The Panem Companion by V Arrow (2012)

Book review: The Panem Companion: An Unofficial Guide to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, From Mellark Bakery to Mockingjays by V Arrow (BenBella Books, Inc., 2012)

thepanemcompanionGo deeper into the home of the Hunger Games with the creator of the best-known fan map of Panem

-What does Panem look like?
-How does Panem define race?
-How do Panem’s districts reflect the major themes of the trilogy?
-What allusions to our world are found in Panem names like Finnick, Johanna, Beetee, Cinna, Everdeen, and Mellark?

The Panem Companion gives fresh insight into Suzanne Collins’ trilogy by looking at the world of the Hunger Games and the forces that kept its citizens divided since the First Rebellion. With a blend of academic insight and true fan passion, V. Arrow explores how Panem could have evolved from the America we know today and uses textual clues to piece together Panem’s beliefs about class, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, and more.

Includes an extensive name lexicon and color-illustrated unofficial map

Last year, I saw The Hunger Games movie and read the trilogy. When I got the chance to read The Panem Companion, I thought it would be a good way of getting to know more about the world the series is set in. It certainly delivers!

If you want an analysis of where the districs might be placed on a map of the US, you get that. You also get an analysis of different races and gender roles in Panem, and how Suzanne Collins might have been inspired from real life characters, such as a variety of Roman leaders. If you like the books but don’t participate in the fandom (like me), you’ll probably find this interesting (I did). If you’re a big fandom participant, you’ve probably heard it all before, as the author makes many references to discussions within fandom.

There are so many quotes from the books I can’t help but wonder if this publisher is going to get into as much hot water as the ones that did the printed version of The Harry Potter Lexicon a few years back.

The book finishes with a lexicon of the names used in the series, and where they might have come from. Many of these have already been discussed previously in the book, such as Cinna, and often, I get the feeling the author is trying too hard. Sometimes a name is just a name, plucked out of thin air because the author happens to like it and find it fitting. They don’t all have to be explained by a real life counterpart.

For instance, the name Dalton. It was the name of a geneticist that died in 2008 – maybe the name of the bit-part character did come from him, but instead of “they’re both geneticists”, maybe she read it in the news and thought it was a good name. Or maybe Collins is a Timothy Dalton fan? The first suggestion for the origins of “Haymitch” was that it could be portmanteau of Hay and Mitchell … only second came the blatanty obvious “or it’s just an alternate version of Hamish”, especially since Abernathy actually sounds Scottish. But anyway, I digress.

That the author appears to be over-analysing things is not just down to the names, it goes for most things. Fortunately, it often works. At other times, it appears to be what happens to pretty much any author with a fervent fan gathering – “the author obviously meant [deep analysis]“, but the author themselves had never been that deeply engrossed in the details. (See the comment under “Literature” about Philip Pullman and the explanation for same-sex daemons as an example.)

To call the book The Panem Companion is misleading, as it’s not actually a companion book. A companion book works as a bit on the side to refer to while reading the main series, where you can read about the various districts and about who the characters are – it generally doesn’t delve into the actual plot of the books, which this one does in a major way. If you’ve not read all three Hunger Games novels, don’t read this until you have – it’s jam packed with spoilers! Not just small spoilers, but really big ones: who lives, who dies, how it all ends, and so on.

Still, it’s interesting to read a deeper view of Panem and its characters, and if Collins really did mean for 99% of the characters to mirror the lives of real-life historical figures, fair play to her. I had no idea. If that wasn’t the case, then The Panem Companion is really just one fan’s overly analytical interpretation of a book series. Not a bad interpretation, admittedly, although some of the fan speculations voiced in this book are rather … out there.

I’m in two minds about this book, but then, that also goes for Collins’s trilogy. On one hand, it’s nice to do more than just scratch the surface of the post-apocalyptic Hunger Games world and what might have inspired it, aside from channel hopping. On the other, I’m not really all that bothered, to be honest. It goes from being a reasonably interesting world analysis to being slightly too fangirlish and taking itself and the trilogy too seriously.

No matter how engrossing the trilogy was when I read it, afterwards, it’s still just another book series like any other. To be perfectly honest, I’ve read other trilogies that have stayed with me far longer than The Hunger Games, and that have had a more profound effect on me. Yes, the world of Panem echoes our own in genuinely disturbing ways, but I don’t know. Once I finished reading, they went back to being ordinary books on the shelf, and they do not take pride of place. Much like this book. It was good while it lasted, but I will have forgotten all about it by next week.

3.3 out of 5 ethnicities. (It did go on about race and ethnicity for quite some time.)

This book came out in December 2012 and is available now. I was provided with a review copy from Smart Pop through Netgalley. Many thanks! :)

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