Mockingjay Alchemy: A Scent of Blood and Roses

Six Days to Mockingjay!

We’re officially in the last week of the countdown to the publication date of Mockingjay, the finale to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, so it’s time we do some serious thinking about President Snow. I’m pretty confident that he’s not on Team Pearl, but let’s take a long look at what he says and does before jumping to conclusions. I’m thinking that the man who smells of blood and roses may be a key to the alchemical symbolism of the series’ clincher.

Snow seems to be President-for-life. We see him in the Second Quarter Quell tape, after all, in the same role he plays in the Third (see Catching Fire, page 195), which, assuming his time in office has been uninterrupted, means he has been the face of government for more than a quarter century. To give you an idea of that time-frame, just over twenty-five years ago the real world US President was Ronald Reagan. I’m confident a lot of Hunger Games readers know about him only from books.

I have two deuterocanonical reasons for wanting to discuss the nasty man in the Capitol, beyond his longevity and his always taking the form of Peter Cushing in my imagination, albeit with lips. The first reason is Ms. Collins’ comments about him in her School Library Journal interview earlier this month:

The question is a good one and all we get is a refusal to answer.

This is a minor point, but I’m curious: Why does President Snow’s breath smell like blood?

Oh, I can’t tell you that. [Laughter] I see what you’re doing. You get me going, and then you have this list of book-three questions you’re trying to slip in.

Who, me?

Do you think I can possibly answer that?

Actually, the entire interview has been carefully leading up to that very question.

[Laughter] Well, I absolutely cannot tell you. No, I really can’t. But you’re right. That will be answered in book three. I’ll tell you that, OK? That can be your header.

Her answer certainly does highlight the blood-and-roses note that plays most every time we run into the man in person, though, doesn’t it? As if that interview response about President Cushing, I mean ‘Snow,’ wasn’t enough, I got this request today from an Infinitus 2010 friend in my ‘john at HogwartsProfessor dot com inbox:


I have been hungrily reading your posts on the Hunger Games series as we lead up to the release of the final book next week (can’t wait!) and wonder if you have ever discussed the following dialogue that occurs in Chapter 2 of “Catching Fire” between President Snow and Katniss.  (I am very sorry, but I cannot cite the exact page due to reading the story on my Kindle.  It is in location 258-69, if that helps at all!)

…President Snow rubs a spot over his left eyebrow, the very spot where I myself get headaches.  “Do you have any idea what that would mean?  How many people would die?  What conditions those left would have to face?  Whatever problems anyone may have with the Capitol, believe me when I say that if it released its grip on the districts for even a short time, the entire system would collapse.”

I’m taken aback at the directness and even the sincerity of this speech.  As if his primary concern is the welfare of the citizens of Panem, when nothing could be further from the truth.  I don’t know how I dare to say the next words, but I do.  “It must be very fragile, if a handful of berries can bring it down.”

There’s a long pause while he examines me.  Then he simply says, “It is fragile, but not in the way that you suppose.”

After reading and re-reading “Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” these three paragraphs have been totally baffling me.  They leave me with the following questions:

  1. Why do they (Katniss and President Snow) get headaches in the same spot?
  2. What exact system is President Snow referring to when he says it would collapse if the Capitol released its hold?  It leads me to believe there is some other system we are not aware of.
  3. Does President Snow actually have the citizens of Panems welfare as his primary concern?  Is there some other threat we are not aware of?
  4. In what way is the system fragile, then, if not in the way we (Katniss) suppose(es)?

Sadly, I am leaving on vacation tomorrow, but I would love to hear your thoughts on that.

Thanks so much!

Pretty straight forward request, right? These questions about “the system” and President Snow were echoed in some challenging comments by STS here yesterday, as well. It seems it’s time to “Talk about President Snow.”

President Snow’s Appearances and Mentions of His Name

First, let’s review our ‘Snow Scenes” in Hunger Games and in Catching Fire (hereafter Games and Fire). Unless my quick survey last night is way off — a real possibility, given the haste with which I made my search for mentions of President Snow — the man himself rarely appears on stage.

In Games, he is mentioned first at the end of chapter 5 (p. 71) at the chariot entrance in the Capitol. “The president, a small thin man with paper-white hair, gives the official welcome from a balcony above us.” No name and a throw-away reference to his importance. Pretty forgettable.

We see him again — the next time he is even mentioned? — in the last chapter (pp. 364-5) after Peeta and Katniss have watched the highlight reel of the 74th Hunger Games with their buddy Flickerman. They are playing up their love for one another in order to prevent backlash from the authorities for their ‘berry rebellion’ in the Games. Enter such an authority in the person of President Snow.

The anthem’s playing yet again and we rise as President Snow himself takes the stage followed by a little girl carrying a cushion that holds the crown. There’s just one crown, though, and you can hear the crowd’s confusion — whose head will he place it on? — until President Snow gives it a twist and it separates into two halves. He places the first around Peeta’s brow with a smile. He’s still smiling when he settles the second on my head; but his eyes, just inches from mine, are as unforgiving as a snake’s.

The crowned couple go to the president’s mansion after leaving the Caesar Flickerman stage. There Katniss says, “Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of Haymitch, which is reassuring, or President Snow, which is terrifying…”

So, in the first book, President Snow crowns the victors, glares at Katniss a few times, and packs for his trip to District 12 that he’ll take in Fire. I’ll come back to the crowning ceremony and the importance of the King and Queen’s change of clothing the next day at the end of this post.

In Fire, President Snow appears only three times, but he is mentioned on ten different pages in chapters that he does not show his face.

The biggest appearances, of course, is his “discussion” with Katniss in the privacy of her Victor Village home’s library, a discussion that ends with his ultimatum that she “aim higher” on her Victory Tour and “convince me” that she and Peeta are really in love (chapter 2, p. 29). His only other physical appearances is a very brief follow-up to this in the Capitol at the other end of the Tour (chapter 5, pp. 73-74) and a cameo as in Games at the chariot entrance (chapter 15, p. 213). The confrontation at the Tour’s finish isn’t pleasant:

President Snow himself makes a surprise visit to congratulate us. He clasps Peeta’s hand and gives him an approving slap on the shoulder. He embraces me, enfolding me in the smell of blood and roses, and plants a puffy kiss on my cheek. When he pulls back his fingers digging into my arms, his face smiling into mine. I dare to raise my eyebrows. They ask what my lips can’t. Did I do it? Was it enough? Was giving everything over to you, keeping up the game, promising to marry Peeta enough?

In answer, he gives an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

For a guy that only appears only these five times in person (and twice on television to read the Quell Cards; e.g., chapter 12, pp 171-2, chapter 14, p. 195), he seems to be a much bigger player in the books. That is a consequence, of course, of the ultimatum he gives Katniss at the beginning of Fire and how this weighs on her. She is more than a bit slow in picking up that she is the symbol and focus of the rebellion; after a Presidential visit, an encounter with two adoring refugees outside the wire, and what she sees on the Victory Tour, she doesn’t conclude “I am the mockingjay, The one that survived the Capitol’s plans. The symbol of the rebellion” until it is spelled out for her by Haymitch after escaping the Quell. What she gets right away, however, and what haunts her is that President Snow intends to kill her or, worse, those she loves unless she dances to the Capitol’s tune.

President Snow, consequently, is frequently in her Fire thoughts:

When Effie brings [my sleeping with Peeta] up to me, I think, Good. Maybe it will get back to President Snow. (chapter 5, p.72)

“Is [Seneca Crane’s death] a secret? President Snow didn’t act like it was. In fact, he seemed eager for me to know,” I say. (chapter 17, p.241)

Yes, everyone in the districts will be watching me to see how I handle this death sentence, this final act of President Snow’s dominance. (chapter 17, p.243)

I rub a bit of the silk between my fingers, trying to figure out President Snow’s reasonings [about making me wear the wedding dress].  (chapter 17, p.248)

“[Cinna] didn’t have any choice. President Snow made him,” I say, somewhat defensively. I won’t let anyone criticize Cinna.  (chapter 17, p.249)

Because [thinking about killing Finnick] is so repellent to think about, my mind frantically tries to change topics. But the only thing that distracts me from my current situation is fantasizing about killing President Snow. (chapter 23, p.329)

Oh, great [explaining to Finnick what a canary does in a coal mine], and now I’m thinking about Gale, deep down in that horrible mine, with President Snow’s threat hanging over his head. (chapter 23, p.331)

After all, what is this Quarter Quell but … what was it President Snow read from the card? (chapter 27, p.380) [see also Games, chapter 27, p. 366]

President Snow, as the face of the Capitol regime keeping the districts in subjection and the person who delivered the message face-to-face that she either played ball or her family and Gale would suffer, dominates Katniss’ mental landscape. He is the embodiment of the Capitol and the political status quo to Miss Everdeen.

So what’s with the smell of Blood and Roses?

The Red Mysteries of President Snow

We know very little about the physical appearance of President Snow. We learned in Games that he is a “small thin man with paper-white hair” and the only physical description we get beyond that in Fire during his meeting with Katniss in the Victors Village is of his lips.

President Snow smiles and I notice his lips for the first time. I’m expecting snake lips, which is to say none. But his are overly full, the skin stretched too tight. I have to wonder if his mouth has been altered to make him more appealing. If so, it was a waste of time and money, because he’s not appealing at all. (chapter 2, p. 19)

What strikes Katniss, though, as she soon as she enters the room, even before she sees Snow is “the conflicting scents of roses and blood” (chapter 1, p. 17). After learning by suggestion that Seneca Crane has been executed, she notes:

The smell of roses and blood has grown stronger now that only a desk separates us. There’s a rose in President Snow’s lapel, which at least suggests a source of the flower perfume, but it must be genetically enhanced, because no real rose reeks like that. As for the blood… I don’t know (chapter 2, pp 20-21)

After he departs, she realizes where the smell comes from:

The smell of blood … it was on his breath.

What does he do? I think. Drink it? I imagine him sipping it from a teacup. Dipping a cookie into the stuff and pulling it out dripping red (chapter 3, p. 30).

The only other description we get of the President’s physical person is that, after revealing that her berry rebellion has sparked unrest in the districts, he “rubs a spot over his left eyebrow, the very spot where I myself get headaches” (chapter 2, p. 21). This is a curious note and a good one to begin our discussion of the President’s blood and roses scents.

Katniss gets headaches? Well, in Games during the first days without water she does have terrible headaches because of dehydration (chapter 13, pp 166-7). She seems to get stress headaches on her way to the Capitol, too (see below). The narrator doesn’t tell us repeatedly that this is a big problem she has learned to live with; “predilection for headaches” is not a characteristic that leaps to mind for our heroine. Katniss, though, quite deliberately points to a shared idiosyncrasy and affliction that she shares with the President, namely, headaches above the left eye.

Forgive me, but my first thought is: what else does she have in common with President Snow?

The answer is, oddly enough, that she, too, knows what it is to have blood on your breath or at least to have a mouth full of blood.

We read about it first in Games as she arrives at the Capitol:

The Capitol has a misty, haunted air. My head aches and I must have bitten into the side of my cheek in the night. My tongue probes the ragged flesh and I taste blood (chapter 7, p. 86).

Just before entering her first arena, again she tastes blood:

I don’t want to chew on my nails or my lips, so I find myself gnawing on the inside of my cheek. It still hasn’t fully healed from a few days ago. Soon the taste of blood fills my mouth (chapter 10, p. 146).

She re-opens that gash on the inside of her mouth during her care for Peeta the mud-boy:

Within minutes of pressing the handful of chewed-up green stuff into the wound, pus begins running out. I tell myself this is a good thing and bite the inside of my cheek hard because my breakfast is threatening to make a reappearance (chapter 19, p. 257)

In the battle with Clove at the Cornucopia in Games, too, the gash on her forehead from the knife “sends a gush running down my face, blinding my eye, filing my mouth with the sharp metallic taste of my own blood” (chapter 21, p. 284). Resourceful girl that she is, Katniss uses this blood as weapon when pinned down by Clove: “I work up a mouthful of blood and saliva and spit it in her face” (p. 286).

I think we can take it as a given that Katniss is no stranger to blood on the breath.

She doesn’t think, though, when she smells blood on someone else’s breath, that they must have the nervous tic of chewing on their cheeks when under stress, as she does. That this person who gets stress head aches in the same frontal lobe she does might be like her. His breath makes him something of a vampire to her, someone who drinks the stuff from teacups and dips his cookies in it.

And the roses? Well, they’re a signature scent of the Capitol, right? The shower water is scented there with eau d’ roses so everyone smells that way and it’s such a marker of the division between Capitol and districts that Peeta jokes about it in his first interview with Caesar Flickerman (chapter 9, p. 130). In Flickerman’s last Games interview with the triumphant couple, this time without a live audience, Peeta and Katniss are “surrounded by vases of red and pink roses” (chapter 27, p. 36). Of course the incarnation of everything about the Capitol, President Snow, smells of roses.

But why does Suzanne Collins choose the scents of blood and roses for President Snow rather than, say, lilies and sweat?

HogPro All-Pros and those of you who have read my books or listened to my conversations with Travis Prinzi about literary alchemy in The Hunger Games won’t be surprised to read I think it comes down to the traditional symbolism of blood, roses, and the color red in this stream of English literature. Ms. Collins is writing a series of books on an alchemical scaffolding to present her transformational drama — and these red markers are her pointers to our entry into the last stage, the alchemical rubedo.

Let me back track here a minute for the uninitiated.

Alchemy is a three stage work in its simplest outline, each stage represented by a different color. In the first, the person to be enlightened is broken down, shattered really, to their core idea or ‘prime matter.’ This process when represented in metallurgy was one of “burning down” and was known as the nigredo or black stage because of this process.

The second stage is one of purification or cleansing. The shattered survivor of the nigredo here is washed and restored in preparation for the chrysalis of the remaining stage. Unlike the first stage, then, which was represented by the color black and fire, the second stage, the albedo, that is the opposite of the first, is about the color white and purifying water.

The last stage is red because the person’s transformation and illumination is revealed usually in the red-hot crucible of the story’s final crisis. It is is called the rubedo and as you’ve probably guessed is represented by red figures. The end-color of the alchemical process is gold, the illumined metal or ‘solid light,’ which represents the enlightened person who has achieved something like divinization or union with the ‘Light of the World.’

I have already explained at some length in a post on the anagogical symbolism of the stories why the Hunger Games books are alchemical drama, so I won’t bore you with that argument here. Remember those crowns President Snow put on Peeta and Katniss’ heads at the end of Games? Yes, that was an alchemical marker as they become the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ of the work. Suffice it to say that the two books we have so far, Hunger Games and Catching Fire, are both complete alchemical dramas in themselves (with their three parts roughly corresponding to the three stages) and one of the three stages in the three stage work of the trilogy, i.e., Games is the series nigredo and Fire the albedo.

For the black-white-red-gold of Games, think of Katniss’ experiences in the arena. She is almost burned to death after nearly dying of dehydration, then she and Peeta are all but drowned in the flood that falls from the skies while they are in the cave, and the bloody Peeta and Katniss wind up victors in the golden cornucopia. Games is the series nigedo because of the blackness of District 12, coal country, the predominant scene of this book, and because of the shattering of Katniss’ world when Prim is chosen as a tribute in the reaping.

In contrast, the District 12 of Fire is white with snow because of the blizzard and it’s no accident that President Snow makes his first and only prolonged appearance at the beginning of this literary albedo. Snow is a perfect token of the white stage because it is both water and white. To drive home the “purification” symbolism of this stage of Katniss’ transformation, the arena has water at its center, the most deadly of its challenges is a nerve gas that attacks in a cloud of white mist, and the cure for its effects are washing in water.

The predominant symbolism of each book, too, is about light and illumination. In Games, Katniss’ pin is a golden mockingjay, yes, but more important, she is “the girl on fire.” Her yellow, gold, and literally on-fire outfits designed by Cinna are markers for her destiny; there is light inside this black coal-child that will be revealed. Cinna puts Katniss and Peeta in white outfits with red or pink shoes for their interview with Flickerman in chapter 27 because we are transitioning to the white stage of Fire.

In Fire, instead of the light of fire on coal illustrating the alchemical end game, we have the symbolism of the pearl. Again, this I have explained at length in another post (‘The Symbolism of the Pearl’ is the conclusion of ‘Unlocking the Hunger Games’). “Pearl,” like the swan, silver, and the moon, is a traditional alchemical symbol representing the white work or albedo of transformation (see Abraham’s Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, page 142). It is especially apt because a pearl’s beauty is in its whiteness, certainly, or purity, but mostly in its luminescence. When Peeta gives Katniss the pearl before the crisis of the Quell and after promising to die for her greater life, we have the gift of love and light that is only the Christ figure’s to give — and a sign of her eventual divinization if she can retain the purification she has experienced there.

And pearls are life-savers in Fire. Madge brings the pain-killers that make treatment of Gale’s shredded back possible. Mags sacrifices herself into the mist in the arena so that the others won’t die trying to carry her. Both these characters’ names are derived from ‘Margaret,’ the Anglicization of the Greek word for Pearl. Gold is the solid light of material metals that is the universal symbol in traditional cultures of God’s Glory; the pearl is the solid light of the seas and is considered invaluable and beautiful for the same reason.

The idea of “pearls” isn’t introduced in Fire, oddly enough, but in Games. It is Effie’s bizarre comment there that introduces this image– to show how cleverly she was marketing Peeta and Katniss to potential sponsors! — that “if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls,” a comment made soon after they arrive in the Capitol (chapter 5, p. 74). Peeta even repeats this line as a joke in Fire before giving his pearl to Katniss in the arena as a token of his love. Collins is sophisticated enough a writer that she points to the coming alchemical stage’s predominant imagery in the previous stage.

Which brings us to the alchemical symbolism of blood and of roses.

According to Lyndy Abraham’s Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, both blood and roses are traditional symbols of the third stage of the alchemical work. Blood, he writes, “symbolizes the precious red elixir” that flows from the Philosopher’s Stone and which can turn all things into gold (‘Blood,’ p. 28). The red rose is “a symbol of the goal of the opus alchymicum, the perfect red stone or elixir attained at the culmination of the rubedo” (‘Rose, red,” p. 173), as such, the red rose is a symbol of the red stage itself (‘Rubedo,’ p. 174).

Why does President Snow’s breath smell like blood? I expect the narrative line will reveal it is because, like Katniss, he chews on the inside of his cheek when under stress — and the collapse of the Capitol’s “system” is the height of stress for him. I expect, too, that we will be reading a lot about roses and blood in the last book, the red stage of this alchemical drama, as well as about gold and light, as we experience something of an imaginative apotheosis alongside Katniss. As fire is to nigredo coal and pearl is to albedo water, so gold or light is to rubedo roses and blood.

As with everyone else not involved with this book’s publication, I am clueless about how Ms. Collins will pull this off. Beginning with this prediction, though, that the roses and blood scents of President Snow will be central symbols of Mockingjay as rubedo, I hope to make at least one prediction per day until we have the book ourselves to enjoy. Tomorrow, something about “choice” and “speaking truth to power,” the hallmarks of postmodern morality and literature.

I covet, as always, your comments and corrections.


  1. I think that Katniss’ wild imaginings about where the blood scent on President Snow’s breath comes from really typifies the whole “unreliable narrator” thing SC has going on with her. Biting the inside of your cheek and having it bleed is a pretty mundane explanation of “blood on the breath”, but Katniss almost never pictures anyone associated with the Capitol as human so her mind jumps to sinister explanations. Naturally, we jump there too, instead of focusing on the fact that President Snow is actually pretty stressed out in this scene. It definitely deserves a closer look. Thanks for your insights!

  2. Interesting that you should start with the statement that you don’t think Snow is on Team Pearl. After reading through all the details of your Pearl Plot, some of them seem to be able to be explained better if Snow (or maybe a Muttation replacement?) is actually in on the conspiracy rather than be so specifically manipulated. His actions, from forcing Katniss and Peeta into a fake engagement to changing the Quarter Quell, are so incendiary that one could make a case that he’s actually trying to create the motivation for a full-scale rebellion. Perhaps his position is such that if he simply tried moderate reforms, they would be rejected by the people in the Capitol and he would be removed. So instead he plays the Devil’s Advocate to push sentiment in the opposite direction, as well as of course manipulating Katniss into becoming the pearl.

    That said, I have to admit I never thought of an explanation as simple as “he bites his cheek… just like Katniss!” My first half joking reaction was “he’s a vampire!” and then the idea that he may be a Muttation took hold.

  3. Arabella Figg says

    Great post, John! As I read it, I found myself thinking of Mrs. Undersee who also has headaches. I’ve believed these to be migraines, given how excruciating they are and that she keeps a dark room, but perhaps there is a connection between the three characters?

  4. StrictlyTopSecret says

    I wonder if that connection might be a disease related to lifelong exposure to coal dust (could also explain the metallic/blood-like smell on Snow’s breath).

    Could President Snow be a former D12 resident, with a Capitol-altered physical appearance?


  5. As I read Fire, I often thought “the Capitol can’t be that stupid . . . every decision they make feeds/helps the rebellion even more.” I mean, really? The Capitol has successfully subjugated the districts for many years, to politically blunder -repeatedly- while the bell tolls alerts me that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Taunting Katniss by threatening her family didn’t work the first time, did it? So why repeat? Choosing to send K and P back into the arena after the effect they had the first time doesn’t seem wise, and then to compound the impact by giving Peeta more air time???? Forgive me, but can Snow really be THAT stupid and easily played? Maybe he is closer to Snape and the “bad guy” isn’t a person but the system. Didn’t everyone think Snape was a vampire for a while, too?

  6. PK9…I had the same thoughts about President Snow as well, but only as I followed Professor’s notes here!!! Wow! Or maybe I should say, “Whoa!”
    I do so love to read that which I cannot adequately express in my own words. Keep ’em coming, please.

    An inside job?? The ultimate conspiracy to ignite rebellion throughout the Districts and remain in power? Hmmmmm… I think Arabella is also onto something with the “dark room”. My book can’t come too soon for me.

  7. Arabella Figg says

    Wow, what if Snow is the Puppet Master? That would explain Mrs. Undersee’s little pharmacy, Haymitch’s familiarity with the Dist. 11 courthouse, and Heavensbee having an airship. Cinna’s beating done in front of Katniss to to goad her further in her Mockingjay role. Probably a stretch.

  8. What do you make of the below passage describing Capitol residents:

    “Why do these people speak in such a high pitch? Why do their jaws barely open when they talk? Why do the ends of their sentences go up as if they’re asking a question? Odd vowels, clipped words, and always a hiss on the letter s . . . no wonder it’s impossible not to mimic them” – p. 61, THG

    Is the Capitol advanced *enough* to create, for example, realistic-enough looking cybernetic beings (Data-esque, even)? Collins goes to great lengths to showcase Katniss’ (presumably psychological) defense of dehumanizing her captors (e.g., referring to them as “oddly colored birds”). Might these residents *be* less than human in some way? Clones? Automatons? If so, to what end?


  9. Agreed it is a stretch since no other bad guy (at least one with a face) has been introduced. And when you consider the intended youth audience, a scary, blood-breathed villain whose titan arrogance will prove to be his Achilles’ heel seems about right. Still, Collin’s has to give it a twist, right? If Collin’s wants to spin war stories in an effort to paint war itself as the villain — not man — then maybe Snow just wants to end the Hunger Games, too. On the other hand, as president, couldn’t he have just made a law or something? Snape twist or no, something is UP with Snow

  10. As for the clones, STS, I don’t think they are actually robots but act like them to serve Collins’ premise that the people under the media’s control have no individual thought and can therefore be easily controlled. The media tells us how to dress, how to talk, and what to think. This serves as a dramatic backdrop for Katniss’ self actualization, and hopefully as a wake up call to our nation’s youth as well.

  11. Great post! It’s fun to see other sites talk about these books, but nobody does it quite like this.
    Snow is a weird character. One of my initial problems with the “Pearl Plot” was that the rebels and the Capitol both needed a love story, and lots of lies – just for entirely different reasons. And the only people really hurt by all of it were Katniss and her friends/family. I hope there’s more to Snow’s weird actions that really force the rebellion than the idea that in war what the “good guys” say and do and need isn’t really much different than what the “bad guys” do. And that the people who are hurt the most are the ones who have to act out their plans.
    And after reading this post, I’m thinking it won’t be Katniss, but the golden boy, Christ-figure who manages to go through two Games with very little blood on his hands who ultimately defeats the red roses, snake responsible for so much death the blood is on his breath.

  12. If the literary alchemy we’re seeing in TGH trilogy is intentional, perhaps Cinna’s name is a reference to cinnabar (mercury / vermilion / quicksilver). An odd source (but some fascinating reading) I’ve appended below suggests several parallels are possible. Redness, the Roman connection, blood, spirit, alchemy, purity/perfection – it’s all there.


  13. Cinna the Red’s role as the alchemical catalyst in Katniss’ transformation and the ignition of the Panem districts’ revolt, especially as this role may expand in the rubedo or red stage, is worthy of a prediction post of its own. Sunday or Monday, I hope. Remind me if I forget!

    You wrote: “If the literary alchemy we’re seeing in TGH trilogy is intentional…”

    I read that about Harry Potter for six years and still hear about it from Twilight fans. I guess I should have expected it on this subject, too.

  14. Hope you didn’t take the above comment as an offense, John. It certainly was not intended.

    Literary analysis is far beyond my scope of expertise! I’ve never read Twilight, and have read through the HP series only once (and prior to ever even hearing the phrase “literary alchemy”). I’m a rank n00b in this area, to put it lightly!

    I eagerly await your predictions regarding Cinna the Red.

  15. No offense, STS! I love your thoughts, even when I don’t agree, and skepticism is rarely an imprudent course in the speculation line.

  16. Josh Petersen says

    I think a point that was alluded to, but not fully explored, is that of accepting Katniss’ ideas. She says in the selection quoted above:

    “I’m taken aback at the directness and even the sincerity of this speech. As if his primary concern is the welfare of the citizens of Panem, when nothing could be further from the truth.”

    How does Katniss know the motives or intent of President Snow? Why are we so quick to accept her summation? Is she wrong?

    @STS – Your idea about president Snow possibly being a former D12 resident is intriguing.

  17. One thing I thought about is, if Snow’s goal was to have Katniss executed, I think he could have pushed her into doing something openly that would give the Capitol legitimate reason for doing so. Hunting illegally outside District 12, interrupting Gale’s whipping, those were already offenses that could have been used to publically execute her. So either he doesn’t want to, or he can’t risk executing her for any reason.

    The only thing that the Quarter Quell did was give Snow an out. By claiming that the Victors’ Quell was predetermined 75+ years ago, he can publically disavow responsibility for Katniss’ death in the arena. But to what end? If he doesn’t think the districts will believe it if Katniss had an “accident” and died, why doesn’t he think that the districts will believe that he altered the Quarter Quell to screw Katniss? That’s FAR more suspicious than an “accident”.

  18. Expanding on my first paragraph, given Katniss’ state of mind at the beginning of Catching Fire, if Snow just threatens to have Gale, Prim, Peeta, and Mrs. Everdeen executed unless Katniss sacrifices herself by trying to go under the electrified fence, I think Katniss would comply.

  19. When I read this post to my husband he said “if Suzanne Collins really did do all that on purpose, she’s a genius!” I have had some trouble totally buying all the alchemy, too, but I think that’s in large part because I don’t totally understand it. Literary analysis is not my thing (my background is in history and education) but thinking back on her Gregor books, I’m becoming more convinced that Collins has to at least be familiar with alchemical symbols.

    Gregor’s little sister, the embodiment of innocence, is named Margaret. When the plot calls for a death and rebirth of sorts that will resolve the conflict between two groups, a character named (rip)Red takes care of that. The bad guy is a rat named Pearl (and with such a feminine name is obviously a boy 🙂 who chews his tail when he is stressed. It’s interesting to see that the names or symbols she repeats are things highlighted here as being important to alchemy.

    I don’t know why the bad guys are named Pearl and Snow – things we associate with purity or completeness. Maybe to show these characters have completed their “hero’s journey” and ended up going in the wrong direction?

  20. I think the hardest part for people to grasp when John talks about literary alchemy is that he is not necessarily saying authors sit down with a Literary Alchemy for Dummies book & plot out how to write literary alchemy into their works. Rather, they are working with a scaffolding & a template laid down already in Western literature. It’s almost a conscious & at the same time subconscious act of creating.

  21. Bingo, RevGeorge!

    Think about the ‘red’ names in Harry Potter, all of whom play major roles in the rubedo of individual books and in the series rubedo, Deathly Hallows: Rubeus Hagrid, Rufus Scrimgeour, and FRed Weasley. The characters with white names? Lily Potter, Albus Dumbledore, and Luna Lovegood. There’s not a cardboard meaning to the stage identification common to these players but the alchemical aspect of the name is important to understanding them.

    And I think your arguments from Gregor names point to familiarity and facility with alchemical meaning. The woman has an MFA in creative Writing from NYU, the PhD equivalent in the field. How can we be surprised or skeptical that she understands the traditions of English literature — or even just ‘what worked in Harry Potter’? This is one smart writer.

  22. StrictlyTopSecret says

    Speaking of Collins’ education and the extraordinary depth of her writing . . .

    Take a look at this thread

    to read one exceptionally short-sighted poster’s assessment of Collins’ work:

    “SC’s work is a book for teenagers. That’s the long and the short of it. Sure, she’s done some research but a lot of it isn’t really that deep from what i can see. It’s fairly predictable and has some societal comments but it’s no TKAM or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s nowhere near that level at all…”

    ***eye roll***

    I find myself unusually irritated by the above hogwash, and should hold my tongue (on that board) before I say something I’ll regret.

    Those with more level heads may want to lend their thoughts to that particular conversation over on

  23. What a great post and conversation! Huzzah! And the alchemy is done so nicely that it is just as apparent as in other books we’ve discussed here, but so different in execution, and, as revgeorge notes, no less impressive for being a “natural” pattern. I also wondered if the blood smell indicates that Snow has a throat disorder (he wanted lots of sugar in that hot tea) or even TB (the hot, sweet stuff is nice for a cough).
    When I first read the scene in the study, I immediately thought of the phrase used to describe the Elizabethan ideal of beauty—“Snow in Roses.” Elizabethans, like the Capitol folks, like Americans, had some pretty artificial ideas about beauty. One wanted to be as pale as possible (ideals of beauty generally are intended to make people look as the rich can look, thus, in the 16th century, when rich people stayed in big stone houses instead of working in the fields, pasty was in; today, when rich folks lounge around by pools and working stiffs sit in dimly lit cubicles, tan is hip). That’s the snow. Then, on one’s white face, from which most hair, including the eyebrows, had been removed, bright red cheeks and lips were painted on, the roses. The Queen of Hearts (or the Red Queen; I’m not sure if she was supposed to be both or one or the other, actually) in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, illustrates nicely how freakish this could look, even if one did not have an abnormally large skull.
    Snow, with his rose, is altered, but not, as Katniss notes, in a way that makes him look pleasant, and perhaps, something is ailing him. The dark irony of that Elizabethan ideal of beauty? The pale complexion was usually achieved with white makeup, in which a frequent ingredient was white lead, which, of course, killed people.

  24. Arabella Figg says

    What about the puffy lips, so carefully stressed by Katniss (she doesn’t mention this about any other cosmetically altered person). Might the lips indicate anything symbolically, in context with the rest?

    As for times and context re wealth, because so few were rich enough to have plenteous food in times past, they flaunted wealth through corpulence. Today, of course, with food so readily available in Western countries, wealth is flaunted through thinness, as in, “you can’t be too thin and too rich” (Helen Gurley Brown). Ah, but beauty blows in the fashion winds….

  25. I see your points about the alchemical meaning of the blood on the breath and I agree with them. However, I think there is a whole additional layer of meaning that in many ways is more basic. In Old Testament times, there was a widespread believe in the Near East that the blood was the life of animals. The prohibitions against partaking of blood in the Old Testament were largely based on practices where people would attempt to gain more life or extend their lives by partaking of the life of the animal by drinking its blood. In light of that, I think the smell of blood on the breath is a metaphor of President Snow drinking in the life of the Districts and particularly the Tributes to increase his own life.

  26. It seems to me that a lot of these writers focus so much on the great work that they miss some golden opportunities to emphasize the plumbum pre-work and citrinus post-work. Does anyone else feel this way? Like we get thrown into the middle of the process and don’t get enough of the main character pre-work, and post-work? That’s the only thing in 4100 pages that disappointed me in HP – a fully realized eschatology rather than hints.

    I’m just wondering of Collins will pour into the gold size of things, or if it will just be a whole lot of the red dawn, and not much of the sun itself.

  27. Arabella Figg says

    Of course Snow’s puffy lips, connected with his bloody breath, could merely symbolize him as greedy Capitol consumption of District youths and goods.

  28. Especially if he’s a cannibal that ate an ice-cream man who was making kasta (rose-flavored ice cream) – that’s an easy way to steal a kid’s joy.

  29. After listening to the first chapter of Mockingjay this morning on , I’m thinking the rose bit (especially as it is associated with Snow) is significant.



  30. STS, glad I’m not the only one who can’t avoid a spoiler. 🙂

  31. Kristy Claire says


    I’m SO happy to have found your blog! I have nothing really intelligent to add to your string here, accept to say that I’m eating this up (I’ve been reading nonstop for 3 hours now) and just wanted to let you know that you’ve answered a very important question for me.

    Now I know why I can’t get enough of these types of books (Harry Potter, Twilight and THG) … why I fall asleep thinking about them and wake up in kind, why I love to reread them, and why I’m EVER searching for a book of this stature to fill the void … it’s because there’s so MUCH going on between every line and behind every concept. My mind is constantly searching for entrances but has been lacking the keys, aka education. Subconsciously I knew this, but not consciously. Heck, my BA is in Theology. 🙂

    Literary alchemy is a new concept to me, but using it as a “key” for THG now takes these books to a whole new level, which is exactly where I wanted (and have been trying) to go.

    Thanks, Prof! I’m delighted! Not sure I’ll sleep tonight, what with all of this new information to postulate with. 😉

    Knowledge is power!

    KC 😀

  32. jackpot, kristy.

  33. Kristy Claire says

    No kidding, Lance! I struck gold what with finding all of you. 😀

    Oh, and STS? You’re on to something ginormous (yes, that IS a word, just ask any teenager) with this line of thought …

    “Could President Snow be a former D12 resident, with a Capitol-altered physical appearance?”

    If I didn’t know that the time line didn’t work at all, I’d wonder if President Snow wasn’t Kat’s father. Smacks’ of Star Wars, I know … but the far fetched idea did cross my mind for a millisecond …

  34. Is D12 like the dirty dozen? Maybe I missed something along the way, but doesn’t that feel like the D12 subversive military group?

    “In England, in the spring of 1944, Allied forces are preparing for the D-Day invasion. Among them are Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), an OSS officer; his commander, Regular Army Major General Worden (Ernest Borgnine), and his former commander Colonel Everett Dasher Breed (Robert Ryan). Early in the film the personalities of the three men are shown to clash and the characters of the individualistic Reisman and the domineering Breed are established.

    Major Reisman is assigned an unusual and top-secret pre-invasion mission: take twelve American criminals convicted of capital offenses, either serving sentences of hard labor or awaiting execution, and whip them into a unit capable of carrying out a specific task. They are asked to infiltrate a château near Rennes, in Brittany, used as a retreat for senior Wehrmacht officers, on the eve of the invasion. Without having complete intelligence as to the identity of the guests, it was felt that the elimination of officers in the German high command or senior staff could cripple or confuse the German military’s ability to respond at the time of crisis. It is quickly established that both Reisman and the generals with whom he frequently clashes consider the mission to be a suicidal long shot.”
    – taken from W.pedia
    I watched that movie a LOT when I was little.

    Also, I thought of the American Hip-Hop group that represents this generation more than any band, the leader of whom is Eminem, and two of whom are dead.

    Then again, maybe not.

  35. Kristy Claire, Striking gold is a lovely turn of phrase on an alchemical discussion! And, if it’s come up here, I’ve missed it, but I think I’ve just noticed concrete (and alchemical) evidence that Madge Undersee is in on our plot. In my in-depth CF re-read, I noticed, as I had before, that Cinna switches Katniss’s hairband for a gold one right before she goes out in District 11, where the uprising spirit is about to boil over. But this time, I noticed something else: at the Mayor’s house, before the District 12 shindig, and while an uprising is taking place in District 8, Katniss talks with Madge, trying to return the Mockinjay pin, and Madge ties back her hair in a gold ribbon. Both of these events will be televised, and the Mayor’s daughter/Katniss’s galpal is definitely going to get a close up, as Katniss would in District 11. Gold, our alchemical friend, becomes the theme color for Team Mockingjay (even Effie’s hair!) in the arena, but is Cinna using it earlier on, and how much does Madge know? Or is Mommy picking out her accessories?

  36. So here is a few questions:

    What happened to “father”?
    Who is Gale?
    Why do comers like Cinna get assigned to District 12?
    Who is their “shadow”?
    Did Snow die by someone or was it just the “time for him”?
    Why did Snow not like Katniss at Peeta?

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