The Hunger Games – A Tribute to the Past?

The Hunger Games – A Tribute to the Past?

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Emma Holifield, Books Editor and Rory Morgan, Online Books Editor, discuss classical references and why The Hunger Games isn’t as fresh as you think…

JK Rowling also drew heavily on classical sources!
JK Rowling also drew heavily on classical sources!

George Orwell once said, “I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried out without corporal punishment.” True, learning Latin and Ancient Greek rarely tops lists of fun ways to spend an afternoon (apologies Classics department).

However, from Harry Potter to Percy Jackson, classical references in literature are becoming increasingly widespread. Indeed, despite Orwell’s view, I doubt J.K. Rowling included mythological centaurs in her novels under heavy duress. The Hunger Games also makes abundant classical references, featuring characters such as Caesar and Plutarch. This is not a new phenomenon, with The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia chronicles drawing heavily on ancient sources. However, the recent popularity of classically inspired literature has led industry big-wigs to herald mythology-based fiction as one of the biggest emerging young adult trends.

Filled with wine, women and general debauchery, many classical characters go on benders that would give even the most hardened uni drinkers a headache. Considering these themes, it is somewhat odd that classical references have become particularly prevalent in children and young adult fiction.

But why engage with stories created by long-dead individuals? Is it laziness on the part of the writer, stealing plot-lines rather than inventing their own? Or are these references an attempt to make their literature more ‘intellectual’? These may be true, but with many of the stories they draw inspiration from being considered ‘epic’ literature, it isn’t hard to understand why such references can help to create appealing stories.

The recent prevalence of vampiric romances has led the young adult genre to be cast in a bad light. However, classically immersed stories such as The Hunger Games help to prove that this genre isn’t limited to the tales of vapid, love-struck protagonists (yes Bella Swan, I am talking about you).

Emma Holifield, Books Editor

The Hunger Games deals with ancient themes as well as modern ones...
The Hunger Games deals with ancient themes as well as modern ones…

Last weekend the second film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ popular Hunger Games trilogy was unleashed to a mass of screaming fans. The books themselves have earned particular praise for their supposedly unique way of tackling the themes of reality television and the potentially dangerous nature of it. Many would be able to tell you a brief synopsis of the fictional nature of the games and their history, but few are aware of their quite obvious Latin based literary heritage.

It seems that Collins has, like many other authors, dipped into ancient literature for some inspiration. The Games’ parallels with Ovid’s tale of the Minotaur are intriguing. The tale goes that every year or so seven Athenian boys and seven girls, drawn by lot, were to be sent into the Labyrinth (where the Minotaur had been trapped) to act as a sacrifice to appease the animal. Sound familiar?

Eventually the hero Theseus with the aid of Ariadne defeated the Minotaur. Ok, so maybe that part of the tale is slightly less explicit in Collins trilogy, but nevertheless it is interesting to observe how the roots of such a fresh and exciting book are so ancient.

This is perhaps why Collins has had such a widespread success on her hands, she has essentially reinvigorated an already proven successful tale with no one alive to sue her!

And why shouldn’t she? After all, when it comes to ancient literature it is often difficult to gage ownership and if Collins’ books introduce even just one per cent of her readers to the great works of the past surely there is no vice.

Rory Morgan, Online Books Editor

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