The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Three Notes on Hunger Games Prequel

I have written a great deal here about the work of Suzanne Collins, from her much neglected Gregor the Underlander novels and When Charlie McButton Lost Power, to her Hunger Games trilogy and even the children’s picture book she wrote post fame and fortune, Year of the Jungle. My exegesis of the Katniss Everdeen books in various HogwartsProfessor posts ran to close to 60,000 words and I regret never turning the three principle Mockingjay posts — The Spiritual Allegory, The Literary Alchemy, and Katniss’ Apotheosis — into a proper book. I think so much about her that this week last year I wrote about ‘Whatever Happened to Suzanne Collins?’

No surprise, then, that I read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on the day of release. You may be surprised that I have not shared my thoughts on the subject until now, in great contrast with the weeks following publication of Mockingjay, the trilogy finale. I plead “full-time job in ‘essential business,’ being overdue on a thesis chapter, and, most important, perhaps, that I have not reviewed the Hunger Games series and re-read Songbirds and Snakes in light of that review.” I have scandalized Potter fans in the past by saying that I think Collins’ achievement with Mockingjay was at least on par and perhaps greater than Deathly Hallows; her work deserves better than a flip newspaper review.

Having said all that, I do want to share three spoiler-free points about the prequel just released to encourage those on the fence about reading it to purchase a copy immediately. Elizabeth Baird (!) Hardy has already posted her first thoughts and I hope point by point discussion of the book and its relationship to Collins’ oeuvre can begin here, if not next week then next month. I’m hoping that Elizabeth and Prof Lana Whited, editor of Critical Insights: The Hunger Games Trilogy, will join Katy McDaniel and myself for a podcast discussion, too, at Reading, Writing, Rowling.

My three points are (1) the most important paragraph to read is the opening of Collins’ acknowledgements at the back of the book, (2) the departure from Collins’ heretofore locked in story structure in this novel, and (3) some thoughts about the title and Collins’ signature presentation of front-and-back.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, First Thoughts on a Sad, Familiar Song

When I first started using The Hunger Games in my college English 111 courses, it was an obscure little book, and I was the only one in any of my classes who had read it before the first day. But times have changed over the past Hunger Games': All about the new 'Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'decade. I still use the book in my classes, mainly because I have not found anything else that works so well. In that time, movies have been made(with some of my students as extras), popularity has swelled, and my students who don’t pay attention to my constant harping on the importance of the number three in the trilogy (they are confused by four films), keep saying they want a “fourth” book. Instead of spoiling the beautiful symmetry of the original trilogy, the master Gamemaker herself brings us a prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which is both its own special sort of creature and a perfect companion to the original trilogy.

If you haven’t yet read Suzanne Collins’s just-released prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, fear not, spoilers won’t crop up until after the break, but, if you have read the novel already, or don’t mind the spoilers, join me for a quick round-up of first thoughts, using the three major elements of the title, Snakes, Songbirds, and Ballads, but in reverse order (why? There are many reasons, actually, but I may fall back on the old excuse that I am an ornery mountain woman with excessive book learning). There will be many more posts to come, but we’ll start the dance here.

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Hunger Games: The Pillar Post

The One Stop location for Hunger Games posts at HogwartsProfessor is now up. You can find it by scrolling down the ‘Pillar Posts’ listing in the left margin of the site’s home page and clicking on ‘Authors Not J. K. Rowling (Hunger Games, Etc.)’ and then ‘Suzanne Collins — Hunger Games’ on that page. Or just head straight there via this link! (For more on the purpose of and how to use ‘Pillar Posts’ see “The ‘Why’ and ‘How To’ of HogwartsProfessor Pillar Posts.”)

The timing of this post is no coincidence, of course, but due to the news that Collins is writing a prequel to the best-selling trilogy. (See ‘Let the Hunger Games Begin — Again!’ for that story.) There are close to one hundred Hunger Games articles listed in this Pillar Post so settle in for a fun catch-up of the best discussion available anywhere on the books and film adaptations.

Here is a taste of the very best to encourage you to check out the whole listing:

Enjoy!

Let the Hunger Games Begin, Again!

Image result for new hunger games novelJust last month, we were wondering what Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games Trilogy (among other achievements) might be up to these days. ‘Whatever Happened to Suzanne Collins?’ It turns out, she’s not just been playing sudoku or puttering in the yard (or imitating her creations to tramp through the woods or bake).  We have been hoping that she was writing. Earlier this week, the formal announcement came that confirmed our hopes but which also confirmed some of the fascinating metatextual concerns that have always run under the trilogy: concerns about artistry, yes, but also concerns about control and gamesmanship. Collins is set to roll out a new addition to the story of Panem, a prequel, since, of course, the Games Trilogy is just that, a trilogy, three books, no more, no less, emphasizing the triptych focus so central to the story. Set 64 years before the Games that Katniss and Peeta “win,” this new offering will doubtless cover the Dark Days, renew and continue interest in Collins’s work, and make Hollywood Gamemakers giddy with delight. [Read more…]

Forgotten Classic by Suzanne Collins

If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, odds are good you have read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy and joined in our discussion here of that series’ artistry and meaning. If you haven’t read the books (or even if you have), it’s still likely you know the stories from the disappointing adaptations of the novels into films. You may even have read Collins’ five Gregor the Overlander novels, books that will never become movies, fascinating and enchanting as they are. I bought and Collins’ first book post Hunger Games, an illustrated childrens book called Year of the Jungle, but I don’t know anybody else who has.

I learned about another book while writing ‘Whatever Happened to Suzanne Collins,’ one she wrote in the midst of her Gregor series (2005). It is When Charlie McButton Lost Power, a children’s book in rhyming AABB quatrains that was illustrated by Mike Lester.

In brief, Charlie McButton is a child addicted to video games who goes into withdrawl when the electrical power goes out at his house and his computer won’t work. He has a battery-operated game — but there are no batteries in it! He tries to take the ones in his younger sister’s dolly, is punished, and yells at his sister. He repents — and, when his time-out punishment is over, he plays imaginative games with his sister and discovers how great life can be without video games. The End.

The poetry, a la Dr Seuss, is clever and captivating, and the Lester illustrations are funny. What is bizarre about the book, though, is its relevance today. See Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows or Jean-Claude Larchet’s The New Media Epidemic if you’re not aware that we are all Charlie McButton, and, short of an epic catastrophe depriving us of electrical power for months, there is little hope that we will escape those shallows for the happy ending Collins’ Charlie experiences.

It’s a book worth reading once — and even to purchase and own if it completes your Collins Collection as this one does mine! Or you can just listen to it being read aloud below!