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Reading Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy, which was completed a decade ago, was a feverish, unsettling, thrilling, immersive experience. His premise was horrific: that in the dystopian world of Panem, built on the ruins of what was once North America, young people chosen annually by lottery would fight to the death, gladiator-style, while an enraptured nation watched on TV.
More than 100 million copies of the books are in print, and their enormous popularity is largely due to their spectacularcharismatic heroine, Katniss Everdeen, with his rebel's bravery, his hunter's cunning and his burning desire for justice. If he was the best thing about Panem, its president, the sinister Coriolanus Snow, was the worst. A hideous combination of Machiavelli, Nero and Richard III, he famously wore a rose to hide the stench of blood in his ulcerated mouth (the result of swallowing poison).
And now, in the tradition of films like "Joker", which reveals that one of Batman's enemies was a stand-up comedian who lost access to his medication andStar Wars prequel, where it turns out that Darth Vader was once a heroic Jedi Knight, comes "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes". Set 64 years before the original books, this prequel stars Coriolanus as a confused, poor 18-year-old high school student who yearns for good grades and world domination.
[This book was one of the most anticipated titles in May. See the full list. ]
It's a steep challenge to write a book whose hero, as everyone knows, is destined to become profoundly evil. Will we hear - now having learned the endgame - that young Voldemort was unfairly disadvantaged in class, or that teenage Sauron was worried about having to wear revealing clothes?
Yes please. (Apologies to those who want their closed fantasy worlds intact.) "The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents" takes us to a Panem still in the dark days of reconstruction after the Districts' failed rebellion against the dictatorial Capitol. Like the far-flung lands subjugated by a violent central government in ancient Rome — one of the inspirations for the story, Collins said, and the reason so many characters' names have been removed from Roman history — the regions have paid a high price for betrayal , living under martial law, working to procure goods for the much wealthier Capitol, and giving their children tribute to the Hunger Games.
[Read John Green's review of "The Hunger Games".]
After a Stalingrad-like siege, with people starving outside their homes, their corpses cannibalized by neighbors, the Capitol is not yet the opulent center of decadent extravagance it will become. Food is scarce. Litter on the roads. Everything is used and recycled. Everyone has PTSD. "What a luxurious waste that would be," thinks young Coriolanus.
Life is not easy for him. As a scion of an upper-crust family descends into shameful poverty, he must continue to look forward. ("The snow lands on top," he and a cousin say to each other.) He must excel at the elite academy, earn a scholarship to college, and fulfill what he sees as his manifest destiny. And as the book begins, he must navigate one of the most difficult tasks his class has ever faced: serving as mentors to the tributes forced to participate in the 10th Hunger Games.
As much as this is Coriolanus' origin story, it is an origin story for the Games themselves, an answer to the questions about their history that Katniss raised in "Mockingjay," the final volume of the trilogy: "A group of people sat around and voted to start The Hunger Games? Was there a disagreement? Did someone make a case for mercy?'
People who love to discover the stories in fictional universes - why Sherlock Holmes wears a stag hat. where Indiana Jones got his scar—he'll relish the chance to learn those details. Here the Games are still a miserable spectacle, a poor version of the sumptuous, grotesque extravaganza they were meant to be.
The children are tied up, taken to the Capitol on a cattle train, and then thrown into the monkey cage at the zoo. The games are held in a dilapidated, dilapidated stadium still stained with the blood of past losers. contestants are as likely to die of starvation or disease as to be shot or killed by their opponents.
Which makes them no fun at all.
So Coriolanus and his classmates are challenged to come up with ideas to make the games more attractive, to engage the audience, to increase viewership. Think Pierre de Coubertin and the beginning of the modern Olympics. On second thought, don't.
A student suggests executing anyone who refuses to participate. Coriolanus' proposal - which allows viewers to stake tributes and have food or water delivered to them via drone - is more like that. Not everyone is thrilled. "Who wants to see a group of kids kill each other? Just an evil, twisted human being," says the most rebellious of the students.
As in the trilogy, the descriptions of the games themselves - scenes of unruly teenagers poisoning, beating, stabbing, tridenting and axing each other to death while adults discuss tactics from afar - are hard to read but hard to walk away from. This is violent porn. It's disturbing that we find it so fascinating. It also means that the book inevitably loses some of its momentum when the Games end and the action moves away from the Capitol. Parts of the last quarter of the novel feel flat and miserable after the excitement we just had.
The standout heroine is Coriolanus' protégé, Lucy Gray Baird of District 12. (This was Katniss's district. Alert readers will recognize some neat threads.) She's messy, charming, fearless, mature before her time, and physical on camera. Like Harry Potter, she appears to be a hairy, able to talk to snakes. Her ass rubs occasionally. Coriolanus falls in love with her, but will they end up together? I'm afraid we can only imagine the answer to that.
At times, Coriolanus is a likable character. He recoils from injustice. He is thwarted by the woman in charge of the Games, Volumnia Gaul, a Mengeleian scientist who has her own affinity for snakes and whose idea of a good time is to melt the flesh of laboratory rats "with some sort of laser".
But he's a snob and an opportunist, skilled in the art of keeping an eye on No. 1 even as he and his classmates debate the humanity and morality of the Hunger Games. His slide into evil seems to be the result of sloth and greed, not a specific moment coming to Satan.
It's only in the final pages that you learn the real answer to Katniss' question, how the first Hunger Games began, and the anguish they brought to the architect of the original proposal. As this character says before meeting an untimely end, "Who but the vile monster would climb it?"
Sarah Lyall is a writer at large, covering a variety of offices including sport, culture, media and international.
The ballad about songbirds and snakes
By Suzanne Collins
517 pages. Scholastic. $27.99.
A version of this article appears in print, Unit
of the New York edition
with the title:
Oh Katniss, that was way before your time.Order reprints|Today's newspaper|Register
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“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is a spinoff and a prequel to Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy. The book was released in May 2020 and follows a young President Coriolanus Snow, the main antagonist of the series.Who is Rachel Zegler in Hunger Games? ›
On Wednesday, Lionsgate debuted a thrilling new trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, which stars Zegler, 22, as District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird and Blyth, 28, as a young Coriolanus Snow.What will the Hunger Games 2023 be about? ›
Lionsgate Entertainment's description of the film reads, “'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' follows a young Coriolanus ... who is the last hope for his failing lineage, the once-proud Snow family that has fallen from grace in a post-war Capitol.Is Hunger Games 2023 a prequel? ›
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes will be the first Hunger Games movie in nearly eight years, and sees a few key familiar faces, but mostly new figures in this high-octane prequel.Who is Lucy Gray Baird? ›
Lucy Gray Baird was a female tribute from District 12, a Capitol favorite, and later became the victor of the 10th Hunger Games. Her mentor was Coriolanus Snow, a top-performing student at the Academy.Who called Katniss a mutt? ›
As they discuss District 12, Peeta spirals out of control, blaming Katniss for the district's destruction and accusing her of being a mutt created by the Capitol to use against everyone. Heartbroken, Katniss tells Haymitch and Plutarch that she can't stay in District 13 anymore.Is Effie a girl in Hunger Games? ›
Euphemia (Effie for short) is the most famous member of the Trinket Family. Just like her mother, Euphemia Trinket, she is an escort of District 12. She appears in the films, Capitol Couture, and the books. She is a friend of Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, and more.Is haymitch in The Hunger Games prequel? ›
The film adaptation of the second Hunger Games book didn't include the chapters that hint towards this prequel idea: an idea that focuses on Haymitch Abernathy. Haymitch is a character who appeared in all three Hunger Games books, as well as all four film adaptations of the series.Are they making a 5th Hunger Games movie? ›
It is based on the 2020 novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, serves as a prequel to The Hunger Games (2012), and is the fifth installment in The Hunger Games film series.Will Peeta be in The Hunger Games prequel? ›
Based on Suzanne Collins' prequel novel of the same name, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will not feature the beloved Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) or Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), but that's no reason to fret.
Lucy Gray is the mother of President Coin. This theory has been floating around a bit, and it makes more sense than the similar theory that Lucy Gray became President Coin. Lucy Gray escaped 12 and went up North. She met a man and had a child with him.What did Snow do to Tigris? ›
At an unknown point in time years before the 74th Hunger Games, she was personally fired by Snow, the stated reason being due to her being too surgically enhanced. However, given their past history, it is possible that the actual reason was something much more personal.Is Maude Ivory Katniss's grandmother? ›
Maude Ivory's decision to stay in District 12 could have led to her becoming Katniss' grandmother. While author Suzanne Collins has not confirmed this theory, the upcoming film adaptation of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes could potentially explore this connection and bring the two stories together even more.Who is the redhead tribute in The Hunger Games? ›
Foxface was a sly and sneaky tribute. Foxface was smaller than most of the other tributes in the 74th Hunger Games, weighing 115 pounds. In the book, Katniss describes Foxface as having amber eyes and sleek red hair. In the movie, however, her eyes are green.Who was Cato girlfriend in The Hunger Games? ›
In the book, Cato and Clove were district partners and allies. During the feast, Cato showed concern for Clove and distress at her death. As Cato ran toward a mortally wounded Clove, calling her name, Katniss noted that his voice sounds pained, and despite its futility, he begged Clove to stay with him as she died.Who is the GREY haired woman in The Hunger Games? ›
Alma Coin was the President of District 13 and a leader in the Second Rebellion. She orchestrated the City Circle bombing, clearing the way for her to become the interim President of Panem, before she was assassinated by Katniss Everdeen.Who is the blonde woman in The Hunger Games? ›
Elizabeth Irene Mitchell (born February 10, 1974), better known by the stage name Elizabeth Banks, is an American actress and filmmaker. She is known for playing Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games film series (2012–2015) and Gail Abernathy-McKadden in the Pitch Perfect film series (2012–2017).