Suzanne Collins has talked about her inspiration for the novel long
before the movie was even a gleam in the producers' eye. She talked
about the media (more on that in a bit), but she also discussed a much
older inspiration: the Tributes of Athens.
may also know it by its street name: the myth of Theseus. It goes like
this: back in ancient Greece, the city of Athens was conquered by King
Minos of Crete as punishment for killing his son. In return for him not
burning them to the ground, they had to send him 7 young men and 7 young
women to serve as Tributes. He takes them to Crete and sets them loose
in a maze, where they're hunted down and eaten by a bull-headed monster
called the Minotaur. That all comes to an end when the Athenian king's son, Theseus, joins the Tributes and kills the Minotaur in its lair.
as a kid," Collins says in the interview. "I could appreciate how
ruthless this was. Crete was sending a very clear message: 'Mess with us
and we'll do something worse than kill you. We'll kill your children.'"
She thought about that story, and then she thought about reality shows
and similar contests on TV these days. It seemed to her that they
weren't all that different, and that with one little step, we could go
from NFL Sunday Night to Convicted Criminals Murder Each Other Sunday Night.
It was terrifyingly plausible, though luckily, she soon developed a
Theseus to slay whatever Minotaur such a system could produce.
the movie, you can see very obvious signs of this story's influence.
Crete is now the Capitol and Athens is now the Districts, but otherwise,
it's the same game. The myth, for example, said that the Tributes of
Athens were chosen by random lot. Enter Effie Trinket, with her
excessive showmanship and her glass bowls full of names. And just like
Athens, it's divided equally among girls and boys: one of each gender
for each of the 12 Districts.
Finally, there's the arena, which
isn't strictly a maze, but certainly provides no way out and forces the
combatants to fight various threats as well as themselves. Those dogs at
the end may not be Minotaurs, but they're certainly as scary as any
monster can be. (And they're even scarier in the book.)
the point of the comparison to ancient Greece? Why make sure we can see
obvious signs of the myth they're obviously drawing from? Why show their
hand? It might be that Collins is trying to show how universal the
story is. It's good Hero's Journey stuff where people are saved and
protected by a clever hero, and it applies as well to our world as it
did to the Greeks.
And monsters? Yeah, we've got a Media-taur. It
may not seem all that scary, but it's destroyed a lot more people than
monsters have. If you aren't careful, our culture will happily feed it
to you until you burst.