Suzanne Collins: celebrating her mark on the literary world

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The lockdown of summer 2020 has meant that plans of travelling around Europe and boosting the old CV have dramatically changed and I, for one, have been prompted to revisit things from my childhood once forgotten. One of these is Suzanne Collins, who turns 58 on August 10th this year. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say almost everyone of our generation knows Suzanne Collins, or at the very least knows her book trilogy, that eventually spawned a $2 billion film series, The Hunger Games.

Collins started off as a writer for children’s TV shows, and her knack for appealing to children shines through in her novels, all of which are aimed at children and young adults. She was inspired to venture into the world of novel writing after meeting child author James Proimos. The result was a critically acclaimed series of books called The Underland Chronicles, a series often forgotten in the blinding light of the success of her later works. Collins revealed that the inspiration behind the series was Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland; the idea that you could fall down a rabbit hole and find much more than a rabbit and a tea party. Despite its relative anonymity compared with its blockbuster of a younger sister, this five-book series was praised by critics and readers alike.

As a child, I was a ferocious bookworm and was unsurprisingly swept up, alongside millions of other teenagers, into the trials and tribulations of Katniss Everdeen. Collins was reportedly inspired by both classical and contemporary media; channel surfing between footage of the Iraq War, her father’s history in the army and ancient Roman gladiator fights all shaped her ideas for the novels. The Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur also served as inspiration; according to the legend, the people of Athens are forced to sacrifice seven young men and women each year to the Minotaur to atone for past crimes. These sources of inspiration brought elements of violence, tyranny and sacrifice which are rampant in the novels themselves. The result of Collins’ work was a best-selling and critically acclaimed trilogy, which recently became a series of four, following the release of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the main books.

Collins brought to the table a smart, skilled, independent heroine into a genre so often dominated by male heroes and damsels in distress.

For those who haven’t read The Hunger Games, it may be puzzling as to why this particular series sky-rocketed to fame. This is a question easily answered by anyone who has read the books. Throughout all three books, Collins manages to balance action, horror, love, brutality, grief and victory brilliantly. The books satisfy the teenage reader’s search for anarchy whilst also tapping into the typical love triangle trope that so many teens are drawn to (Peeta was clearly the superior choice, although Liam Hemsworth as Gale is pretty persuasive). For many teenage girls, including me, Katniss Everdeen represented a much-needed female protagonist. Collins brought to the table a smart, skilled, independent heroine into a genre so often dominated by male heroes and damsels in distress. After years of Harry Potters and Bella Swans, Collins’ fierce, sharp heroine was a refreshing change of tone. 

After years of Harry Potters and Bella Swans, Collins’ fierce, sharp heroine was a refreshing change of tone. 

It’s easy to see the parallels between The Underland Chronicles and The Hunger Games; both series deal with heavy topics including war, genocide and biological warfare whilst maintaining the emotion and vulnerability of their characters. Both series also deal with this idea of a seemingly untouchable and unequal social divide; an us and them which, in times like these, may be more relevant than ever before. 

It may be easy to define Suzanne Collins simply as a writer who struck gold with another teen faze. However, Collins’ works are much more than a bloated teenage girl fantasy. Her books have been a source of inspiration and delight to millions of readers around the world. It’s fair to say that Collins has firmly made her mark in the literary world, and a walk down memory lane with her books seems like a fitting way to celebrate both her birthday and her impact.

Photograph: Susan Yin on Unsplash

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