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EDITORIAL – Mapping the Mystery: The Geography of Panem, Part 1

One of the cool things about adapting a novel into a more visual media, such as a computer game or a full-length feature film, is that a lot of the details that are left very vague in the written narrative have to be much more clearly-defined in the transition.

As fans of the original book, we want to know every single detail about this universe we’ve grown to love, and if the author doesn’t tell us, we will discuss and speculate until we come to reasonably acceptable conclusions from the context. But in the case of good film adaptations, once they come out in theaters, those details have to be there, in the background, enhancing our movie-going experience in a very subtle way, but appreciated by the fans who manage to notice them. Movie adaptations have a way of “officializing” information that had previously only been considered fans’ “headcanon,” and the Hunger Games franchise is no exception to this phenomenon.

Mapping the Mystery: The Geography of Panem

Part 1: Location, location, location.

For years since the first Hunger Games book came out, people have been speculating about the locations of the districts of Panem vs the territory that is currently North America. Several very good, and well-thought out maps were put together by some dedicated fans, and their effort must be applauded. But it wasn’t until the Hunger Games Adventures game was made public that we got our first glimpse at the “real” map of Panem.


Despite the assurances of Hunger Games Adventures developers that they had worked with Suzanne Collins in the creation of this map, it was received with a healthy dose of skepticism from the fans. Many people felt the location of certain districts didn’t make sense from the hints found in the books. District 4, in particular, raised quite a few eyebrows, as the most widely-accepted theory was for it to be located somewhere near the Gulf of Mexico, rather than in the northwest as the map shows. Nonetheless, this was the most official version of the map we had, and the furor passed eventually. Because of the episodic nature of the game, however, the districts in the map are revealed one by one over the course of months, so we don’t have the full picture quite yet. You can see the most recent version of the map in the image above.

I’ve always been very interested in the geography of Panem, so when The Hunger Games: Catching Fire came out, one of the first things I noticed was that we could see a glimpse of the map in a couple of scenes on the train. Through my five times watching the movie in theaters, I tried to pay attention to what was shown, but the scenes went by too fast for me to retain anything specific. Now that the movie has come out on Blu-Ray and we can take screen caps, I jumped at the chance, and was surprised to find that the maps in the movie showed some details that even the Hunger Games Adventures game had not revealed yet.


The screen cap above and the one below (click on them to see full size) are from the same scene, the first time Katniss notices that hidden room with the monitors, and I love this map because not only can we see many of the districts and their relative location in Panem, but also get a general idea of what the continent looks like after whatever disaster happened that led to the destruction of our current civilization. The great lakes are still there, for one, but a big chunk of the south is gone (I think it’s mostly Louisiana, which, remembering hurricane Katrina, makes me shudder a bit). The Baja California peninsula is gone too, as is a large part of Mexico’s Pacific coast, Vancouver island, and there’s pretty much a big hole in the middle of the state of California.


Much like in the Hunger Games Adventures map, District 4 is to the west (where California would be today), District 11 is to the southeast, District 7 is to the northwest (in what would be Washington state and the Canadian border), and the Capitol is at the heart of the Rockies. As many fans expect, the district to the south (Texas/Mexico) is District 10, whose main economic activity is livestock. District 2 we know is very close to the Capitol, but we’re shown that so is District 5, directly to the west of the Capitol. The map also shows that the district directly above District 11 is District 9, which I guess makes sense since they’re both mainly agricultural districts. And District 6 is right by Lake Michigan, where Illinois would be. I don’t know why they don’t show District 1 on the map; I thought that was odd because it should be in that big blank space between the Capitol and District 7. The screen to the right of the man shows a close-up of District 11, which was their destination at that point of the film.


The third screen cap is from later in the movie, after the Capitol party, when Katniss gets up in the middle of the night. In this one we actually see the riot scenes, and they are clearly marked as coming from District 8 (makes sense, being one of the first districts to rebel against the Capitol. The footage of riots Katniss sees in mayor Undersee’s house at the beginning of the book was also from District 8). To the edges of the screen you can see the location of District 12, which we already knew to be around North Carolina/Virginia, but we can also see that District 8 is up by the tip of Lake Ontario, where New York state/Pennsylvania would be. This makes sense from the book, as District 8 has to be relatively close to District 12 since Bonnie and Twill made it to Twelve on foot.

This does make me wonder where District 13 is supposed to be, then, since I think most fans assumed it would be around this area because of the nuclear power/graphite industry. It could be a bit further north, I guess, but although we can’t see it in this map, I think it’s a safe bet to assume that most of New England and probably Atlantic Canada is gone from the map. One interesting fact to point out is that the only major graphite deposit in North America is near lake Huron in Canada (thanks for the info, Hunger Games Wiki), so it would make sense for District 13 to be up there, above the specified location of District 8.

This is just the bare minimum of information we can glean from these maps shown in the movie; however, this gives rise to plenty more topics for fans to speculate about. For example: what does the location of the districts imply for the uses and distribution of the goods they provide to the Capitol? What are those white and red dots we can see on the maps, and what do they mean as part of the Capitol’s monitoring, and the order in which the districts are rebelling? Does the post-apocalyptic geography of North America tell us anything about what happened to the rest of the world?

New information always brings forth new questions, and the staff of will touch on many of these topics in upcoming installments of our “Mapping the Mystery” series of editorials. So be on the lookout for those in the coming months! In the meantime, tell us what you think of these new tidbits. Would your hometown be located somewhere in Panem? Did it survive whatever disaster led to Panem’s post-apocalyptic future? If so, in which District would you be? Comment below and let us know!

About Carla

Carla Pinilla is a 34-year-old Chemical Engineer from Panama city, Panama. A consummate fangirl, she spends her time reading, writing (mainly fanfiction), or watching way too many TV shows.

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