'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes': The Biggest Questions Answered in the 'Hunger Games' Prequel

Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2 film and Book Cover  - Split -H 2020
Courtesy of Scholastic; Lionsgate/Photofest
From President Snow's roses to the backstory of fan-favorite character Tigris, a breakdown of the questions answered in Suzanne Collins' new novel.

[This story contains spoilers for The Hunger Games prequel novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes]. 

In Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the author reintroduces readers to the world of Panem and the villainous tyrant President Coriolanus Snow. Only this time, instead of following Katniss Everdeen's journey from being a girl from District 12 to the iconic mockingjay encouraging districts to take down Snow and the Capitol rule, readers get into the mind of Snow himself.

Throughout the 517-page novel, readers are taken on a journey of Snow's former life before he became the feared President of Panem. Collins outlines Snow's family's backstory from being part of the elite  in the Capitol to losing all their wealth and status due to the war. After becoming a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games, it is there when readers learn the origin story of the blood-thirsty event that calls on two members from each district to kill to win the coveted title. However, this time around a girl from District 12 sparks a flame to the slowly rising fire of the Capitol, leaving Snow to wonder whether love is worth losing the power he yearns for. 

The Hunger Games trilogy may have outlined the Capitol and Snow's ultimate demise, but The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes serves as an origin story to both Snow and the Hunger Games event itself. If the Hunger Games were the pieces in Collins' image, then The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was the mosaic as a whole, tying together the various questions fans of the original trilogy may have had. What was the deal with Snow's signature roses? Where did Katniss learn the "Hanging Tree" song and what does it truly mean? Who started the Hunger Games? 

Below, The Hollywood Reporter breaks down the biggest Hunger Games questions answered in the prequel novel and the ones they may have after reading. 

Who started the Hunger Games and why? 

Dean Casa Highbottom is credited as being the creator of the event. However, it is Dr. Volumnia Gaul who is the head gamemaker and the mastermind behind the Capitol's experimental weapons division (i.e., the one in charge of making the event as gruesome as she wants for entertainment). The Hunger Games event was created as a way to keep memories of the war fresh in the minds of Capitol citizens. It was feared that forgetting could lead to complacency and, by not remembering it, they'd return to being helpless and easy to overpower. 

Why is it called the Hunger Games? 

During the war, the rebels held the food-producing districts as a tactic in starving the Capitol into submission. Those living in the Capitol became so hungry that some resorted to cannibalism. When the Capitol rose to power again, they took it a step further with the Hunger Games event to represent the agony and starvation that everyone in Panem had experienced. 

What lies outside Panem? 

Unfortunately, it isn't made clear as to what truly lies outside Panem other than there are people living in lands on the outskirts of districts. (Here's to hoping Collins shares more information in future books.)

What's the deal with Snow's roses?

In the prequel, we learn that Snow's grandmother has a rose garden with her roses prized in the Capitol. Snow also treasures a compact of his late mother, who passed away while giving birth to who would've been his sister. The compact is filled with powder that has a rose scent. Snow inhales the scent of her powder as a way to stay calm and remember what it was liked to be loved the way his mother loved him. 

What is the backstory of mockingjays? 

The mockingjays have more of a purpose than reciting that whistling tune that's so hard to get out of one's head when watching the Hunger Games films. It is revealed that a Dr. Kay helped engineer jabberjay birds to be used as a secret spying tactic. By the use of a device, the jabberjays can record conversations and have the ability to verbally recite whatever they record when they return to Capitol base. Once the transmission system was dismantled after the rebels learned about the birds, the birds ended up going native and mated successfully with the mockingjays. The mockingjays have no ability to mimic speech but they can repeat music, which is why they easily recite Katniss' iconic whistle. 

Who is Tigris?

Despite only being seen for what felt like a minute in Collins' The Hunger Games: Mockingjay novel and the 2015 film adaptation, Tigris is the mysterious character that always fascinated fans. Like her name implies, Tigris has an appearance of a tiger, with whiskers and stripes. In both the book and film, Tigris helps Katniss and the remnants of squad 451 hide in a cellar as they prepared to march to the Capitol to assassinate President Snow. After learning of their plans to take down Snow, Tigris helps Katniss and Gale dress like Capitol citizens, but her relation to Snow is never explained... until now. 

In the prequel, we learn that Tigris is actually Snow's cousin. After losing both of their parents in the war, Snow and Tigris live with their grandmother as they struggle to survive without any income. Tigris works as an apprentice to a designer and almost acts as the parental figure, making sure both Snow and their grandmother are fed and taken care of. 

Why did Tigris and Snow have a falling out?

Though this was the main question fans had about Tigris, unfortunately the cause of events that ultimately led to their separation was never detailed. It can be surmised that Snow's rise to power could've prompted this family feud, but we'll have to hope for another novel that is centered on Tigris. 

Where did "The Hanging Tree" and "Deep in the Meadow" songs come from? 

Though fans will always remember Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss singing the haunting songs "The Hanging Tree" and "Deep in the Meadow," it is revealed that the songs come from the newly introduced character Lucy Gray Baird. Now while Lucy competes in the 10th annual Hunger Games as the female tribute from District 12, she isn't actually from the district like Katniss. Rather, she's a member of a traveling troupe called the Covey, who sheltered in the district after the rebellion collapsed. Always writing tunes and performing them, Lucy pens "The Hanging Tree" about the hanging tree where she would meet her former love. "Deep in the Meadow" is another song Lucy writes, seemingly dedicated to Snow.

Why did Snow hate Katniss and the mockingjay title? 

Katniss was not only a tribute from District 12 that won the Hunger Games but also sang both songs as anthems for a rebellion — almost reviving Lucy's story years later. Katniss may have wanted to take Snow down, but she never knew she was actually torturing him already by making him relive his past and heartbreak. Hell hath no fury like a Snow scorned?

What really happened during the rebellion war? 

Readers and fans of the film have always known a war arose between the rebels and the Capitol but the prequel is able to depict how much the Capitol struggled. With buildings destroyed, citizens left starving and poor, and hope taken away from them, the war could make Katniss' rebellion-era seem amateur in comparison. 

Who really was Coriolanus Snow before he became President of Panem?

As much as it would be a plot twist to know that Snow was a district member before rising to power, that is not the case. The Snows were recognized in the Capitol as a wealthy family, earning their fortune from investments in munitions but in the the would-be destroyed district 13. After the factories and research facilities had been bombed during the war, the center of the Capital's military manufacturing shifted to District 2, leaving the Snows' status and income to disappear. 

How did Snow rise to power? 

Throughout the novel, it is evident that Dr. Gaul almost becomes a mentor toward Snow, always pushing him to understand her mentality that control is needed to protect against chaos. Though, at first, she may appear to act as an Obi-Wan to Snow's Anakin, it becomes clear that she is a worthy match to Star Wars' Palpatine in luring anyone to the "dark side" of the Capitol. Dr. Gaul realizes that Snow shares her same perspective that the Capitol should have ultimate control and use the Hunger Games as a way to expose humans' natural animal state. Seemingly rewarding her protege, Dr. Gaul helps Snow to enroll in the Academy (the Academy educated the offspring of the wealthy and influential). It can be presumed she took him under her wing and helped him rise to power. 

Was Snow truly the villain? 

Whether Snow was a true villain or not is a question that is left for interpretation for the reader. As Snow's backstory is detailed, it becomes clear that Snow struggles with dealing with the traumatic experiences he endured at a young age. From losing his parents, watching the capitol be under siege and lose his family's status, Snow embodies both anger but fear that he consistently hides. Readers are also able to learn how Snow fell in love with the girl from district 12 but that love story ends in disappointment as Snow realizes he doesn't like how love can make him vulnerable and weak. After Lucy learns Snow betrays one of his closest friends, she betrays him by leaving him after they planned to run away together. Always being his own hype man, he reminds himself that "Snow lands on top" and running off with Lucy is not the way to do that. Instead, he seems to want to prove that his family status may have suffered as a result of the war, but he was always destined to be the ultimate leader with complete power. It can also be questioned whether Snow was just coerced by Dr. Gaul into thinking strong thoughts about control. But that's a debate readers and fans will have to have. If Snow had his way, he'd propose another Hunger Games for it.