An excerpt from Suzanne Collins' upcoming prequel to “The Hunger Games” trilogy was released by Entertainment Weekly on Jan. 21. It was revealed that the main character of the novel, which is titled “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” is none other than President Coriolanus Snow, the primary antagonist of the first three books.
Considering how much the first three books leaned into the idea of using collective power and hope to combat an oppressive government and restructure society in a more equitable way, it seems highly irresponsible of Collins to follow them up with a book detailing the youth of a wealthy boy who went on to become a sadistic and tyrannical dictator, especially when the book is geared toward young adults.
Though her true intent in focusing on Snow won’t be clear until the book is released on May 19, the excerpt hints that Collins is attempting to humanize a character who served as the very embodiment of evil in her previous books. The excerpt describes the young Snow as a charming, high-honor student at the academy he attends.
This concept is nothing new, as seen in projects such as Todd Phillips’ 2019 film “Joker.” Many creatives have found success in trying to capture the humanness of characters who previously only existed as villains.
Snow, however, was particularly bad. He used his position as the undisputed leader of Panem to threaten and commit acts of violence, including genocide, against his people. He also held no regard for human life and used every resource at his disposal to manipulate and torture people for his own gain.
It’s also not as if Snow was the only character Collins could have focused on in the prequel. When announcing the new book in June 2019, she revealed that it would take place many years before the trilogy just after a post-war period called the “Dark Days.”
Understanding that any character who lived during the time at which the prequel is set would be extremely old by the events in “The Hunger Games,” fans began speculating that “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was about Mags, an elderly tribute from District 4.
In “Catching Fire," the second book in the trilogy, Mags competes alongside Katniss and Peeta in the 75th Hunger Games. Though not originally chosen as a tribute, she volunteered to take the place of a tribute who suffered psychological damage during the 70th Hunger Games and likely would not have survived.
Mags and Finnick, the male tribute from District 4, allied themselves with Katniss and Peeta in the early days of the Games. When acid fog threatened to kill everyone in the group, Mags sacrificed herself in order to allow the others to move faster.
In direct contrast to Snow, Mags was seen to be selfless and caring. She was also the victor of the 11th Hunger Games, which matches up perfectly with the timeline that Collins hinted at back in June. This means that fans could see a Mags appearance in the prequel, even if she’s not the focus of the story as they’d hoped.
Regardless, the fact that Collins chose to concentrate on Snow rather than Mags is telling in terms of what her goals for the novel are. She decided to write an origin story for a tyrant rather than explore the youth of a woman who gave her life to help Katniss live.
Encouraging readers to sympathize with an egotistical dictator, especially when democracy is under greater threat than it has been in many years, is a rather dangerous thing to do. Collins should be more cautious about normalizing dictators, which could have reverberating effects felt beyond the literary world. There is very little to be gained, and quite a lot that could potentially be lost, by attempting to humanize someone like Snow.
Jerrett Alexander (he/him) is a freshman studying international relations and environmental sustainability. He currently sits on the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability.