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Suzanne Collins is revisiting the world of Panem and The Hunger Games in her new prequel book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Scholastic), released Tuesday. Only this time, instead of telling of beloved characters such as Katniss Everdeen or Peeta Mellark, the spotlight is placed on villain Coriolanus Snow.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes place 64 years before the events of The Hunger Games trilogy and follows an 18-year-old Snow as he becomes a mentor for the 10th annual Hunger Games, his final project before graduating from the Academy school. Determined to win the prize that would be substantial enough to cover his tuition at the university, Snow is shocked when he learns he is the mentor for the girl from the poverty-stricken District 12.
In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, readers learn that Everdeen is not the only notable tribute from District 12. Instead, Collins introduces readers to District 12’s Lucy Gray, whose “legacy is that she introduced entertainment to the Hunger Games,” something that would continue to haunt Snow going into the trilogy.
In an interview with David Levithan, vp, publisher and editorial director at Scholastic, Collins opened up about revisiting the world of Panem in her prequel and who this new girl from District 12 is.
“In the first chapter of The Hunger Games, I make reference to a fourth District 12 victor. Katniss doesn’t seem to know anything about the person worth mentioning. While her story isn’t well-known, Lucy Gray lives on in a significant way through her music,” Collins explained.
It’s Gray’s musical talent that would eventually help in “bringing Snow down in the trilogy.” “Imagine his reaction when Katniss starts singing ‘Deep in the Meadow’ to Rue in the arena. Beyond that, Lucy Gray’s legacy is that she introduced entertainment to the Hunger Games.”
Though the Dark Days and rebellion are consistently referenced in the trilogy books and film adaptations, Collins hoped to give more discernment of the reconstruction period the Capitol endured 64 years prior throughout her book. That same period would ultimately help outline how the bloodthirsty Hunger Games came to be.
“I thought a lot about the period after the Civil War here in the United States and also the post-World War II era in Europe. People trying to rebuild, to live their daily lives in the midst of the rubble. The challenges of food shortages, damaged infrastructure, confusion over how to proceed in peacetime. The relief that the war has ended coupled with the bitterness toward the wartime enemy. The need to place blame,” Collins said.
In both the books and films, it is clear that Snow is categorized as the villain, but in her prequel, Collins was able to give more insight into who Snow was, who he ends up becoming and why. “I thought about Wordsworth’s line, ‘The Child is father of the Man.’ The groundwork for the aging President Snow of the trilogy was laid in childhood.”
Collins also makes reference to Locke’s theory of tabula rasa, which theorizes that everyone is a product of their experiences. “Snow’s authoritarian convictions grew out of the experiences of his childhood, as did his complicated relationships with mockingjays, food, the Hunger Games, District 12, District 13 and women. So, you rewind and plant the seeds.”
Like everyone in his generation, Collins notes that Snow “experienced trauma, loss and deprivation,” but readers will finally learn how his “controlling personality” and his past end up becoming a “bad combination.”
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is available now.
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