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Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide…

Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne…

by Valerie Estelle Frankel

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    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (valeriefrankel)
    valeriefrankel: Deeper explanation on the book

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The Cliffs Notes to Symbolism in THG

“As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.”

Names carry great significance in The Hunger Games trilogy. Residents of the Capitol and its favored districts are commonly given Roman names (Cato, Cinna, Plutarch, Enobaria), establishing a parallel with the rise and fall of a brutal empire, while those living in the districts are named after food (Katniss, Peeta), plants (Rue, Prim, Posy), and other natural forces (Gale, Annie Cresta), as well as their work – their district’s specialty (Thrush, Chaff, Wiress). Even the name of the country evokes images of ancient Rome: “Panem” comes from the Latin phrase “Panem et Circenses” - bread and circuses to entertain and distract the masses.

When one considers the cultural and historical context of each given and/or surname – particularly in relation to the character’s story arc in The Hunger Games – it becomes obvious that author Suzanne Collins chose many of these names with great care and attention to detail. (In this vein, I can’t help but laugh at those reviewers who complain that Frankel is reading “too much into” the names and symbols found in The Hunger Games. That’s kind of the point! Plus, it’s just plain fun.)

In Katniss the Cattail, Valerie Estelle Frankel – whose other 2012 release, Buffy and the Heroine's Journey, I recently had the pleasure of reviewing through Library Thing - provides a kind of “Cliffs Notes” guide to the numerous names and symbols found in The Hunger Games. The book is divided into two sections: The Names of Panem (roughly 49 pages in length) and Symbols/Allusions to Literature and Life (21 pages). Frankel draws on a number of subjects to give greater context to the names and symbols of THG: history (especially military and Roman), literature (with Shakespeare receiving the lion’s share of attention), botany, linguistics, and religion and mythology, to name a few.

Obviously, The Names of Panem is lengthier and more detailed than Symbols/Allusions. While it’s difficult to tell from memory whether Frankel lists ALL the names found in The Hunger Games, certainly she includes MOST of them, from the “Big Three” (Katniss, Peeta, Gale), all the way down to relatively minor players (Gale’s miner friend Thom; the “goat man” from whom Prim purchases Lady). Even those names with little apparent meaning (Rory) make the cut. As such, this section also makes a handy reference guide to the many characters who appear in the trilogy.

Symbols and Allusions briefly touches upon a number of topics, many of which deserve a much lengthier discussion. Among the symbols discussed are bows and arrows; bread; dandelions; ducks; food; fire (The Girl who was on Fire); “The Hanging Tree”; Holo and Logbooks; The Hunger Games; Mockingjays; Mutts; Nightlock; Pearls; Roses; and Snakes. Allusions includes Dystopia; History; Mythology; Reality Television; Rome; and Shakespeare.

An in-depth discussion of allusions is perhaps beyond the scope of such a book, and Frankel would have been better served to omit this section and instead focus more on names and symbols. For as detailed as The Names of Panem is at times, some of the entries seem oddly incomplete. Take, for example, this brief paragraph about the morphlings:

“The unnamed drugged-out District Six Tributes in the Quarter Quell. Since they have ‘morphed,’ or changed, into shells of their formerly heroic selves, they suggest pitiful, helpless victims of the war just like the Avoxes.”

Upon hearing the slang name for these addicts, I immediately thought of the narcotic morphine. Used as a pain reliever and sedative, the drug was named after Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep and dreams. With both medicinal and recreational uses, it stands to reason that morphine (or its Panem-day version) is one of the drugs manufactured in District Six. Since we know from Katniss that pharmaceuticals are a rare luxury in the districts, the possibility that Capitol citizens may be abusing the drug – wasting it when those in pain go without – is yet another affront to the impoverished residents of Panem (and is reminiscent of the “binge parties” encountered by Katniss and Peeta).

Some Amazon reviewers have complained about the accuracy of the information, starting with the title: Katniss and Cattails are two entirely different plants. While true, I took this as Frankel’s attempt at a clever, aurally pleasing title; the entry for Katniss doesn’t mention cattails at all. Other criticisms focus on pieces of literature with which I’m not familiar (e.g. Far from the Madding Crowd), so I can’t comment either way.

For what it is – a short, relatively inexpensive guide – Katniss the Cattail is enjoyable enough. You can read it straight through or use it as a reference guide; at the very least, it provides a nice starting point for further research. Hardcore fans (of which I am one!) are likely the key audience.

At the same time I was reading Katniss the Cattail, I was also working my way through V. Arrow’s The Panem Companion. While the two are different enough that a direct comparison would be unfair*, I highly recommend the latter to fans (both casual and obsessive) who want a more comprehensive discussion of the themes found in The Hunger Games. For what it’s worth, it also contains a (44-page) lexicon of Panem names. Both Frankel and Arrow’s versions include enough unique material that serious fans will want to pick up a copy of each.

* Though I did bristle at Frankel’s characterization of Annie as “helpless”; one whose strength is “loving and emotional” – in direct contrast to Johanna, whose power is “hard and physical” (pages 47-48) – after reading Arrow’s impassioned defense of Annie as a survivor whose strength is too often overlooked due to her mental and/or cognitive disabilities (and even as PTSD and depression aren’t used to undermine the other Victors, including Katniss herself). After all, this is a woman who lost her entire family, possibly as retribution for something she did or failed to do; who survived The Hunger Games when 23 of her peers could not; who had to stand by and watch as someone she loved was sexually trafficked by President Snow; and who withstood torture (possibly of a sexual nature) during the Second Rebellion – and yet still managed to sustain the hope, courage, and optimism to bear a child in the midst of such suffering and carnage.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2013/01/23/katniss-the-cattail-by-valerie-estelle-fran... ( )
  smiteme | Jan 19, 2013 |
Katniss the Cattail is a reference guide to wildly popular Hunger Games trilogy. (by Suzanne Collins) The author gives an encyclopedic style listing of the meanings of the characters names, plants, place names... All pertinent information from the book is listed in this short book. I'm not certain if Ms. Collins meant her books to be over analyzed, but many of the names fit the personalities of the characters.
If you are a Hunger Games lover, this book is a fantastic reference. ( )
  ljldml | Mar 24, 2012 |
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Who was Cinna? What do the hawthorn and primrose symbolize? Or President Snow's roses and Peeta's bread? What about Katniss's last name? Bringing details from myths, herbal guides, military histories, and the classics, English professor and award-winning pop culture author Valerie Estelle Frankel sheds light on the deeper meanings behind Panem's heroes and villains in this hottest of YA trilogies. In her series, Collins not only weaves a heroic tale of deep complexity but harnesses the power of Shakespeare and Rome to retell an ancient epic of betrayal, violence, and glory on the stage of an apocalyptic future. Millions of readers around the world have been swept away by the nonstop action and poignancy of The Hunger Games. But what most readers don't know is that there's a library's worth of history, plant lore, and mythology behind the world of Panem. Now, with Katniss the Cattail, those without access to Collins's bookshelf can discover the fascinating reality behind Panem. Katniss the Cattail allows curious readers to look up all the names of Panem and discover a wealth of entertaining, unexpected information. Blight, Cato, and Clove have names that predict their grisly ends, while the evening primrose represents eternal love, youth, and sadness. Boggs was a civil war general, Plutarch a biographer who wrote skewed critiques on Coriolanus and Caesar. There's a reason Johanna Mason knows more than she's telling and that Cressida and Messalla betray the Capitol. From Alma Coin to Wiress you'll learn about : Why roses are a flower of death : How eighteen of the characters are used in Shakespeare's plays : Katniss's nickname Catnip : The meaning of "The Hanging Tree" : Peeta's pearl and Katniss's salvation : Effie the saint and Finnick the Irish hero "If you're a fan of The Hunger Games, you need this book! Period...I devoured this book the moment I opened my mailbox. Every time I read something "new" about a character, my brain started turning." --The Flashlight Reader "Full of thought provoking observations, Katniss the Cattailis a quick, clean read for any fan of The Hunger Games trilogy." --Sarah's Reviews "If you dig The Hunger Games like crazy, this book lets you glimpse at it a bit closer" --The Book Wurrm "I would highly recommend this book to others interested in discovering the hidden meanings of The Hunger Games." --My Book Addiction… (more)

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