The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a dystopian action-adventure novel written by the American author Suzanne Collins. It is a prequel to the original The Hunger Games trilogy, set 64 years before the events of the first novel. It was released on May 19, 2020, by Scholastic with an audiobook of the novel, read by the American actor Santino Fontana, was released simultaneously.[1] The book had a virtual launch due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2] A film adaptation by Lionsgate, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, was released on November 17, 2023.[3]

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
North American first edition cover
AuthorSuzanne Collins
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Hunger Games
Publication date
May 19, 2020
Followed byThe Hunger Games 

Plot edit

Sixty-four years before the 74th Hunger Games, 10 years after the Rebellion, the once wealthy and powerful Snow family now struggles, with 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow, his 21-year-old cousin Tigris Snow, and their grandmother being the last living members. The Snows’ wealth emanated from the munitions industry in the now bombed and abandoned District 13. The once wealthy Snow family is threatened by tax increase and possible eviction, leaving the family's continued success dependent on Coriolanus rising to prominence.

To help revive the televised Hunger Games' declining viewership, twenty-four Capitol Academy students, including Coriolanus, are chosen to mentor tributes for the upcoming 10th Hunger Games. Coriolanus hopes to win the offered Plinth Prize to pay his way to the University and return the Snow family's prestige.

Coriolanus is assigned the District 12 female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, a member of the Covey, a nomadic music band. District 12, the poorest district, has never produced a victor. However, during the reaping, Lucy Gray sparks the Capitol's attention by defiantly singing and slipping a snake into the dress of Mayfair Lipp, the daughter of District 12’s mayor. Coriolanus starts considering her a possible victor.

To get ahead of his competition, Coriolanus meets Lucy Gray at the Capitol train station. He follows the tributes into their holding cage, where Lucy Gray dissuades the others from killing him. After learning the Capitol intends to starve the tributes, Coriolanus brings Lucy Gray food.

Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul asks Coriolanus and two other student mentors, Clemensia and Arachne to write a joint essay on ways to increase the Games' viewership. Meanwhile, Coriolanus and Lucy Gray build a rapport. Coriolanus urges Lucy Gray to use her musical abilities to garner Capital viewers' favor and gifts during the Games. Student mentor, Arachne Crane, antagonizes her tribute, Brandy, causing Brandy to fatally stab Arachne. Peacekeepers immediately execute Brandy.

Due to the night’s traumatic events, Clemensia forgoes helping Coriolanus with Dr. Gaul’s assignment, which he finishes solo. A funeral is held for Arachne, wherein Coriolanus sings for the attendees as the tributes are paraded through the streets shackled inside a dingy cage. Later on Coriolanus proposes betting on the Games and allowing viewers to send gifts to favored tributes in the arena.

Later, when Clemensia takes credit for the essay despite having not contributed, Dr. Gaul drops it into a tank of mutt snakes that attack unknown scents. Coriolanus and Clemensia are forced to retrieve the document by hand. The snakes ignore Coriolanus, having recognized his scent on the paper, and instead attack Clemensia. She survives but is permanently handicapped, and the truth is kept from her family.

During a Games arena tour, rebel bombs explode, killing several tributes and mentors. Lucy Gray chooses to save Coriolanus from a fallen beam while Marcus, the District 2 male tribute, escapes amid the chaos. During their final meeting before the Games, Coriolanus and Lucy Gray romantically kiss. Breaking another rule, he gives her his mother's makeup compact, hinting she filled it with rat poison to use as a weapon. The Games opens with a captured and tortured Marcus, chained and suspended above the arena floor. The Games begin, and Dr. Gaul implements Coriolanus' proposals which increases Capitol viewership.

Sejanus, another Academy student from District 2 is overwhelmed with guilt for his former friend Marcus. Sejanus breaks into the arena, intending to die as a martyr, but Coriolanus extracts Sejanus on Dr. Gaul’s orders. As they escape, tributes attack them, forcing Coriolanus to kill one in self-defense. The game footage is altered to hide their presence.

The Games drag on for days, with the few surviving tributes hiding in the arena rubble. Lucy Gray uses the poison-filled compact on several occasions.

In Dr. Gaul's lab, Coriolanus realizes that the snakes that attacked Clemensia will be dropped into the arena to kill the tributes. He drops a handkerchief bearing Lucy Gray’s scent into the tank. Inside the arena, the snakes ignore Lucy Gray, recognizing the scent and allowing her to survive. Eventually she wins the games by exhausting the final tribute to death.

At a victory celebration, Dean Casca Highbottom, credited for the Hunger Games, confronts Coriolanus with the handkerchief from the snake's tank, and his mother’s compact, saying it constitutes cheating, resulting in Coriolanus not winning the Plinth Prize. Threatened with his family's public disgrace, Coriolanus reluctantly joins the Peacekeepers for a 20-year contract but requests to be assigned to District 12, hoping to see Lucy Gray again.

In District 12, Coriolanus and Lucy Gray resume their romance. Sejanus, also forced into the Peacekeepers and hoping to absolve his guilt, plans with rebel Spruce to smuggle other dissenters beyond Panem's northern border. Coriolanus and Lucy Gray discover the plan and argue over Sejanus' involvement. Upon discovering Mayfair eavesdropping with Billy Taupe, Lucy Gray’s ex-boyfriend, Spruce and Coriolanus kill them. After Spruce is detained for the crime, Coriolanus secretly records Sejanus detailing his involvement and sends it to Dr. Gaul, using a "jabber jay". Days later, Sejanus is hanged for treason.

Knowing that there is still evidence linking himself to the murders of Mayfair and Billy, Coriolanus agrees to run away with Lucy Gray. On his way to meet her, Coriolanus is told he has been selected for officer training in District 2. He realizes he will be executed if the murder weapons are discovered.

In the process of escaping District 12, Coriolanus finds the weapons used in Mayfair and Billy’s murder. Realizing that when the guns are destroyed, and Lucy Gray is the only link to his crimes, Coriolanus turns on her. As he pursues her in the forest, a snake bites him, causing hallucinations. He shoots at what he believes to be Lucy Gray and hears her singing. Before Coriolanus can follow the sound of her voice, mocking jays in the trees rise in song, echoing Lucy Gray’s melody, covering up the sound of her footsteps as she escapes from Coriolanus.

Having destroyed the guns and all traces of Lucy Gray, Coriolanus reports for his training. He meets with Dr. Gaul, who reveals she exposed Coriolanus’ cheating and arranged his military service, wanting to shatter his idealism and show that authority must contain humanity's violent nature. Dr. Gaul orders all 10th Hunger Games recordings destroyed, considering them an embarrassment. Coriolanus receives a spot at the University, and Sejanus' parents make him their heir, unaware he betrayed their son.

Highbottom later tells Coriolanus that he never intended for the Games to become a reality. When he and Coriolanus' father, Crassus, were University classmates, they were tasked with creating a severe punishment to permanently subdue the districts. One drunken night, Highbottom jokingly told Crassus his idea of the Games. Crassus submitted it under Highbottom's name to gain approval for their partner project. Highbottom, who felt the Games were too grotesque and cruel, never forgave Crassus and says his son is as deceitful. Coriolanus later poisons Highbottom.

As Gamemaker, Coriolanus introduces the Victor’s Village and rewards winning districts each year with money and food. This ultimately incentivizes the Games for both districts and the Capitol, thus beginning his rise to power.

Characters edit

  • Coriolanus "Coryo" Snow - The protagonist of the novel. His family faced financial difficulties following the war, and he makes great efforts to hide this and maintain his social status. His mother died during childbirth, as well as his baby sister, and his father died during the war, leaving him under the care of his grandmother. He is arrogant, cunning and strategic, taking whatever actions are necessary to improve his situation. Coriolanus becomes infatuated with Lucy Gray after becoming her mentor during the tenth Hunger Games. Coriolanus is faced with a decision between power, status, or love. He works as a Peacekeeper and Gamemaker working his way up to eventually becoming the president of Panem.
  • Lucy Gray Baird - The female tribute from District 12 for the tenth Hunger Games. Lucy Gray is a member of the Covey, a nomadic musical group forced to settle in District 12 after the war. She wears a beautiful rainbow dress to her reaping and draws the Capitol's attention with her charm, talent and by slipping a snake down the District 12 mayor's daughter's dress. She's a smart and calculating free spirit, and eventually develops a romantic connection with Snow. Her fate at the end of the book is unknown, though she is presumed to have died by the beginning of the original series.
  • Tigris Snow - Coriolanus' cousin. She is the breadwinner of the family, leaving school and working for a fashion designer in order to support herself and her family. It is also implied she is forced to sell her body in order to keep food on the table. It is unclear what the cause of death of her parents was. She is gentle and kind towards her cousin, sacrificing a lot for his well being. She eventually becomes a stylist in the Games and heavily modifies her appearance to resemble a tiger. It is unclear how her relationship with Coriolanus developed from this time to the end of the original trilogy, in which she helps the rebels and smiles upon learning Katniss' intention of killing her cousin.
  • Sejanus Plinth - Coriolanus' classmate and fellow mentor in the Games. From District 2, Sejanus now lives in the Capitol because of his father's connections and business during the war. He is rebellious and idealistic, and strongly opposes the Capitol's treatment of the Districts and the existence of the Games. Sejanus ends up a Peacekeeper alongside Coriolanus and considers him one of his closest friends, yet it is Coriolanus who eventually exposes him as a traitor to the Capitol and ensures his death.
  • Dr. Volumnia Gaul - Head Gamemaker and the overseer of every Hunger Games since their inception. She has a twisted view of human nature and believes in an authoritarian government and the need for punishment and control over the Districts. She is indirectly responsible for Snow’s descent into deceit and authority so that he may succeed her and continue the Games. Hated by many people of all districts, she is presented as a sadistic, misanthropic old crone.
  • Casca Highbottom - Dean of the Academy. He is credited as the intellectual author of the Games and holds great disdain towards Coriolanus and the whole Snow family. He is addicted to morphling, a drug similar to morphine.
  • Grandma’am - Coriolanus' and Tigris' paternal grandmother. Her granddaughter gave her the nickname "Grandma'am" since she believed she deserved something that sounded imperial. During the war, she took care of her grandchildren, and ensured their survival; though currently her advanced age seems to be catching up to her.
  • The Covey - A nomadic singing group. They were forced to settle in District 12 after the war, and all who resisted were killed. Most of the remaining members are related to one another and make money singing at events or at the local bar.
  • Mayfair Lipp - She is the daughter of District 12's mayor. Jealous of Lucy Gray and her relationship with Billy Taupe, she arranges for Lucy Gray to be reaped; Lucy Gray in turn humiliates her by putting a snake down her dress. Mayfair eventually becomes a spy for the Capitol in its efforts to suppress future rebellions and is murdered by Coriolanus and the rebels.
  • Billy Taupe - Lucy Gray's ex-boyfriend and Mayfair's current boyfriend. He and Mayfair are shot after being caught spying on District 12's rebels.
  • Strabo Plinth - Sejanus' father. He is the head of a munitions empire in District 2 that sided with the Capitol during the war, thus allowing him to buy his family's way into a new life in the Capitol. At the end of the novel, he sponsors Coriolanus and names him his heir.

Reception edit

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has received positive reviews.[4] Even though book critics had an overall mixed reception to the novel on its release day,[5] the review aggregator website Book Marks, which assigns individual ratings to book reviews from mainstream literary critics, indicated that the novel received a cumulative "positive" rating, based on 19 reviews.[6]

The Guardian praised the book, writing, "Collins's themes of friendship, betrayal, authority and oppression, as well as the extra layers of lore about mockingjays and Capitol's history, will please and thrill."[7] Similarly, Time said that Collins shines most "as she weaves in tantalising details that lend depth to the gruesome world she created in the original series".[8] Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, saying the book is "both a tense, character-driven piece and a cautionary tale".[9]

The Daily Telegraph reviewer criticized it as "not the most promising opening [fans expected]" and said that Collins should "stick to plucky heroes and dazzling plot-twists". She wrote that when it comes to writing the murkiest backwaters of the human psyche, Collins is fathoms out of her depth".[10] Entertainment Weekly said, "The storytelling itself trends desperate at times. Chapters close on violent cliffhangers that edge into parody," and that "there are too many folk music interludes [and] some ludicrous franchise callbacks" but overall it "is a major work with major flaws, but it sure gives you a lot to chew on", ultimately giving it a grade of B−.[11]

Film adaptation edit

In August 2017, Lionsgate's CEO, Jon Feltheimer, expressed an interest in spin-offs of The Hunger Games, with intentions to create a writers' room to explore the concept.[12]

In June 2019, Joe Drake, the chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, announced that the company was working with Collins on an adaptation of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.[13] By April 2020, Collins and Lionsgate confirmed that plans were underway for the film's development. Casting had not yet begun, but the director Francis Lawrence had been confirmed to return after his success with The Hunger Games quadrilogy. The film's writer was to be Michael Arndt, with Nina Jacobson and Collins as producers.[14]

In August 2021, Lionsgate's chairman, Joe Drake, revealed that the film was in pre-production with filming expected to begin in early 2022 for a targeted release of "either late fiscal 2023 or early 2024".[15] On April 28, 2022, it was announced that the film would be released on November 17, 2023.[16]

On May 16, 2022, it was announced that Tom Blyth had been cast as the young Coriolanus Snow.[17] On May 31, Rachel Zegler was cast as Lucy Gray Baird.[18] On June 15, Josh Andrés Rivera was cast as Sejanus Plinth.[19] On June 22, Hunter Schafer was cast as Tigris.[20] On June 27, Jason Schwartzman was cast as Lucretius "Lucky" Flickerman. In July, Peter Dinklage was reported to have been cast as Dean Highbottom.[21]

On June 6, 2022, Lionsgate released a teaser trailer for the film, followed by a full trailer on April 27, 2023. On November 17, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was released in theaters to mixed reviews from critics.[22]

References edit

  1. ^ Gans, Andrew (April 8, 2020). "Tony Winner Santino Fontana Will Narrate Audio Edition of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Hunger Games Prequel". Playbill. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  2. ^ Italie, Hillel (May 17, 2020). "'Hunger Games' prequel 'Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' to receive virtual launch". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  3. ^ "'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes': Cast, trailer and when it hits theaters". USA Today. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  4. ^ Oliveira, Pedro Henrique Ribeiro de (June 19, 2020). "Leia o que a imprensa internacional achou de A Cantiga dos Pássaros e das Serpentes" [Read what the international press thought of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes]. Distrito 13 (in Portuguese). Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  5. ^ McCreesh, Louise (May 19, 2020). "Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gets a mixed response from critics". Digital Spy. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  6. ^ "Book Marks reviews of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (a Hunger Games Novel) by Suzanne Collins". Book Marks. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  7. ^ Womack, Philip (May 19, 2020). "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes review – a sleek Hunger Games prequel". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  8. ^ "The 'Hunger Games' Prequel Adds New Dimensions to President Snow". Time. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  9. ^ "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes". Kirkus Reviews.
  10. ^ Goldsbrough, Susannah (May 19, 2020). "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, review: less Hunger Games, more sixth-form philosophy". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  11. ^ "Your highly-anticipated review of the 'Hunger Games' prequel book". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  12. ^ Lang, Brent (August 8, 2017). "Lionsgate Chief Says 'Hunger Games,' 'Twilight' Have 'More Stories to Tell'". Variety. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  13. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 17, 2019). "'Hunger Games' Prequel Novel From Suzanne Collins Coming in 2020, Lionsgate in Talks For Movie". Deadline. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  14. ^ "Hunger Games Prequel Movie The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Officially Set by Lionsgate". Den of Geek. April 21, 2020. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  15. ^ Hayes, Dade; D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 5, 2021). "'Hunger Games' Prequel To Start Production In First Half Of 2022, Lionsgate Film Boss Joe Drake Says". Deadline. Retrieved August 6, 2021.
  16. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (April 28, 2022). "'Hunger Games' Prequel 'The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes' Gets 2023 Release Date – CinemaCon". Deadline. Retrieved April 29, 2022.
  17. ^ Juneau, Jen (May 16, 2022). "The Hunger Games Prequel Casts Billy the Kid's Tom Blyth as a Young President Snow". People. Retrieved May 24, 2022.
  18. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 31, 2022). "Rachel Zegler To Play Lucy Gray Baird In Lionsgate's 'The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes'". Deadline.
  19. ^ Galuppo, Mia (June 15, 2022). "'Hunger Games' Prequel Enlists 'West Side Story' Star Josh Andrés Rivera". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 15, 2022.
  20. ^ "'Euphoria' Star Hunter Schafer Joins 'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes '". Variety. June 22, 2022. Retrieved June 24, 2022.
  21. ^ "'Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes': Peter Dinklage to Co-Star in Lionsgate Prequel". Deadline. July 18, 2022.
  22. ^ "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023 Movie) - Reveal". YouTube. Retrieved June 6, 2022.
    - "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023 Movie) - Reveal". Retrieved April 27, 2023.
    - "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Rotten Tomatoes (2023 Movie)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 27, 2023.