This post was updated Feb. 21 at 10:04 a.m.
A new Hunger Games novel is coming. And may the odds be ever in its favor.
Five years after the release of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” author Suzanne Collins is returning to the franchise that launched her into fame with a prequel titled “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” set to be released May 19. The novel, which takes place 64 years before the events of the first novel, was recently revealed to focus on the original trilogy’s antagonist, President Coriolanus Snow.
This reveal was met with mixed reception from readers – some found the premise to potentially be quite compelling, while others thought the focus on President Snow was uninteresting at best and problematic at worst. Despite the reactions from some fans, Collins’ decision to tell the story from President Snow’s perspective can provide a much-needed perspective from his character, while also delving into unexplored aspects of the Hunger Games universe.
A common response to Snow being the main character of the prequel is that other characters would have been preferable. When the novel was first revealed to take place around the 10th annual Hunger Games, many thought Mags Flanagan – a previous victor who appears in the second book “Catching Fire” – could have been a potential protagonist. Others hoped it would follow beloved victors Finnick Odair or Johanna Mason.
While the stories of these characters and their respective Hunger Games could certainly be gripping works, they would not provide much further insight into the world of Panem than that which the original trilogy already has. Throughout the trilogy, protagonist Katniss Everdeen demonstrates in detail the struggles the districts endure and the trauma participating in Hunger Games imparts. Audiences know the oppression the Capitol forces on the various districts. They know the horrors of being a tribute in the Hunger Games. What do they do not know, however, are the inner workings of the Capitol itself and what disturbing secrets its tyrannical government may contain.
President Snow is no exception to this. Readers understand glimpses of the character through Katniss’ interactions with him, but virtually nothing is revealed about his history. The only personal detail known about him is that he has a granddaughter, who is not even encountered in the books. Collins’ decision to write a story about Snow’s past can provide intriguing insight into his character, while also enriching the plot of the original trilogy.
Like most dystopian stories, “The Hunger Games” begins at a time when Panem is well established, with its dystopian world being widely accepted. “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” contrasts that setting by being set in a period in which the Capitol is rebuilding its control after a failed rebellion from Panem’s districts. Furthermore, with the story being told from the perspective of Snow – who readers know is instrumental to the Capitol’s government – Collins can illustrate how a tyrannical regime like that of Panem can naturally come into power.
In a time when political leaders are condemned for ignoring the general populace, Collins’ novel could potentially provide meaningful commentary on how a government can fool a nation into accepting something as outrageous as the Hunger Games.
However, a story about the original trilogy’s antagonist has caused some concern among readers. Some feel Collins may attempt to portray Snow in a sympathetic light, justifying his cruel and calculating actions in the original trilogy. The line between empathizing with and endorsing an evil character’s actions is certainly blurry – last year’s “Joker” sparked similar controversy surrounding whether its sympathetic portrayal of Arthur Fleck could trigger domestic gun violence.
That said, what has been shown of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” thus far seems to stay away from such a backstory. In an excerpt of the book, Snow is a top student in the Academy who is to mentor a tribute in an early iteration of the Hunger Games. The role is described merely as a school project for Snow and his peers, with the text casually discussing audience engagement and viewership of the Hunger Games – a battle royale of children fighting to the death. Much to his disappointment, Snow is assigned to the female tribute from District 12, implying a connection to Katniss.
Though the excerpt is just a snippet of the upcoming novel, Snow has yet to have been portrayed in a way that redeems his actions as a dictator. Instead, it provides details about his character and the Capitol that audiences never knew, while also hinting at a larger story that gives context to the original trilogy. So even if the novel ends up lacking a strong political commentary, it will at the very least give readers another worthwhile look into the world of Panem.
In some ways, “The Hunger Games” trilogy tells the story of an ending – the end of Panem’s tyrannical government. “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” however, will tell the beginning of that story, potentially delving deeper into how a government like the Capitol could plausibly come into existence. Though some fans have understandable reservations toward a story about Snow, Collins’ upcoming prequel could be a valuable and timely commentary on the nature of oppressive regimes – just in time for the upcoming election.
But in order to see if the rest of the novel is a worthy addition to “The Hunger Games,” audiences will have to wait for the games to begin.