Authors tend to pull a lot of ideas or write stories based on other works. After reading the novel Battle Royal, I saw lots of similarities between it and the Hunger Games. Do we know of anything that Suzanne Collins based The Hunger Games on?
She was inspired by a combination of the classic myth of Theseus (in which Athens similarly sends a selection of young men and women to Crete as a 'tribute', the difference being that none of them survive), reality TV shows (many of which involve people being humiliated, albeit not murdered, for the entertainment of the masses), and her second-hand experience of war (both from watching television coverage and hearing about it from her veteran father).
The author has addressed this at length in an interview:
Thanks to a cruel futuristic government, 24 children are chosen by lottery to compete in the annual Hunger Games—a fight to the death that’s televised live. How did you come up with that idea?
It’s very much based on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which I read when I was eight years old. I was a huge fan of Greek and Roman mythology. As punishment for displeasing Crete, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, where they were thrown into the labyrinth and devoured by the Minotaur, which is a monster that’s half man and half bull. Even when I was a little kid, the story took my breath away, because it was so cruel, and Crete was so ruthless.
You’re not kidding.
The message is, mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you—we’ll kill your children. And the parents sat by apparently powerless to stop it. The cycle doesn’t end until Theseus volunteers to go, and he kills the Minotaur. In her own way, Katniss [the heroine of The Hunger Games] is a futuristic Theseus. But I didn’t want to do a labyrinth story. So I decided to write basically an updated version of the Roman gladiator games.
What inspired you to write it?
One night, I was lying in bed, and I was channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage. On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.
Why did those programs speak to you so deeply?
When I was a kid, my dad fought in Vietnam. He was gone for a year. Even though my mom tried to protect us—I’m the youngest of four—sometimes the TV would be on, and I would see footage from the war zone. I was little, but I would hear them say “Vietnam,” and I knew my dad was there, and it was very frightening. I’m sure that a lot of people today experience that same thing. But there is so much programming, and I worry that we’re all getting a little desensitized to the images on our televisions. If you’re watching a sitcom, that’s fine. But if there’s a real-life tragedy unfolding, you should not be thinking of yourself as an audience member. Because those are real people on the screen, and they’re not going away when the commercials start to roll.