Hogwarts Professor Visits Site of 1863 Hunger Games

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Gettysburg, PA, with my husband, Michael C. Hardy, who is a Civil War historian and author and had a book signing there.

While there, we visited several battlefields in addition to numerous sites on the most famous and most visited battlefield in the United States, including this, the so-called “Devil’s Den.” What on earth, you may ask, does that have to do with our conversation here? Actually, quite a bit. Join me after the jump to see why the event whose 150th anniversaries kick off this year is, in many respects, our very own Hunger Games, and I’m standing here in the arena.

Suzanne Collins has made no secret of the fact that one of her motivations for writing The Hunger Games was to show the tragedy and cruelty of war, a practice in which we sacrifice our young, our next generation, to settle our differences. Nowhere is this better illustrated than on our nation’s Civil War battlefields, where over 600,000 men lost their lives in our national tragedy, with countless more suffering for the rest of their lives with physical and psychological injuries. Studies have only begun to scratch the surface on the numbers of civilians who died either directly or indirectly as result of the war, and the long-term impact of the war on generations of people was such that it remains, for most historians, our defining national moment.

At Gettysburg alone, there were over 60,000 casualties (numbers are still unclear due to the vast numbers of men who were unaccounted for ). While I am not about to launch into the complexities and details of the entire American Civil War (which, incidentally, is the subject of more books than any other subject other than religion) or even the details of Gettysburg alone (the bookstore in which Michael signed books has an entire, quite large room with only books on the battle). Rather, I found myself intrigued, as I stomped around the battlefield in my Mockingjay shirt and wandered through the town of Gettysburg, which is commercialized to a level that causes me physical nausea. I was intrigued by the way we treat the great tragedy of the war and its profound echoes in Collins’s novel.

While the war is certainly an important part of life in my home, and its study has been elevated to near obsession around here, neither I nor Michael would ever say we “love” the war, though many people do. One can eat at the General Pickett Buffett in Gettysburg (I absolutely refuse to do so, myself), go on a ghost hunting tour ( though I’m convinced every self-respecting specter has left town), and buy airbrushed T-shirts. Though the battlefield draws a plethora of visitors who come to understand, to remember, and to reflect, it also draws those who clamber on monuments, carve their names in fences, and treat this scene of death and struggle as a playground (I think there is a group of eighth graders who still remember with horror the awful little woman from North Carolina who lit into them for playing hacky-sack in the Gettysburg visitors center last year.) This is, to my mind, not much distant from the Capitol’s reduction of the death and suffering of the Tributes to entertainment, with moments from the Games remembered in context of trivial life events like having one’s eyebrows dyed. After all, the Capitol viewers enjoy visiting the arenas, dining sumptuously, and visiting the scenes of the most interesting murders.

Strangely enough, the media treatment of death and suffering, such a critical theme in The Hunger Games, really got its start in the Civil War, the first conflict to be well-documented with photography. The spot where I am standing was the scene of one of the most famous images of the war, Alexander Gardner’s well-known Mississippi sharpshooter, dead in his vantage point just below Little Round Top. Ironically, this image was staged. Gardner moved the body and arranged the “props” (including the wrong kind of rifle, which was a clue in revealing the photo’s doctored treatment). Apparently, Gamemakers were already on the field in Pennsylvania 148 years ago.

I must admit that I am still working out in my mind how these threads tie together, but, as I participate in a variety of events over the next four years, I confess that I will have an even more pronounced sensitivity to the terrible games our culture plays, as I look at those sad, frozen daguerreotype faces, faces that once shone in the sky over Gettysburg, then vanished forever, except on little pieces of glass and paper.


  1. Arabella Figg says

    Elizabeth, that was eloquent and moving. Thank you for sharing a personal perspective tying the HG with real war moments in the Civil War. I was reminded of the citizens who went out to early battles with picnics to watch them as entertainment.

    As for the tourist tat, though I don’t think Katniss mentioned it (?), I bet the Capitol had the equivalent with the Tributes’ images on them, a la British royal weddings. Nothing like a Rue tea towel to remind you of the good times.

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