tessera.
Katniss has put her name into the reaping numerous times ever since she turned 12 in order to feed her family. The entries are cumulative, which means each year she’s more and more likely to get selected.
Katniss’ friend and fellow hunter, Gale also lives in The Seam (the poorest part of District 12) and has three siblings.
Gale’s father died in the same mine explosion that killed Katniss’ father, meaning the two share a bond over the losses in their lives. He’s entered Tessera numerous times, meaning his name’s in the reaping a whopping 40 times…
Though he lives in The Capitol and works as a stylist for the Games, Cinna is not as cold-hearted or frivolous as other Capitol residents.
He strikes up a bond with Katniss, and helps her to stand out from the competition with a dazzling wardrobe. He’s also invaluable when it comes to giving Katniss advice about the Games.
A Mockingjay is a new breed of bird that was created when mockingbirds mated with jabberjays. A Capitol creation, jabberjays are able to listen and replay anything they hear, which meant they were useful during the Dark Days when it was feared an uprising was being planned. The Mockingjay is seen as an embarrassment to the Capitol.
Once a functioning District, District 13 is now nothing more than a smouldering wasteland thanks to The Capitol. District 13 was integral in an earlier uprising against The Capitol, and was bombed into extinction. It’s used as an example of what can happen if a District gets out of line.
The youngest Tribute in the 74th Hunger Games, Rue is just 12 years old and comes from District 11. Before being selected as Tribute, Rue worked in the orchards. Her main skill is her speed. In the Games, she forms an uneasy alliance with Katniss.
Having led Panem for 25 years, President Snow is a ruthless and feared leader. He appears only briefly in The Hunger Games to welcome the Tributes to The Capitol. In the film, he’s played by Donald Sutherland.
Best known as the Oscar-nominated director of Big , Pleasantville and Seabiscuit , Gary Ross landed the job of adapting Hunger Games for the big screen when Lionsgate snapped up the movie rights.
“I read the book,” he says. “My kids turned me on to it, and I went nuts. I guess, about a year ago. I literally read it and said, ‘I have to make the movie.’”
Winter’s Bone actress who landed the role of Katniss after a widespread search. The Hunger Games fandom were initially furious at the casting (echoes of R-Pattz there), though it was approved by author Suzanne Collins.
On 18 May 2011, Lawrence was revealed in her Katniss costume on the cover of EW magazine. There’s no denying she looks the part.
How did Lawrence land the role? “I was just a fan,” says director Gary Ross. “When you do what I do, any time you see an actor like this emerge - I think everybody’s head sort of snapped, you know? I think that an actor like this comes along, you know, once a generation.”
Taking the lead
For Ross, it was all about Katniss. “The character of Katniss is incredible,” he enthuses. “Suzanne did such an amazing job, and painted such a vivid character.
“It was just exciting every day. She’s such a compelling character, and her struggle and her evolution is so beautiful. You see the character emerge and grow and have so much strength.”
“She’s a very important character for kids,” says Ross of Katniss, “because she starts off purely in a fight for survival, and by the end of the story, she learns there’s so much more.
“There [ are ] things more important than merely surviving - like, what does it mean to actually live?”
A massive fan of the books, Hutcherson campaigned hard to land the role of Peeta. He beat out competition in the forms of Lukas Till ( X-Men: First Class ), Evan Peters ( Kick-Ass ) and Hunter Parrush ( Weeds ).
“To finally be making the movie, it’s like, somebody please pinch me,” the actor says. “I still don’t believe this is actually happening.”
His brother may be Thor, but Hemsworth’s landed his own sturdy franchise with Hunger Games playing Gale.
“My brother said to me before I started shooting - he texted me and said something about me putting on weight. But basically his point was that it was called Hunger Games , not Eating Games . That was a wake-up call. I was like, Are you calling me fat or something?”
Who better to play an ass-kicking drunk than Woody Harrelson? Landing the role of Haymitch, Harrelson’s adamant that though the novel’s dark and grisly, the movie version will appeal to everybody.
“I don’t see it as all that dark,” he says. “It’s exciting, but not dark compared to a lot of what I see. It’s PG-13 dark. The death isn’t emphasised. It’s more about this incredible girl.”
Just as JK Rowling was integral in helping the Harry Potter filmmakers bring her vision to the screen, Collins has proven invaluable, offering advice on everything from set and costume design to script alterations.
“I want her to be on the set as much as possible,” Ross said at the time of shooting. “I’d like her next to me every day.”
Collins’ input even extended to the final draft of the script for The Hunger Games , according to the film's director.
“We collaborated on the last draft together,” Ross says. “I wrote a draft, and then Suzanne and I got along incredibly well, and did another subsequent draft, the final draft together. She’s wonderful.”
Biological weapons created by The Capitol, muttations (sometimes simply referred to as ‘mutts’) are genetically altered creations that are used against the population of Panem. A jabberjay is a muttation.
Another kind of muttation, tracker jackers are wasps with deadly stings. They were used to combat an earlier rebellion among the Districts. A minor sting can cause terrifying hallucinations, while multiple stings will result in a slow and torturous death.
This is where all the action takes place. Each year, the set of Tributes are let loose in a specially-built arena for the Hunger Games.
Every year the arena is different. In The Hunger Games , the arena is a wild forest. Collins had a little help from the movies in imagining the arenas – she even watched Rambo to help her visualise how weapons would be used.
The arena’s centrepiece, the Cornucopia is a cone-shaped golden monolith that’s 20 feet high. It’s where the Games begin every year, with the 24 tributes emerging into the arena around it.
The Cornucopia normally contains items that will be helpful to the tributes during the Games – including food and weapons. It’s normally the site of an early bloodbath at the very beginning of the Games as tributes fight for the supplies.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The second novel in the Hunger Games trilogy. We won’t spoil what happens, but suffice to say it deals with the fall-out of the first book, and is packed full of just as many twists and turns as The Hunger Games . It also gives us our first proper look at the other Districts in Panem.
A film version has been given a tentative release date of 22 November 2013.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay
The third and final novel in the Hunger Games trilogy. By the time it was released, a Harry Potter -like fever had gripped its fans – which meant that certain book shops stayed open until midnight so that ardent fans could get their hands on the book as soon as possible.
A film adaptation of this trilogy-closer will no doubt depend on the success of the first movie.
23 March 2012
The Hunger Games finally hits screens on 23 March this year. Want to know what you’re in for? Check out the film’s trailer below…
Collins is currently working on a new children’s book based on her father’s experiences during the war.
“I specifically want to do this book, one as a sort of memory piece kind of honouring that year for my family, and two, because I know so many children are experiencing it right now - having deployed parents,” Collins says. “And it’s a way I would like to try and communicate my own experience to them.”
“I’m not a very fancy person,” Collins says, remaining pragmatic about the furore surrounding The Hunger Games.
“I’ve been a writer a long time, and right now The Hunger Games is getting a lot of focus. It’ll pass. The focus will be on something else. It’ll shift. It always does. And that seems just fine.”