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.
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.
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.
In “Catching Fire,” the Hunger Games have reached their 75th anniversary. Every 25 years, the Games are held as a "Quarter Quell" and have a special twist. During a previous "quell," the districts had to send twice as many tributes to the Games. For the 75th Hunger Games, the tributes are selected, or "reaped," from the "pool" of past victors — which, for District 12, is a very small number.
Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss — aka the Girl on Fire — volunteered as the female tribute from District 12 in place of her younger sister Primrose, whose name was drawn preceding the 74th Hunger Games. The 16-year-old's father was killed in a mining accident, and she supported her younger sister and her traumatized mother by hunting in the surrounding woods, which is forbidden by Capitol law, and trading on the black market. She is particularly adept with a bow and arrow.
As a ploy to earn audience sympathy in the arena and at the encouragement of her mentor, Katniss pretended to fall in love with fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark, with whom she shared the Games' first joint victory. Her act of desperation — an apparent attempted double suicide with poisonous berries — was seen by the districts as an act of defiance, making her a symbol of the resistance.
Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson). Peeta, the other joint victor and also from District 12, is the son of a baker. Unlike Katniss, his romantic feelings are genuine. He's extremely strong but not much of an outdoor survivalist. He's developed into a talented artist.
Gale Hawthorne (played by Liam Hemsworth). Gale is Katniss’ former hunting partner and friend from District 12 with whom she shares a close relationship. Gale, Peeta and Katniss make up somewhat of a love triangle, although Katniss rarely considers her romantic feelings. After winning the Hunger Games, Katniss helps support Gale's family and, for their protection, identifies them as her relatives.
Haymitch Abernathy (played by Woody Harrelson). As the only other living Hunger Games champion from District 12, Haymitch performed an essential role as Katniss' and Peeta’s mentor in the 74th Games. In addition to having a charming personality, he’s an inveterate drunk.
Primrose Everdeen (played by Willow Shields). Primrose, or Prim, is Katniss’ younger sister. Unlike Katniss, her talent is not so much in hunting as it is in healing, which she learns from her mother.
President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland). Don’t be fooled by the innocent-sounding last name: President Snow (first name Coriolanus) is the autocratic leader of Panem and the primary antagonist of the trilogy. In the book, he is described as being grotesquely surgically altered and smelling of both roses and blood. He is none too pleased with how Katniss defied the Capitol and how the 74th Hunger Games ended.
Plutarch Heavensbee (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman). Plutarch became the Head Gamemaker following the death of Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) at the end of “The Hunger Games” film. Plutarch is in charge of running the Quarter Quell.
Johanna Mason (played by Jenna Malone). Johanna was the victor of the 71st Hunger Games, which she won by initially feigning weakness before displaying her killer's mentality. In the book, she says she has nothing to lose because everyone she loves is dead.
Finnick Odair (played by Sam Claflin). The victor of the 65th Hunger Games at a young age, Finnick hails from the seaside of District 4. He's skilled with a trident and is revered for his physical beauty.
Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks). A native of the Capitol, Effie serves as the escort for District 12's tributes, accompanying them to the Capitol following each year’s reaping.
Cinna (played by Lenny Kravitz). Katniss’ stylist for the Games, he develops a close friendship with Katniss.
Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci). The flashy host of the Hunger Games; think an evil Bob Costas.
Mags (played by Lynn Kohen). An older victor from District 4 who volunteered for the Quarter Quell and is loyal to Finnick.
Wiress (played by Amanda Plummer) and Beetee (played by Jeffrey Wright). Two older tributes who become key allies with Katniss in the book and are nicknamed "nuts and volts" by Johanna.
What parents should know
If the teen-vs.-teen violence was a little off-putting in the first movie, then it should come as a relief to know that the contestants in the Quarter Quell are all older. What’s more, a lot of the danger this time around comes from the arena itself — a trap-ridden jungle environment that is patterned after a giant clock.
For anyone who’s read the book and wonders how it could translate to a PG-13 movie, some of the more graphic imagery is toned down significantly or omitted altogether.
That said, there are still a few scenes that, while not overly explicit, might be too intense for some audience members, including a flogging and public execution.
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But as fans can attest, there’s more to “Catching Fire” than just violence for the sake of entertainment. As summarized in a recent article by Eliana Dockterman in Time magazine, the Hunger Games movies address complex themes with a surprising level of maturity and can teach key lessons such as "women can be strong in a nonstereotypical way"; "boys can look up to a woman as a role model"; "war — even when necessary — has real and dire consequences"; and "politics, race and class divide us."
Contributing: Josh Terry, Aaron Shill
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.