The Hunger Games and Joan of Arc

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According to Donald Sutherland, The Hunger Games draws heavily on the story of Joan of Arc. Photo of Jennifer Lawrence. Image: © Lionsgate.

In The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins uses history from Ancient Rome and the Hundred Years’ War. Like George RR Martin, Suzanne “meditates” on the effect of war throughout The Hunger Games series. Similar to Martin, Suzanne uses counterfactual (what-if) versions of history and, as far as I can tell, she did not create an historical “allegory.”

We’re thinking of maybe doing a series of articles on The Hunger Games this summer. So, we are wondering, do you like The Hunger Games? Please answer both polls at the end of this article.

While Suzanne’s use of Ancient Roman history is very well known, strangely enough, relatively little has been written about her use of the Hundred Years War (which is, in some ways, more subtle). Here are a few examples.

****Spoiler alert:  Second movie/book — Catching Fire — spoiler alert ****

Katniss Everdeen as Joan of Arc

Like Joan of Arc, Katniss is the rallying point for galvanizing the “peasants” against a conquering military presence. In Joan of Arc’s case, this is the English knights who are attacking French peasant villages. In Katniss’ world, this is the Capitol.

 

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Not only did the symbol of Joan of Arc galvanize the French armies, she also was their standard bearer. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

Joan of Arc was famously burned at the stake. Katniss is frequently depicted with fire imagery. Katniss is, in television announcer Caesar Flickerman’s words, the “Girl on Fire.”

During the Tribute Parade, Katniss’ coal minor costume is designed to catch fire:

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Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutchinson. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

When Katniss twirls on stage, her dress ignites into a fire ball (in the movie, the flames are more subtle):

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Gif artist unknown. Movie clip © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

There are other parallels in addition to these ones.

The Raids on District 12 and the Raids on Peasants (Chevauchées)

In the second book/movie, Catching Fire, after head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensby suggests more floggings to reduce Katniss’ influence, the Capitol sends peacekeepers to the districts to brutalize the residents.

The residents are like peasants, and the peacekeepers are like the English knights in the Hundred Years’ War. (By the way, the interpretation of the Hundred Years’ War in The Hunger Games is very much from the French perspective.)

Enter town at lightning speed

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The “knights” (peacekeepers) roll into to the defenseless “peasant village” (District 12). © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

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The soldiers disperse: the raid begins. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

Pillage

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The soldiers riffle through people’s personal possessions with the intent of destroying them. Note: The peacekeeper is dressed like a knight – in a helmet and body armor. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

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The “knights” attack economic targets: the black market. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

Burn and Destroy

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Pillaging and burning — the peacekeepers don’t want the “peasants” measly possessions. This is destruction to scare and demoralize. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

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Scorched earth: The soldiers burn the black market to the ground with the help of a modern addition:  a flame thrower. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

 Brutalize the Starving Peasants

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The head peacekeeper Thread immediately after he just kicked an old woman. A savage act designed to terrify and cow the residents into submission. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

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Public viciousness: This time a page that’s more from the Romans — floggings. © Allstar/LIONSGATE.

The parallel between the chevauchées and the peacekeepers being sent to abuse the districts is the most striking when they arrive in District 12 to administer floggings and, later, when they destroy District 12.

Use of Sigils: The Mockingjay Pin

mockingjay-pinLast but not least, the mockingjay pin is a sigil or medieval badge reborn. Like a sigil, the mockingjay is a symbol that represents Katniss. Like a medieval badge, the mockingjay pin is worn on Katniss’ person. Whereas sigils and badges represent people or dynastic houses, the mockingjay represents a group of people: the revolutionaries.

 

 

Polls: Please Vote!

Are you a fan of The Hunger Games (either the book or movie)?

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Would you enjoy a series of articles on the Roman and Medieval History in the Hunger Games?

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Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "Songs of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

24 Comments

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Grant

    On the books, I don’t really like them. I’m impressed by them, which is a very different thing. To use another example, I don’t like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’m impressed by them, whereas I like the old Dragonlance books but I was never impressed with them.

    However I find it interesting to see the historical and mythological influences on recent fiction.

    • Reply May 7, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      This is really interesting to me because I assumed that most people who liked Game of Thrones would like The Hunger Games. (In my mind, they are somewhat similar even though they are probably nothing alike. E.g., Both are about war, both are about revolution of slaves or peasants, both have violence and action, both have strong female characters, etc.)
      Why don’t you like The Hunger Games? (BTW, I think there are a lot of people who are lukewarm on them.)
      Have you read the books or seen the movie?
      Why do you admire the series?
      What is in Game of Thrones that isn’t in The Hunger Games? (There are lots of things, but I don’t want to lead you down the garden path.)
      (Sorry to pepper you with questions. I’d be very interested in what other people think of these questions.)

      • Reply May 14, 2014

        rosswittenham

        I guess the biggest difference between the two is that the worst depravities of GoT are always shown onscreen, and are even made the focal point, whereas in Hunger Games, they are often offscreen. A lot of the tribute deaths, the annihilation of District 12. In contrast, I think the Hunger Games are much better at showing the real emotional cost, possibly because they have more time to spend on fewer characters.

        • Reply May 15, 2014

          Jamie Adair

          You know what, you’re right about that. The tribute deaths typically happen off-screen. Sometimes the violent manner in which they died is described or recounted, but I don’t think we usually see it. In terms of emotional cost/resonance, I think Suzanne Collins has a huge advantage in some ways – it is easier to get that “do or die” intensity when you only have one point of view character and you use first person narration.

          BTW, I just noticed that you have a fantastic history website. Here is the URL so people can check it out: histmine.wordpress.com.

          • May 15, 2014

            rosswittenham

            Awww, thanks for the plug Jamie! I love ‘History behind GoT’ so that means a lot. If you ever fancy doing a blog swap, please let me know.

          • May 15, 2014

            Jamie Adair

            You’re welcome! I briefly looked at your blog this morning, and I thought it looked cool. I love things that synthesize the historic and the modern. I would love to do a blog swap – most likely when the GoT season is over. I’ll contact you offline. :)

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Unfortunately I cannot vote about the Hunger Games as I have neither seen the films nor read the books. I have tended to think of them as material for “young ‘uns” – which age group I don’t belong to anymore. I’ve never been tempted to read any of the modern vampire books either. I wouldn’t have gone near GRR Martin’s books if I had not seen the “Game of Thrones” show and I just felt I could not wait the best part of a year to know how things continued. I haven’t read all the books – I have got to the end of ASOS though I have been “spoiled” about some factors from the next two books – my own fault “the internet be dark and full of spoilers” (sorry, I don’t know who created that quotation to give them credit for it). I think the series of articles you suggest could be interesting so I will vote “Yes” with the proviso that I have not been exposed to the source matter. I’m a bit of a “who-dunnit” woman when it comes to my reading matter. I love Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidlema mysteries and I’m quite a Paul Doherty and Michael Jecks fan and have liked some of the “Medieval Murderers” group efforts (Michael Jecks is one of the “Medieval Murderers” though he has only instigated fictional murders as far as I know).

    • Reply May 7, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Ah, the mysteries. Interesting…

      re: the children’s book factor of The Hunger Games
      I can see why you think of them as books for “young ‘uns” — they are certainly marketed that way. The only truly teenage aspect of them I think is the fact that they have protagonists in the age group — all the main characters are around 17. But, I’m not even sure if they act like quintessential 17 year olds — they are worrying about starvation and leading revolutions, not choosing colleges and planning proms.

      What’s interesting is the books/films are quite violent and have dark, serious adult themes. They aren’t exactly Sweet Valley High or Nancy Drew. To be honest, I’m a bit surprised they are considered Young Adult (YA).

      When I was a child, I loved scary stories. I read tons of surprisingly bloody ghost stories and gruesome chiller books for children. I had some old fairy tale books – perhaps dating back to the 1950s — and the punishment dished out to villains was graphic and disturbing. E.g., Snow White’s stepmother was forced to dance in heated iron shoes.

      I think the violence in today’s children books is far tamer and much more sanitized.So, part of me is quite surprised that The Hunger Games are considered YA. Still YA goes up to 17 or 18 which is (or is nearly) an adult.

      I like the fact the books deal with these dark themes because I imagine teenagers having discussions with their parents about them and teachers with their classes.No idea if this actually happens.

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    BTW, I used to dabble in fiction and at the writer’s conferences, the agents and publishers were actively encouraging writers to submit YA manuscripts similar to The Hunger Games in intensity and tone. Back in 2009, there was a ton of excitement about The Hunger Games in the publishing world. The agents and editors (presumably) didn’t necessarily want something derivative. They wanted intense, raw, possibly dysotopian stories in which the protagonist’s struggle was vital (e.g., the biggest in the hero’s world).

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Well I remember hating Hans Christian Andersen’s stories (most of them). “The Little Mermaid” and “The Little Matchgirl” are horrible stories I think (not the sweety-sweet Disney version of the “Little Mermaid” but the original where every step is agony and she is turned into foam at the end because the prince doesn’t want to marry her. So you are quite right that there are (older) children’s stories that have a dark tone. Some of the traditional stories (and ballads) are very gory too.

    • Reply May 7, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      I wonder why that the older children’s stories are darker. Thoughts anyone?

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Jun

    I read the first Hunger Games book and did not like it, mostly for a very personal reason. See, I grew up in China in the 1970s and 80s. My parents grew up in the 1930s and 40s. I was never hungry but I’ve heard them talk about war, poverty, fear, and hunger, and of course I grew up under psychological oppression. Hunger Games tries to describe a world in which people are oppressed. It did not convince me as authentic or believable, especially psychologically. It also does not sit well with me to watch white American children read Hunger Games and pretend to understand what it feels like to be oppressed and pretend to identify with the poor and hungry and disenfranchised, because ultimately they can identify with this girl messiah who will lead people to victory and success.

    On the other hand, ASOIAF blew me away. AGoT not so much since it’s mostly about court politics, but the second book, particularly Arya’s journey of horror and Yoren’s murder totally traumatized me. It felt so real. It reminded me of all the stories about escaping the Japanese army’s massacre and pillage told by my father. Most important it conveys this sense of powerlessness, the realization that your life is controlled by other people. Martin is a white American, too. How did he come to understand and empathize and recreate this sense of powerlessness so well? It must have something to do with his knowledge of history, but it’s more than that.

    • Reply May 7, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Wow! This is possibly the best – and most profound – comment I’ve read all year. Thank you for sharing. I’ve never experienced anything like growing up under psychological oppression, hungry, and afraid, or experienced war. I can well imagine how offensive it must be watching members of one of the most privileged groups on the planet feel like, or write about how they feel like, they are experiencing these emotions in an artificially derived world that has turned into a cash cow – even if that wasn’t the author’s intention.

      I can’t gauge whether the Hunger Games realistically captures the experiences of war, oppression, fear, and hunger in the way you can. I do admire both Suzanne Collins and George RR Martin for attempting to wrestle with these issues – even if Suzanne Collins’ book may not nail it on the head.
      I don’t know, but I suspect it isn’t the poor execution you find offensive about Collins’ world, but the gross commercialization that’s accompanied it. I mean, did I see McDonald’s cups with The Hunger Games logo on it? This indirectly commoditizes the experience of war (since those experiences are integral to the book). I doubt Collins had this intention when she wrote the books – she was a relatively humble unknown author AFAIK. Thinking about it, this commercialization has probably made the painful experiences of a large part of the world into a commodity for consumption by the privileged Western world. Nauseating. With that said, as I know all too well, writers may not execute perfectly despite their good intentions. I admire GRRM and Collins for spending significant amounts of time pondering war and its consequences.
      Coincidentally, I was having an email discussion with Olga, the editor of Nerdalicious, this morning about George RR Martin’s treatment of women in his books. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this, but Olga was outraged by some of the articles characterizing GRRM’s books as “rape-y.” Both of us were discussing how generally empathetic GRRM is to women and what strong female characters he creates. How does he do this when most authors – male and female alike – struggle to create realistic characters of the opposite sex? I don’t know. But I think he is exceptionally empathetic and his obsession with history helps.

      GRRM has not only read history extensively – more than some historians I suspect. Also, he has attempted to empathize with its participants. Far too many historians discuss war, and its effects on the people, as a side note. They write about it from the perspective of the contemporary chroniclers who were paid to make the historical figures look good (e.g., the king was a good king because he won many military victories — not that the was a bad king for killing millions of peasants to get gold). IMO, George RR Martin attempts to overcome that bias by exploring the perspective of the participants at many levels of society.

      • Reply May 7, 2014

        Jun

        Gee, thanks. I didn’t intend to write a profound comment or anything. Obviously there are white Americans who do know a lot about poverty, hunger, and powerlessness, but not in Hollywood depiction. In terms of Collins’ books, I’m not offended, but the writing doesn’t seem authentic to me. Deprivation (of things beyond food) casts a long shadow on the way people think and behave and make choices, especially in children, even after the condition changes into one of plenty. OTOH, the popularity and the commercialization of the Hunger Game series are a bit, ugh, for me, as you pointed out.

        After reading your blog, it is oddly comforting for me to know that the devastation described in A Clash of Kings and A Feast for Crows is based on real history of the Hundred Years War. So war and suffering are indeed universal, and the difference between you and me is merely a temporal distance from such suffering, ie, one generation versus three or four generations.

        The problem with some people (who probably have only seen the TV series) judging ASOIAF as being too “rape-y” touches on the same issue as privileged middle-class kids touting Hunger Games. Oh you can’t stand to be told that women get raped? You blame your discomfort on the writer who shows you that it happens, a lot? And your pure and sheltered little heart is offended by such ugliness in real life? How does a young person learn to be compassionate to the less fortunate if they can’t even be bothered to look as them? There is a disconnect somewhere in this.

        In depicting sex and violence and cruelty, there is a fine and often blurred line between realism and exploitation. In my mind neither Martin nor Collins intend on exploitation, although the latter makes a self-conscious (postmodern?) commentary about the possibility of exploitation (reality TV). Some people draw the line differently and Martin has crossed theirs.

    • Reply December 6, 2014

      Bella Vivian

      I can definitely understand your point. However, I am a black American woman, and I definitely can understand the feeling of oppression that the Hunger Games Series conveys. The movies in particular have a lot of people of color who are often subjugated by the Capitol. I always appreciated Rue and what she represented to her district. I liked the fact that Suzanne Collins writes people of color into her world. Often fantasy and science fiction genres tend to leave minorities out. This is another reason I loved the Matrix films. Black characters were hugely involved in the world and the active rebellion against the machines.

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Grant

    Often they were morality stories meant to instill in children a fear of not doing what is right. If you do something bad, something bad will happen to you. But society has changed more than a bit.

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Grant

    I have, briefly, read the series. I didn’t like it because, to me, it really wasn’t anything novel or particularly interesting and the writing just wasn’t anything more than alright. I admire it for the attempt to be more than a typical “rebels fight the evil government” story.

    With A Song of Ice and Fire (and the show) I have problems with the writing, which to me pushes a lot together, but I like going through the details and the complicated interactions and the advanced understanding of people and the state.

  • Reply May 8, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Grant makes a good point about the children’s stories of days gone by being morality plays. I suppose that the stories that perhaps originated in the oral tradition came from a time when people did believe in “snarks and grumpkins” (sp??) or their equivalents, so possibly it was felt necessary to scare kids – parents might worry that kids might get lost (or that there would be a witch or whatever) in the woods. Mind you, when I was a kid something unpleasant nearly happened to me in a wood and though fortunately the would-be perpetrator [who was a teenager; I was about 9] was scared off, and one reads of nasty things happening to kids even in the twenty-first century. Even some superstitions have a grain of common-sense in them, e.g. not to put shoes on the table (as if one would) but perhaps in days gone by before Pasteur discovered microbes people realised that sickness could follow the placing of shoes on the table (and imagine how mucky they must have become in the days when economies were principally agricultural and people worked in the fields and open air).

  • Reply May 8, 2014

    Grant

    And sorry, but even when I click reply to one of your comments, the site will post it separate from the previous comments.

    • Reply May 12, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Grant, thanks. I need to look into this and talk to the WordPress theme designers. That’s so annoying – sorry about that. (Hopefully, there is a fix – threading is important.)

    • Reply May 19, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Grant, when you click reply, are you clicking Reply to the right of the date in the comment? I believe you have to click Reply in the actual comment to get it to show up under a specific person’s comment.

  • Reply May 19, 2014

    M.E. Lawrence

    I tried reading H.G. and watching the first film. The storyline and ideas are fine, but the execution just doesn’t do it for me. I thought the movie in particular a waste of talent–perhaps I should have given it more than an hour?–this from a fan of Jennifer Lawrence who was very impressed by her roles in “Winter’s Bone”* and later films. Note that I’m not dissing Collins; she undoubtedly writes as well as she can, and the pressure of delivering yet another best-seller/product can’t be pleasant, however nice the money is. (And Jamie’s article and the comments are always worthwhile.)

    *Now there’s a well-observed dystopian/dysfunctional world! W.B. also manges to successfully incorporate mythic underpinnings–a hero’s journey for Lawrence’s character, crones straight out of Greek mythology, etc.–without a trace of pretentiousness or gratuitous gore.

    Is “Catching Fire” worth seeing, then?

    • Reply May 19, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      I thought Catching Fire was significantly better than the first Hunger Games film. (I was a huge fan of the books but very disappointed by the first movie. Admittedly, I listened to the audio books on a car trip- and that (almost) always makes you fall in love with anything.)

      The problem with the first movie is that it doesn’t capture Catness’ interior world — all that world building done through first person narration doesn’t translate well to film. Now, I’ve gotta admit, the second movie may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you didn’t like the first movie, chances are you might not like the second film.

      I don’t know anything about Winter’s Bone — everyone raved about it when it came out. Maybe I should write a series on it?

      I’m looking for movies, TV shows, and widely read books to write about during the Game of Thrones off-season. I still plan on writing about Game of Thrones, but a little variety can be fun.
      Last year, we did a series on The White Queen because it is Wars of the Roses related. (Admittedly, Olga did most of the writing!) But, I was a little disappointed – not in Olga’s writing which is always great — but in The White Queen TV show. I, personally, found the show very hard to write about it analytically without criticizing its historical accuracy. I really enjoyed the series and it was decent – especially considering its relatively low budget.(It wasn’t a $150 million two-hour film so it didn’t have the cast of thousands and elaborate sets.)

      If anyone has any ideas for non-GoT articles, please let me know.

      Also, thanks for the “Jamie’s article and the comments…” — that was a really nice thing to say! :)

  • Reply May 19, 2014

    Grant

    It gets clicked, but it doesn’t always seem to work.

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