Review: 'Katniss the Cattail' Monday 28 January, 2013

Who was Cinna? What do the hawthorn and primrose symbolize? Or President Snow’s garden 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.

If you’ve ever sat around wondering where the name Plutarch came from, why Suzanne Collins chose to associate President Snow with roses, or what “The Hanging Tree” means, then Valerie Estelle Frankel’s Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is the book for you! Frankel takes the age-old question of “What’s in a name?” and applies it liberally to the Hunger Games trilogy, showing us that there is, in fact, a lot to a name — at least when it comes to this series. In addition to expanding the world that Collins has created by bringing to light all of the mythology and history and symbolism surrounding the characters’ names, Frankel also breaks down some of the major symbols (bread, dandelions, etc.) and allusions that pepper the trilogy.

What you’ll find inside: An extensive exploration of the names in Panem takes up about two thirds of the book, with the final third comprising sections on symbols and literary/historic allusions. From Alma Coin to York (bet you don’t remember who that is!), Frankel provides a thorough analysis of each character’s name and why Suzanne Collins may have chosen it. Did you know that a whopping 18 characters appear in various Shakespeare plays? And that Cecelia and Effie were both martyred saints, while Seneca was a Roman philosopher?

As we stated above, the “Symbols” chapter gets to the meat of motifs like bread, dandelions, arrows, and roses. The highlight of this section for us was Frankel’s close examination of “The Hanging Tree”: its subversive lyrics, why it might be “a revolutionary anthem,” and how it “becomes an echo of Katniss and Peeta’s relationship.” Katniss the Cattail concludes on a strong note, with Frankel delving into dystopian societies, reality TV, history, mythology, and other “Allusions to Literature and Life” found in The Hunger Games.

What makes it unique: While The Panem Companion by V. Arrow also includes a Hunger Games names lexicon, Frankel’s guide to the names of Panem is a bit more extensive since it’s the main focus of the book. She’s able to devote eight full pages to Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, for example, providing deep insight into the origins and symbolic nature of their names.

Why you should read it: It’s a fast, highly informative read that is sure to offer you a different perspective on the Hunger Games trilogy. Even if you’re already familiar with all of the references to nature, Shakespeare, and ancient Rome, there will absolutely be something new for you to discover in Katniss the Cattail.

Where to get it: You can purchase Katniss the Cattail at

About the author: Valerie Estelle Frankel has won a Dream Realm Award, an Indie Excellence Award, and a USA Book News National Best Book Award for her Harry Potter parodies. She is the author of many new and forthcoming books on pop culture including From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend, Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey, Teaching with Harry Potter, and Harry Potter: Still Recruiting. Once a lecturer at San Jose State University, she’s a popular speaker on myth, fantasy, YA lit, and the heroine’s journey.

Frankel will be joining us on tonight’s show to chat about Katniss the Cattail, so if you have any questions you’d like to ask her, please leave a comment here or here!

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One Comment

  • Alexis says:

    I just ordered this book right after the show ended, I have a Latin teacher who is in love with roman history who refuses to watch or read thg

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