Fly You High, Suzanne Collins!

“The fast-paced, detailed narrative features vivid battle scenes (complete with gore), dangerous alliances, some frighteningly close calls, and the sobering death of comrades-in-arms. Cliffhanger chapter endings propel the story forward to its inevitable but nevertheless immensely satisfying conclusion, which, happily for readers, hints at more heart-pounding journeys to the center of the earth.”

     – The Horn Book Magazine in 2003 on one of Suzanne Collins’ novels

That sounds exactly like The Hunger Games, doesn’t it?

gregor[1]But that wasn’t even published until 2008. And what’s that about journeying to the center of the earth? Did they mean the District 12 mines?

Actually, no. A few years before her YA Hunger Games trilogy became so famous that nearly everyone has heard of it if not read it, Collins wrote a five-book series for middle-grade readers. It’s called the Underland Chronicles. I think my brother and I found the first one when I was about nine or ten; we loved them. My brother isn’t a fan anymore (or pretends not to be because he’s weird that way) but I still am. I was ecstatic when the last book came out.

So I’ve been a Suzanne Collins fan for years and find it funny when someone tells me that because I’ve liked the Hunger Games for less than a year and didn’t even become really interested until after I saw the movie, there’s no way I can be a diehard fan of Suzanne Collins. I’m not trying to sound all hipster or “nerdier than thou” but dude, I was a fan of Suzanne Collins back when she wasn’t all that famous.

The weird thing is that although Ms. Collins’ dystopian trilogy is known by nearly everyone and read by millions, most people don’t know about the Underland Chronicles. I have several friends whose eyes got huge when I asked if they’d read her earlier books. “OH MYGregor_and_the_Prophecy_of_Bane[1] GOD, SHE HAS OTHER BOOKS?!” they said. They’re major fans of the trilogy but somehow never noticed that she has other books. Maybe I’m just a nerd, but when I finish an excellent book I always check the author bio to see what else they’ve written and then if they haven’t written anything else I have a sad.

The Underland Chronicles begin in New York City with an eleven-year-boy named Gregor. He lives with his mother, grandmother, and two younger sisters, Lizzie and “Boots”. Gregor’s father doesn’t live with them because he disappeared several years ago for no discernible reason. One hot and sticky summer day, Gregor is doing the laundry in his apartment when he sees two-year-old Boots messing with a metal grate. Below the grate lies a long dark tunnel; Boots and Gregor end up falling down there. They find themselves in a humongous network of huge caves, known as the Underland. But they’re not along – there are many supersized creatures such as bats, rats, cockroaches, lightning bugs, spiders, and mice. And a four-hundred-year-old human civilization.

Each of the books contains a prophecy and Gregor is always part of those prophecies. It shouldn’t have surprised me that Collins included several songs in the Hunger Games because she’s good at writing verse. I bet those prophecies were quite difficult to write. gregor-and-the-curse-of-the-warmbloods-29u31g4[1]They have to make sense, yet can’t be too obvious because then there would be no point in reading the book to see what happens. They also have to rhyme.

This is the Prophecy of Gray from the first book:

“Beware, Underlanders / Time hangs by a thread / The hunters are hunted, white water runs red / The gnawers are sent to extinguish the rest / The hope of the hopeless resides in a quest. / An Overlander warrior, a son of the sun / May bring us back light, he may bring us back none / But gather your neighbors and follow his call / Or rats will most surely devour us all. / Two Over, Two Under, of royal descent/ Two flyers, Two crawlers, Two spinners assent / One gnawer beside and one lost up ahead / And eight will be left when we count up the dead. / The last who will die must decide where he stands / The fate of the eight is contained in his hands / So bid him take care / Bid him look where he leaps / As life may be death and death life again reaps.”

In order, these are the books with a short description of their plot:

  • Gregor the Overlander – Um, Gregor discovers the Underland? He also SPOILER finds his dad.
  • Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane – Our hero has to defeat the Bane, a legendary and terrible white rat.
  • Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods – The Underland is stricken by a plague; Gregor and his friends must go to the (Underland) jungle to find the cure. This is my second favorite.
  • Gregor and the Marks of Secret – A creature commands the rats and Gregor has to save the day once again by stopping him. Are you noticing a theme here yet? Also, lots and lots of war. This is my favorite of the series.
  • Gregor and the Code of Claw – The Underland is now totally at war, Gregor is in totally in loooove, and the whole thing is a bloodbath.

Maybe some people haven’t bothered to read the Underland Chronicles because they’re gregor-and-the-marks-of-secret-244uv66[1]written on “only” a middle-grade level. If so, they’re missing out on a lot. These are meant for younger readers, but they’re not happy-go-lucky books. They have war and treachery and lots of deaths. I haven’t ever come across another middle-grade book that deals with chemical warfare or that describes a certain character being eaten alive by mites. Actually, that last bit reminds me of Glimmer and the tracker jackers in The Hunger Games. There are loads of similarities between the two series.

They’re both about power struggles. And war. And violence. They’re about groups learning to get along, whether they be different species in the Underland or the thirteen districts of Panem. The characters are similar, too. Princess Luxa has a very Katniss-esque emotional detachment about her. Solovet and President Alma Coin could be sisters. Gregor and Katniss, while several years apart in age, have a lot in common. Both have younger sisters for whom they would do anything. Katniss goes into the Games for Prim; Gregor goes into the Underland for Boots. Finally, the way in which the story is told is similar. The Hunger Games is told in the first person and the Underland Chronicles in the third person, but both series divide their books in the same manner. Three parts of nine chapters each, for a total of twenty-seven chapters. Whoops, sorry, I started writing like Suzanne Collins. In sentence fragments. Oh no, there I go again! Ha ha.

tumblr_lsvdd1juWu1qg6d1w[1]The Hunger Games made me think a lot, but the Underland Chronicles made me think about good and evil first. Harry Potter didn’t start me thinking on good and evil not being absolute but instead having shades of gray. That’s because the Underland Chronicles got there first. Solovet’s character arc still fascinates me.

I think that probably the best indicator of just how much both of Collins’s series have affected me is that I listened to The Hunger Games film score while writing this.

P.S. The title comes from what the humans in the Underland say to each other in parting, because they fly on bats, you know? “Fly you high, Gregor the Overlander!” So have a very happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor that you can get these books at the library!

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth, University of Iowa class of 2019. Double majoring in English & Creative Writing and Journalism. Twenty-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, and aspiring writer. Passionate about feminism and lesbian positivity.
This entry was posted in Books and Reading!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Fly You High, Suzanne Collins!

  1. WHY HAVEN’T I READ THESE BOOKS YET!?!?!?
    Sorry for the screaming, but still. These books sound awesome. Any book that includes a character being eaten alive by mites is a good book for me!

  2. Ozma00 says:

    In my defense, I read these books long before the Hunger Games even came out! I feel pretty darn proud of myself for finding a good author 😀

  3. orphu44 says:

    Run like the river, Ripred Nevillegirl. Unless you prefer Twitchtip?

  4. I’ve never read Suzanne Collins, but the Underland sounds very much like it was inspired by the Underdark in Dungeons & Dragons. I’m also pretty sure that the Underdark was itself inspired by the ring party’s underground adventures in Lord of the Rings.
    It’s pretty amazing just how many modern fantasy roads lead back to LotR.

  5. krislivo says:

    Yes, you are a major nerd, but we like you that way. We’ve been meaning to check out those books for a while now, and you just convinced us!! Thanks!

  6. MOHE says:

    Those books are really awesome. 😀 I read them before THG even existed. I even used to have all the prophecies memorized.

  7. Lex says:

    Omg, I loved these books. I read them a really long time ago and should probably again. But they were the main reason that I thought all respectable fantasy books had to have a prophecy. xD

  8. I LOVE the Gregor books! 😀 My friend’s dad introduced me to them and I was hooked. Unfortunately, I only own the first two books and I haven’t been able to get the next three from the library due to a bedbug incident there and my mom said that we should take a break from them for a little while. Ugh, my skin’s crawling just even thinking about it.

  9. Sarah Hudson says:

    I LOVE these books, and it drives me nuts that no one has heard of them. My family has given copies away as birthday presents more than once.

  10. Pingback: Book Review: “Gregor and the Code of the Claw” | The Cheap Reader

  11. Pingback: My Hero Monday: Suzanne Collins | Musings From Neville's Navel

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