Dystopian books and movies basically dominated the early 2010s and The Hunger Games was one of them. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss was everywhere on social media and other writers were desperately trying to recreate Suzanne Collins’ concept without avail. And now, a decade later, The Hunger Games fans are coming out of the woodwork with the prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes which was first released as a book in 2020.
Not even 2 years later, we are now getting a movie adaptation which has everyone excited. With a starry cast including Viola Davis, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Dinklage and Hunter Schafer, expectations are high. But there is one question on everyone’s mind before the release of the movie – Should I read The Hunger Games books before watching The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes which is releasing in November?
Having read all the books, we’d say yes. Well, without getting into spoiler territory, let’s see why you should at least read the trilogy books before watching the movie.
Context to the dystopian world of Panem
Set in an alternative reality where civil war has ruined USA, now called Panem, the country, its society, institutions and infrastructure have changed for the worse. In this world, the Capitol is where the rich live and control the poor Districts spread out over the country. But a failed rebellion has the Capitol hosting the Hunger Games to keep the Districts in line.
The books give more insight into this world, the way the Districts are suffering while the Capitol lives on with its luxury. It also answers a lot of questions one may have, such as – Why don’t the Districts refuse to participate in the Hunger Games or why don’t they rebel again? The exposition in the first book also helps you understand the geography better which plays an important role in all of the books and movies including the prequel.
The concept of Hunger Games
The stakes are automatically high when you read about the 74th Hunger Games in the trilogy. It is a finessed, highly advanced death game with teen participants. There is no room for luck as their life is completely in the hands of the Gamemakers.
So, to see the stark contrast thanks to the rudimentary machinery that is at work and the amateurish handling as we go behind the scenes of the 10th Hunger Games in the prequel can be quite shocking. The intrigue factor rises as well as it makes you want to finish The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes to uncover what truly happened at the 10th Hunger Games that changed and led to the more vicious version we see in The Hunger Games.
The connections and callbacks to Katniss and The Hunger Games trilogy
While The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is clearly set decades before the trilogy, before even Katniss was born, we still see some references to her, courtesy of Suzanne Collins feeling magnanimous and dropping several easter eggs. There are fan theories that one of the characters is related to her and the prequel’s female lead, Lucy Gray has her own connection to mockingjays.
There are other spoilery references too such as past Hunger Games victors, the Capitol citizen Tigris’ role, the Hunger Games’ flamboyant hosts, change in mentors, Lucy Gray and Katniss’ song, Coriolanus Snow’s chosen preference of killing his enemies and his particular distaste for District 12 which you can understand better from the trilogy.
Better understanding of Coryo
Coryo aka President Coriolanus Snow is one of the antagonists of The Hunger Games trilogy and so a lot of people were surprised when Collins decided to write the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on his school days. While he may come off as a completely different person, there are still traces that we can recognise from the person he is in the trilogy. It also helps one appreciate Collins’ talent for making us root for someone we know is clearly abhorrent as he becomes the charming anti-hero of the prequel.
You can definitely watch The Hunger Games movies which does help us understand its world before watching The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. But, here is the beauty of the prequel, it also works well as a standalone as it is after all…a prequel, it is set before the incidents of The Hunger Games.
If just the cast or the summary caught your eye, you can easily watch the movie without having any knowledge of the trilogy. You may miss some of the easter eggs or references, but we doubt it will hamper the actual experience of watching the story unfold of Coriolanus Snow and his adventures as a mentor in one of the earliest versions of the Hunger Games.