Catching up with Katniss: What viewers (and parents) should know before seeing 'Catching Fire'

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21 2013 3:20 p.m. MST

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, left, and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."


Last year’s film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” managed the near impossible when it became a hit with both critics and audiences, making it one of only a few young adult series to survive the jump to the big screen.

With the sequel, “Catching Fire," already wowing critics, now is a perfect time to catch up with the heroine of the saga, Katniss Everdeen.

Whether you’re new to the dystopian world of Panem or just need a quick refresher, here’s a primer to get you up to speed on all things Hunger Games just in time for the second installment.

The books

Scholastic's The Hunger Games trilogy is set in a future society where 12 districts are ruled over by the Capitol, a city where lavish lifestyles and superficial social circles are maintained at the expense of the districts' populaces.

Panem is a post-apocalyptic nation built on the remains of North America, and each district is responsible for a specific type of industry, such as coal or agriculture.

Tyranny and hunger are ubiquitous. As punishment for a past uprising, the districts are forced to send one teenage boy and girl annually to the "Hunger Games." The Games are a televised event where the 24 children, called "tributes," are placed in an arena to fight to the death for the amusement of the Capitol citizens. The people of the districts are forced to watch as well — the Games serving as a reminder of their subjugation. Little is known about the history of Panem prior to the rebellion.

As detailed in a 2008 Publishers Weekly article, author Suzanne Collins was inspired by a cocktail of reality TV, Iraq War coverage and the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. As the article explains, the myth centers on the people of Athens being "forced to send 14 young men and women into the labyrinth in Crete to face the Minotaur."

“Even as a kid, I could appreciate how ruthless this was,” Collins told Publishers Weekly. “Crete was sending a very clear message: 'Mess with us and we'll do something worse than kill you. We'll kill your children.'"

The first book in the trilogy, "The Hunger Games," was published in 2008, followed by "Catching Fire" in 2009 and the series-concluding "Mockingjay" in 2010. The Hunger Games has spent 168 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list for "children's series," though it is recommended for ages 12 and up.

Upon initial release, “Catching Fire” was showered with awards and accolades, including being named a Los Angeles Times’ Best Children’s Book of 2009.

In 2011, the American Library Association ranked the Hunger Games trilogy as the third most challenged book series by parents due to the hefty amount of violence as well as some language.

The Games

On the surface, the rules are simple: 24 tributes — one male and one female aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts — enter an arena and battle it out in a televised death match. Only one tribute walks out alive.

Other than that, the only rule (albeit an unspoken one) is one prohibiting cannibalism.

A crucial part of the Games, however, is public opinion. Before the tributes even enter the arena, they have to vie for popular support. Sponsors can help sway the outcome by providing much-needed assistance, such as food packages and medicine, midgame.

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