Hunger Games Prequel Novel Reveals a Surprising Main Character

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games prequel novel, arrives in May 2020.

Hunger Games prequel poster, feather; Scholastic Press

The Hunger Games is readying a return to the pop culture panorama in the form of a prequel novel, which will see author Suzanne Collins revisit the dystopian society of Panem, except at a time well before Katniss Everdeen even existed, much less ignited the titular contest as “The Girl on Fire.”

Indeed, Collins’s franchise follow-up will manifest as a prequel novel set on Panem during the period known as “the Dark Days,” taking place some 64 years before the story we know. The long-awaited continuation of the literary franchise was first teased back in June 2019, during which its May 2020 release date was set, with Scholastic subsequently unveiling the book cover months later, revealing the title as The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

In the latest news on Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songs and Snakes, the story’s protagonist has been revealed, and it’s a surprisingly familiar one!

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Story

Coriolanus Snow has been revealed as the main character of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. – Yes, Coriolanus Snow, the eventual president of Panem, and devious despot of The Hunger Games story who (as memorably played by Donald Sutherland in the films,) gleefully kept the cogs of the oppressive wheel turning, and was public enemy #1 to Katniss and her rebellion. However, this book will follow Snow as a young man who’s looking ahead to his University days.

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The crucial story detail was dropped by EW, which has released a book excerpt and piece of art (depicted in the above tweet,) showing a fresh-faced young man (who looks a hell of a lot like a young Donald Sutherland), who’s affable, charming and even heroic; far from the tyrant we’d come to know in the book trilogy (and film quartet). Indeed, the story will depict young Coriolanus as an accomplished academic who’s already involved in the Hunger Games, serving as a mentor; an effort that – despite his being born to privilege – he hopes will lead to a crucial University scholarship. However, he’s apparently searching for a different path than the one for which he’s on track.

As revealed earlier, the new novel is set on Panem (post-apocalyptic North America) 64 years before the events of Collins’s 100 million-selling trilogy – 2008’s The Hunger Games, 2009’s Catching Fire and 2010’s Mockingjay – which, of course, were the basis for Lionsgate’s box-office-breaking film adaptations starring Jennifer Lawrence – released successively in 2012, 2013, with the final story split into two films, released in 2014 and 2015. While those novels depicted the exploits of Katniss Everdeen, who became a symbol of hope for a starving populace once kept docile by the annual games – eventually leading to a successful revolution – the prequel will chronicle a failed early populace revolt known as “the Dark Days.” As Collins explained last year in a statement of the direction of the prequel:

“With this book, I wanted to explore the state of nature, who we are, and what we perceive is required for our survival. The reconstruction period 10 years after the war, commonly referred to as the Dark Days — as the country of Panem struggles back to its feet — provides fertile ground for characters to grapple with these questions and thereby define their views of humanity.”

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover

Here’s the official cover for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Release Date

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set to arrive on May 19, 2020.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Movie

Of course, the inevitable destination for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a movie, and the plans are already quietly in the works behind the scenes.

Publisher Scholastic (who undoubtedly sport a collective grin with dollar signs in their eyes,) chimed in on the June 2019 announcement of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes book, with Scholastic Trade Publishing President Ellie Berger lauding:

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“Suzanne Collins is a master at combining brilliant storytelling, superb world building, breathtaking suspense, and social commentary. We are absolutely thrilled — as both readers and publishers — to introduce the devoted fans of the series and a new audience to an entirely new perspective on this modern classic.”

Also likely sporting a collective grin with dollar signs in their eyes is studio Lionsgate, which – after vice chairman Michael Burns previously toyed around with prequel plans – wasted no time at all telegraphing its movie adaptation intentions. While no official agreements were confirmed, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group chairman Joe Drake said in a statement to AP:

“As the proud home of the Hunger Games movies, we can hardly wait for Suzanne’s next book to be published. We’ve been communicating with her during the writing process and we look forward to continuing to work closely with her on the movie.”

The Hunger Games original trilogy was inspired by what Collins saw as a disturbing pop culture intersection between the ubiquity of reality television, and what was on the news – specifically, at the time, footage of the invasion of Iraq. Thus, a dystopian dynamic was envisioned, in which those elements became the bread and circuses utilized by a totalitarian government to distract a starving populace. With the first book chronicling the events of the 74th Hunger Games – the annual event in which lottery-drawn teens compete in a live-broadcasted outdoor arena deathmatch – the prequel’s 64-year-back time setting will showcase a time when the Games were only around for a decade, with a first-generation populace who have yet to accept said contest as the norm. Indeed, as Collins further explains:

“We have so much programming coming at us all the time. Is it too much? Are we becoming desensitized to the entire experience?” She adds, “Dystopian stories are places where you can play out the scenarios in your head — your anxieties — and see what might come of them. And, hopefully, as a young person, with the possibilities of the future waiting for you, you’re thinking about how to head these things off.”

We will certainly keep you updated on The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (and its inevitable movie prospects) as the news arrives!

Joseph Baxter is a contributor for Den of Geek and Syfy Wire. You can find his work here. Follow him on Twitter @josbaxter.