Last year, Hunger Games fans rejoiced as Suzanne Collins’ revealed the upcoming publication of her new book The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Set to be released in May 2020, pre-orders of the novel clicked into the baskets of many adoring fans across the globe. The novel was said to be a prequel to the smash dystopian saga, The Hunger Games, which received notable popularity even before its blockbuster success with a sparkling cast that included Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Phillip-Seymore Hoffman and Julianne Moore.
Earlier this week Collins’ publisher Scholastic released an exclusive excerpt which reveals the focal protagonist in the prequel: Coriolanus Snow, who later takes center stage as the trilogy’s main villain. Taken from the first chapter we follow the movements of an eighteen-year old Snow on the day of the tenth reaping as he sets out to mentor one of the tributes, who to his dismay, derives from the poorest district, District Twelve.
The official Hunger Games Twitter account introduced Snow’s extract by writing “meet your new hero” sparking the excitement and anticipation of many. However, there have been reports of a backlash amongst some fans, who are disgruntled with the presumed “humanization” of such a malicious character, who’s ostentatious lifestyle of wealth and power is nothing compared to his propagation and involvement in the serial slaughter of innocent people. Perhaps “protagonist” would have been a better choice of word.
However, does this mean that Collin’s will be humanizing such a character into a “hero”?
The fictional world of The Hunger Games is one of a dystopian structure. The measure of such a genre, is in essence, the imagined state of great injustice and suffering which often holds a mirror to the flaws and injustices of a current or future society. Great dystopian novels, such as George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale depict a dramatically unjust system not to sympathize with aggressors but to allow a reader to dissect irony, profound truth and warnings about society.
The Hunger Games is set in Panem, a dystopian America, where people are separated into twelve Districts. Each District has an occupation to support the Capitol and resulting varied degrees of wealth. The poorest of the Districts starkly juxtaposes with the insidiously rich state of the Capitol. In order to prevent war, an oppressive system has been put in place where children are reaped as tributes from each District. A chosen pair are sent to the hunger games to fight to the death. Our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, after volunteering in place of her sister is sent to the hunger games where she unwittingly starts a revolution that “catches fire” through each of the districts and the subsequent books.
Collin’s characters cannot be simply labelled as good nor evil. Instead the complex personalities of each are shaped in a world of equal complexity and horror. Our main hero, Katniss Everdeen, despite showing a deep sense of right and wrong still grapples with stubborn and selfish values and is frequently seen to be unlikable, and often rejects aiding the seemingly worthy revolution. Her best friend, Gale, supports the rebellion and heroically saves many of his people. However, the drive of war leads him to ultimately create such an inhumane weapon that it kills the epitome of innocence, Katniss’ sister, Primrose.
We feel connected to Effy Trinket, who despite a seemingly kind persona embodies and worships the unjust wealth and status of the Capitol. The attracting charisma of Caesar Flickerman shields a personality as insidious and corrupt as the Capitol itself. Finally, the leader of District Thirteen, President Alma Coin, spearheads the rebellion to uproot the immoral Capitol and is seemingly the force of justice, yet she arguably reveals herself to be the true evil antagonist of the series.
Therefore, many of the characters in Collin’s dystopia cannot fit under the label of good nor evil. We may also note that the trilogy is said to be a commentary on war, not a celebration of revolution but a horrible reminder that violence and war leaves nobody a victor. The finale of the book shows a devastated Katniss, without her family, albeit with Peta, banished from society, living in the remains of district of ghosts and nightmares.
In this sense following Collin’s previous portrayals of character may provide insight into the upcoming book. Whilst a focus of Snow may suggest a greater understanding of his character, there is surely more to the story and many moral lessons that Collin’s will leave us to grapple with as we read about songbirds and snakes.