But in the case of reading HUNGER GAMES, my extreme nerdiness actually came in handy. See, Suzanne Collins clearly comes from the school of nerdy writing--there are tons of great historical allusions in HUNGER GAMES that gives the story a little something extra for fellow nerds.
I think the greatest influence comes from Ancient Greece and Rome. Some are obvious, some aren't. Below, you'll find some of my favorite references and influences of history in HUNGER GAMES.
Theseus & Tributes
The story of Theseus is most often associated with his epic battle with the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull monster at the center of the Labyrinth. But before he did that, he had to deal with a tribute system that will remind HUNGER GAMES readers of how Katniss and Peeta became tributes.
King Aegeus was ordered to send seven of the most courageous young men and seven of the most beautiful young women of Athens to Crete as a tribute to King Minos every seventh year (there are various accounts of this; some use the number nine instead of seven). Crete had defeated Athens in battle; the tributes were to be a lasting reminder of Crete's power and success.
Sound familiar? It should: Suzanne Collins definitely had this story in mind when she wrote. She said in an interview with School Library Journal:
Theseus and the Minotaur is the classical setup for where The Hunger Games begins, you know, with the tale of Minos in Crete….Spartacus & Gladiators
But Suzanne Collins wasn't just thinking about gladiators in general when she wrote HUNGER GAMES. Nope. She had one specific one in mind: Spartacus.
Those of you who don't know the story (or only know the movie version), here's a quick summary: Spartacus's early life is a bit obscure, but he was probably a soldier in the Roman army who committed some crime, possibly desertion. As punishment, he was forced to be a gladiator. He didn't take too kindly to this. He was part of a rebellion at the training center (using, in part, knives from the kitchen!), and led the rebel group to camp out near Vesuvius (famous for Pompeii). Many battles followed, until he eventually died (also in battle).
You can see the similarities: a person originally law-abiding becomes a "tribute" (if you will) as punishment, is forced to battle as a gladiator, and eventually leads a rebel group to fight against the kingdom.
If Spartacus is Katniss, and Spartacus dies.... *shudders at the thought*
Some people speculate that this comparison--which Collins acknowledges--is actually a hint that we should be preparing for Katniss's ultimate death:
But once the “Hunger Games” story takes off, I actually would say that the historical figure of Spartacus really becomes more of a model for the arc of the three books, for Katniss. We don’t know a lot of details about his life, but there was this guy named Spartacus who was a gladiator who broke out of the arena and led a rebellion against an oppressive government that led to what is called the Third Servile War. He caused the Romans quite a bit of trouble. And, ultimately, he died.
Rome & The Capital
The fall of the Roman Empire happened in part because of this decadence--rulers weren't focused doing their job half so much as partying. But there was also a series of rulers who were either cruel or inept or both--some of which were probably psychotic (Caligula, Nero, etc.).
Suzanne Collins mirrors the decadent Roman Empire in the Capital--partly in the parties (remember the feasts where Peeta and Katniss are disgusted by the idea of vomiting in order to eat more?) and partly in the attitude of the people (how many times was it commented that the Capital people didn't think of the Games as anything more than entertainment?). But I think it might also be true of President Snow...he has a distinctly Nero feel about him, no? If he plays a fiddle while the Capital burns, don't forget I told you first!