Unlocking ‘Mockingjay’: The Literary Alchemy

This is the second part of a three part ‘Unlocking’ series on the more esoteric, allegorical meanings of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy with special emphasis on the series finale, Mockingjay. For the first part, see ‘Unlocking Mockingjay: The Spiritual Allegory.’

We left yesterday’s discussion of  the Hunger Games as an echo of Dante’s allegorical journey with Katniss as soul and Peeta as Spirit or Christ. We’ll return to Peeta in a moment to explain his superficially un-Christ like behaviors in Mockingjay, but we need to look at Gale through our allegorical glasses first. Who or what does he represent in this story of the pure heart’s spiritual transformation?

The first thing we learn about Gale is that Katniss believes he is “the only person with whom I can be myself.” The kinship is more than good feelings; she tells us “he could be my brother,” they look so much alike. There is no romantic feeling between them, she insists, largely because they grew up together as hunting partners in the forest (Games, Chapter 1, pp. 6, 8, 10). This platonic fellowship and shared identity is a pointer to Gale’s representing “body” to Katniss’ “soul.” The human person is a psycho-somatic unity or body-soul integer; Gale-Katniss reflect this unity throughout the novels, with Gale always embodying the best of human virtues alongside a calculating, juridical perspective. He “thinks like men think” rather than as God thinks.

And this is the difference between him and Peeta and the heart of Katniss’ schizophrenia about her feelings for both. Gale is justice, an eye for an eye, and Peeta is mercy; the soul identifies both with the body to which it is joined in this world and with the world’s concern for justice but she survives only by the grace and mercy of the spirit. Gale-Katniss-Peeta are a literary triptych of body-soul-spirit, the three principal human ‘parts’ reflected in each person. Think of Plato’s charioteer and his two horses in the Phaedrus and the The Brothers Karamazov, Dmitri-Ivan-and-Alosha. If that’s not familiar, try recent triptychs in fantasy fiction: Ron-Hermione-Harry, Jacob-Bella-Edward, and Gollum-Sam-Frodo. Ms. Collins’ character-symbolism is fresh and brilliant but not unique or original.

With this allegorical understanding of the three major players, let’s look at the story.

District 12 at the beginning of Games is “the World,” a transparency consequent to the number 12’s meaning “totality” or “whole.” The Reaping in the city square and center is “death;” the word “reaping” because of its association with a scythe has very few contemporary usages besides the personification of Death as the Grim Reaper. Katniss marks herself as a pure soul and savior by volunteering to die, in effect sacrificing herself, to save Primrose, literally the “first rose,” a white flower resembling the sun shining out to the four corners of existence (i.e., as the four elements, the four cardinal directions, etc.). In choosing sacrificial death in imitatio Christi, Katniss demonstrates her ground-floor qualifications for eternal life in being selfless, having renounced the world, and in her love for the innocent.

This death, of course, requires the soul’s separation from the Gale-body and results in her confusion about who she is in her newly disembodied state. She has entered the alchemical alembic with only Peeta the Christ and the catalytic reagents Cinna, the story symbol for mercury or quicksilver, and Haymitch Abernathy as story-Sulphur (see ‘Cinna the Mysterious‘ for that important discussion). Games’ time in the Capitol is largely the parable of the soul’s coming to believe in and embrace the love of the sacrificial Christ under the hot and cold influences of expansive, good cop Cinnabar and explosive, bad cop Sulphur.

The soul survives the World’s first attempts to separate her from the Christ by choosing to die rather than live without him. She came into the Games, in Cinna’s poetic costume for the chariot entrance of the tributes, as light shining out of darkness with love; she is dressed for interviews with Caesar Flickerman after her sacrificial triumph, as “candlelight” itself (Chapter 26, p. 355) and finally as a white rose: “[Cinna] dresses me in a white, gauzy dress and pink shoes. Then he personally adjusts my make-up until I seem to radiate a soft, rosy glow” (Chapter 27, p. 366).

For an Everyman drama or Mystery play of the soul’s journey to God, however, we’re missing an essential player: Satan, the deceiver, or the Evil One.In Hunger Games, the part of the Prince of this World is played by the person at the pinnacle of Panem’s power structure, President Snow. Like the characters in Dante’s Commedia, Snow is compelled to tell the truth in his encounters with Katniss; though he suffers from vampire’s halitosis and a murderous disposition, Snow in his talks with the Mockingjay at the beginning of Fire and the end of the series finale reveals to Katniss in horrible fashion the world as it is. (See ‘Mockingjay Alchemy: The Scent of Blood and Roses‘ for much more on President Snow.)

The Soul’s Alchemical Purification: Katniss in the Arena Alembic

The Dante-esque kind of hero’s journey we’re talking about — one in which the principal character plays the part of what the Bible calls “the heart” and their story is about their apotheosis or spiritual illumination, something like divinization — has a tradition of its own in English literature we can call “literary alchemy.” The English alchemical tradition in letters begins in earnest with Shakespeare and the Metaphysical poets; its tropes, symbols, and story stages are evident thereafter in the poetry and novels of Greats like Blake, Dickens, Yeats, Joyce, and C. S. Lewis. In my books on Harry Potter and on Twilight, I have explained how Joanne Rowling, alchemist wannabe, and Stephenie Meyer have adapted this tradition as powerfully and effectively as they have in Harry’s and Bella’s epic transformations (you can read about it in chapter 3 of The Deathly Hallows Lectures and chapter 4 of Spotlight — and of course I hope you will!).

Though there are academic journals devoted to this subject and a host of books, when a writer uses the alchemical formula and colors and such, readers of their work — especially if they’re serious Potter readers — write me to confirm their sighting. I picked up Hunger Games for the first time because two readers I respect very much, one in Houston and another outside Spokane, wrote me independently and nigh on simultaneously to ask me if I thought Suzanne Collins was writing in this tradition.

Yes, she is.

Again, I urge you to read the more longer and helpful introductions to literary alchemy in Lectures and in Spotlight, but let me give you five key markers of a work in the alchemical tradition:

  1. The work is going to have three key stages marked by the use of specific colors and story events, namely, black, white, and red, which stages reflect, in sequence, the dissolution or break down of the subject character or main characters (nigredo) usually by heat, the purification or purgation of same (albedo) usually with water, and the revelation of the transformation undergone in the process in the story crisis (rubedo). More on this in a second.
  2. There will be story contraries that must be resolved by the principals’ transformation, contraries like the Two Cities in Dickens’ most popular novel or the Montagues and Capulets of Shakespeare’s Verona, or just groups like Gryffindors and Slytherines and the Quileute Wolfpack and Cullen Vampires.
  3. Look for a couple, a pair in opposition, one relatively feminine or lunar, the other masculine and solar, who engage the character being broken down to prima materia for illumination as ‘solid light’ or gold. This duo are polar opposites and they either quarrel or draw the principal in contrary directions (the ‘Quarreling Couple’ of alchemical mercury and sulphur mentioned above).
  4. Between the white and red stages, there is an Alchemical Wedding of the Red King and White Queen that prefigures the conjunction of opposites signaling the golden moment of the Philosopher’s Stone creation, i.e., the divinization of the main character and birth of the Philosophical Orphan or story savior joining contraries as a Rebus or hermaphrodite.
  5. And there should be remarkable resurrection imagery, say, something as simple as light shining out of darkness or grander images of a hero rising from the dead or even of a Phoenix, a Rose, or a Red Lion, symbols of the Stone and of Christ, the Light of the World.

If this is all new to you, I’m sure you’re profoundly skeptical that such a tradition exists or, if it does, that these bizarre sequences, symbols, and story points are anything but a conceit shared by egg head writers. That’s understandable. Given the popularity of Harry Potter, Twilight, and now The Hunger Games, though, not to mention the shadow Shakespeare casts to this day over all English writing, I would suggest you not write this alchemy stuff off as “For Geeks Only.” It’s obviously a powerful and pervasive way to frame a story.

My evidence that The Hunger Games is written deliberately as an alchemical trilogy? In brief:

  • the nigredo, albedo, and rubedo character of and the black, white, and red elements in the books, i.e., the first two books correspond to the first two stages of alchemy and each has three stages within it, and Mockingjay has all three stages in its arena-equivalent and is the series rubedo,
  • the contraries to be resolved between Seam and City, Capitol and District, are the dynamic driving the story,
  • the ‘Quarreling Couple’ of Peeta and Gale are the essential tension in Katniss’ Mockingjay life and her guides for the first two Games, Cinna and Haymitch, serve a similar function,
  • the alchemical wedding of Katniss and Peeta we’ve been to (sort of) in Fire and the orphan they have conceived and lost are the spiritual conjunction of alchemical transformation,
  • and the light-from-darkness phoenix imagery in the story are pervasive, from Cinna’s costumes for Katniss, especially the Mockingjay wedding dress, the golden Mockingjay pendant that is the token of District 12 and symbol of the revolution, to Katniss’ and Peeta’s fate as transcendent Fire-Mutts/phoenices in the finale.

The hermaphrodite of the finale? Louise Freeman, another Hogwarts Professor, nailed this one in her first comments on the series finale at her private weBlog, ‘Doc Thelma’s House.’ The androgyn or alchemical Rebus is the Peeta-Katniss pair, in which he bakes and she hunts, he wants children desperately, she can’t bear the idea (sic) for years.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the three stages and how they work in each book, especially Mockingjay.

Alchemy is a three stage work in its simplest outline, as mentioned above, with each stage represented traditionally by a different color and set of meaningful images. 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 accomplished in the albedo 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.’

Remember those crowns President Snow put on Peeta and Katniss’ heads at the end of Games (Chapter 27, p. 364)? Yes, that was an alchemical marker as they become the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ of the work. Suffice it to say that the three books of the series are 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, Fire the albedo, and Mockingjay the rubedo.

For the black-white-red-gold of Games, think of Katniss’ experiences in her first 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. She is left at story’s end with her core identity: sacrificial lover of Peeta.

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 until the finale’s finish 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. When all is washed away, Katniss the pure heart has accepted the Pearl of Great Price and sworn herself to be Peeta-Christ’s sacrificial servant unto death.

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 in Mockingjay’s red stage. Beyond the white rose imagery, Cinna puts Katniss and Peeta in white outfits with red or pink shoes for their interview with Flickerman in chapter 27 of Games 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 February’s introduction to this subject, ‘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 stages.

The Dantean white rose that plays such a large part in Mockingjay, as we discussed, is first shown to us in the Primrose that causes Katniss to make her first sacrifice and again in the end of Games in Katniss’ interview outfit.

Seeing Mockingjay as the Great Work’s rubedo is easy once we recall that it is the revelation of the changes that have occurred in the ablutionary albedo or white stage. Think of the nigredo as the stage in the soul’s transformation corresponding to repentance and renunciation. Katniss the soul turns to Peeta the Christ and, in her decision to sacrifice herself for him, she turns away from her previous identity with Gale the body.

The albedo of Catching Fire, likewise, is best understood as the soul’s experience at initiation or baptism into the world of the spirit. Katniss the soul, after purification in the pool of the Quell’s arena and her taking the pearl from Peeta-Christ, is bound to him, and when separated from him, still joined to him by her remembrance of his unconditional, sacrificial love.

The rubedo of Mockingjay, consequently, to continue the allegory of the soul’s transformation, is the story of the soul’s life in the world after baptism, a secular existence without Peeta-Christ, in which fallen, atheist environment her beloved is unrecognizable, even something of a monster. Mockingjay, essentially, is the world we live in; Katniss’ struggle to remember who she is by child-like mantras and to love Peeta despite his appearance is the believing soul’s struggle of faith in postmodernity.

Mutt-Peeta As Christ Figure

No doubt that seems a stretch to you, but there is an obvious parallel in the world’s shared text, the Hogwarts Saga. Harry Potter swears to the Minister of Magic that he is a “Dumbledore man,” through and through, at the end of Half-Blood Prince; as is evident in the narrative of Deathly Hallows and as Ms. Rowling has volunteered in interviews, the finale of the Hogwarts Saga is a parable of the soul’s “struggle to believe” and have faith in the Headmaster-God when his several faults are revealed.

Peeta remains the long-suffering Christ that he was in Games and Fire but not one that atheists or devotional Christians would recognize if their idea of Christ is restricted to a sentimental image of the Jesus of Nazareth from stained glass windows. The Mockingjay Peeta is the Christ as the World sees him, a murderer hung on a tree, foolishness to the wise, and a scandal to the righteous. He judges his followers and calls them to turn from the world. Most striking, he calls believers to remember him as he would remember them and to serve him by loving him in those people who least resemble him.

Don’t see that? One point at a time then:

Katniss is saved from the Quell Arena and separated from her beloved. The only thing she retains is the pearl. The first she sees of Peeta is his interview with Caesar Flickerman, in which he calls for a cease-fire. This has many in District 13 call Peeta a traitor — and moves Katniss to become the Mockingjay for propos to protect Peeta and the other Victors through a public agreement with President Coin.

After her fiery performance as Wonder Woman in District 8, Katniss and Finnick see Peeta in another interview give her a personal message that is more challenging than the first generic call to cease-fire:

Don’t be a fool, Katniss. Think for yourself. They’ve turned you into a weapon that could be instrumental for the destruction of humanity. If you’ve got any real influence, use it to put the brakes on this thing. Use it to stop the war before it’s too late. Ask yourself, do you really trust the people you’re working with? Do you really know what’s going on? And if you don’t, find out. (Chapter 8, p. 112)

Katniss’ response? She believes him. He is telling her a dangerous, unpopular truth — that resistance to the evil Capitol does not make anyone a good guy — but she recognizes it as the truth. “But the truth is that I don’t trust the rebels or Plutarch or Coin. I’m not confident that they tell me the truth” (ibid, p. 114). She is furious with Gale when he does not tell her about what Peeta has said when she feigns ignorance of it. And in the next pages, she recalls the song, ‘The Hanging Tree,’ which she sings on a visit to District 12.

As discussed in the post here on ‘Hanging Tree,’ the murderer-subject of the song is Christ and the Tree is his Cross. Katniss sings the song at this point in the story, just after Peeta’s call to her and Gale-body’s inability to grasp the soul’s belonging to Christ, because she finally understands ‘Hanging Tree’s meaning and why the world struggles with it. They cannot see that the “murderer” is innocent and that it is only giving up one’s life that human beings can have a greater life within Life itself (cf., John 12:24-25). We learn later that District 13, despite Plutarch’s delight with the song, does not use the Hanging Tree in its propos (chapter 15, p. 210). Of course it doesn’t; the call of the Absolute to self-transcendence in Him is the most radical anti-regime song possible.

Soon after she sings it, though, Peeta makes his final appearance on a Panem broadcast from the President’s Mansion in the Capitol. He saves Katniss, District 13, and the Revolution by breaking from script, though showing all the signs of having been drugged and tortured, and warning of an attack that night. He is brutally put down; we hear “the impact of the blow that’s inseperable from Peeta’s cry of pain. And his blood as it splatters the tiles” (Chapter 9, p. 134).

So far, Peeta is heroic, sacrificial, and only sometimes misunderstood by those who don’t know him. He has a larger view and difficult message and he delivers it whatever the consequences to his own person. Peeta is still the Christ-figure of the story to any thoughtful reader.

The change comes, of course, when he is rescued and returned to Katniss. He tries to kill her and nearly succeeds (Chapter 12, p. 177). Having been “hijacked” or brain-washed by the Capitol, he has no memories of Katniss that he can depend on. As Johanna describes him, Peeta has become a Mutt-tation version of himself.

But is this Mutt-Peeta any less a Christ in Katniss’ life? Immediately after his being rescued and his painful interview with Delly, Katniss volunteers for duty in District 2 where she makes an impassioned appeal to District citizens to stop fighting one another, i.e., a call for a cease-fire. She is shot for this challenging idea which echoes in large part Peeta’s first cry for peace.

When she meets and speaks with Mutt-Peeta at last, he is unable to recognize her and asks her questions about her relationship with him. His conclusion about her fidelity to him and character? “Well, you’re a piece of work, aren’t you?” She is understandably shattered but not for the reason we’d like to think. It’s not because she feels such pain at Peeta’s suffering and derangement that his cruel words hurt her; it is because she knows he sees her as she truly is — and hates him for it:

It takes a long time before I get to the bottom of why I’m so upset. When I do, it’s almost too mortifying to admit. All those months of taking for granted that Peeta thought I was wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for what I truly am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly.

And I hate him for it. (Chapter 16, p. 232)

Peeta as logos is Katniss’ conscience. Hate him as she must as projection of her humiliation, he is still her master. She volunteers to go to the Capitol and enters training for the Mockingjay Arena and alchemical crucible for her chrysalis and transformation.

I mentioned that the Mockingjay Peeta-Christ differs from the prevalent, sentimental image of Christ as a “tame lion” while remaining a faithful picture of the challenging Gospel narrative. This Christ is any and every orthodox believer’s experience in his being a scandal to the world, a call to those who know him to turn from the world’s folly, and the command of conscience to love Christ by loving those least like him in appearance (cf., Matthew 25:31-46: The King will reply [at the Judgment], ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’) This last is the story of Katniss’ remembering Peeta in the run-up to the Capitol and, in choosing to love him, not as perfection but as an image of God, she recalls him to himself at last.

Haymitch plays the most important part in this. When she denies Peeta is who he is much as Peter denied Christ (Chapter 19, p. 268), her mentor tells her:

You’re punishing him over and over for things that are out of his control. Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a fully loaded weapon next to you round the clock. But I think it’s time you flipped this little scenario around in your head. If you’d been taken by the Capitol, and hijacked, and then tried to kill Peeta, is this the way he would be treating you? demands Haymitch.

I fall silent. It isn’t. It isn’t how he would be treating me at all. He would be trying to get me back at any cost. Not shutting me out, abandoning me, greeting me with hostility at every turn.

“You and me, we made a deal to try and save him. Remember?” When I don’t respond, he disconnects after a curt,” Try and remember” (Chapter 19, pp. 268-9).

This is Katniss’ ‘What Would Peeta-Christ Do?’ moment and she rises to it. We’ll return to this in tomorrow’s post on Mockingjay’s alchemical arena where we’ll discuss the critical choice she makes on her drive to the Capitol Circle and her arrival at the Circle Center, the President’s Mansion, and that Center’s inner sanctuary, the place of the White Rose. Today I want to close with a note about Haymitch’s calling Katniss to remember Peeta because it is crucial to understanding literary alchemy and the symbolism of Mockingjay’s finish.

As I explain in Deathly Hallows Lectures and in Spotlight, the English fantasy tradition is as alchemical as it is largely because of the natural theology and the logos epistemology of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. We know Coleridge from our survey of English literature courses if we know him at all, but the poet who gave us Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan was as well known in his day and perhaps ultimately more influential as a philosopher and theologian (see Mary Anne Perkins’ Coleridge’s Philosophy: The Logos as Unifying Principle, Oxford University Press, 1994 or James Cutsinger’s The Form of Transformed Vision: Coleridge and the Knowledge of God, Mercer, 1987 for more on this).

Coleridge, after the Cambridge Platonists, German Romantics, and Church Fathers, argued that the subject-object distinction that is the foundation assumption of empirical science and nominalist thinking is wrong-headed. He argued in poem and prose — and fantasy writers like George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, and Joanne Rowling since Coleridge have followed his editorial lede — that the knowing subject and known object coincide in knowledge as subject and object coincide or elide in a mirror: “The foundation of all knowledge is the coincidence of subject and object.” This is possible because there is a faculty or power within us — the sacred ‘I’ of our conscience, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the logos that is continuous if not identical with the Logos creating all things — that recognizes its reflection in the form or logos of anything and everything real, visible or invisible.

This is the Logos or Word of the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, “without Whom was not anything made that was made” and “the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:3, 9). Being simultaneously the cause of existence and our interior illumination or means of seeing and knowing, loving our brothers as ourselves is as simple as coming to recognize in this brother that the most real aspect of ourselves is shared and identical, the Creative Principle or Word within us that we experience as conscience.

This resolution of contraries in love via logos reflection and recognition is the message and experience of literary alchemy; we identify with the drama’s subject, an allegorical transparency for either the soul or the logos faculty of soul, the “inner heart,” and, as that subject is purified and “re-members” or puts-back-together, i.e., communes with this Principle that is the “inside bigger than the outside,” we transcend our peripheral ego identities for an experience of the Absolute at the center or origin defining and creating the circle. The shared catharsis and illumination we have via this literary alchemy is the fast track to the mythic or religious experience that Eliade says secular cultures seek in reading and entertainments.

Mockingjay’s Mutt-Peeta and Katniss’ struggle to “remember” him is the difficulty we have — in a world that insists the highest knowledge is cranial rather than cardiac or spiritual — recognizing Christ, the incarnation of the Logos, in ourselves and our neighbors. Especially if we restrict our understanding of the Word to a sentimental image of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah who called his followers to remember, recognize, and serve him in the “least of these.”

Tomorrow, then, we’ll revisit the resolution of contraries in Mockingjay’s Arena Alembic at the Capitol ‘City Circle’ center and Katniss’ critical recognition of Peeta-Christ and eventual union with him in light of this Coleridgean and esoteric Christian stream in which Ms. Collins is writing. Stay tuned for4! Unlocking Mockingjay: Katniss’ Apotheosis


  1. This might be a silly question, because all of what you’re saying makes sense to me: Peeta as Christ, his father and Katniss’ father as God the Father, etc., except one thing: See, I got my bachelor’s in literature, and studied writing and literature at a specialized high school as well, but not once did I hear about literary alchemy. I’m wondering about the symbols and colors in alchemy. Are they arbitrary? WHY must the three phases be black, white, red, WHY must certain things happen? WHY does that make it a good book? I know that books using this formula are good, having read the Potter books, Twilight, and Hunger Games, but how do those of us who’ve never heard of literary alchemy recognize the good in them? I know we can relate to a Christ figure and salvation for the Everyman because of that express need for redemption that all of us feel to some extent, but what do the colors and roses have to do with it all? Why does it touch us?

  2. Will you write a book for HG series just like you did for Harry Potter and Twilight Saga?

  3. A bit off topic but I was just on another site and noticed the UK covers are black, white, and red in in overall color scheme.

  4. Thanks for the clarifications, John. I saw a lot of it, but since I just finished Mockingjay, I hadn’t had time to work through it.

    One thing I did notice in the books was how many times Katniss ends up in water, and how some of the characters don’t deal well with it. Water as baptism is a cleansing or purification, right? Who was it in Catching Fire that had to be helped into the water at the start of the Games?

    Oh, one more thing about the colors. I noticed it throughout. But I thought that if Collins intentionally put the colors in the books in the right context for literary alchemy, it would have been helpful if she had made more of a point of why Katniss was so fixated on the girl in yellow, and why she was wearing a red cloak or cape which she then reversed to it’s black lining. Isn’t that somewhat of a backward step, or is that the point?

    Also, the time that she spends tangled in the silk when she longs to become like a butterfly – beautiful, winged, free – struck me as a very alchemical moment, but I feel like I’m struggling to really get the full meaning of it.

    Thanks, Pat

  5. Oh, and thank you for the definition of Mags and Madge meaning pearl. The connection of the pearl was one that I got, but not as it related to those two characters.

    I don’t know if this belongs with literary alchemy or somewhere else, but when I was thinking about the names of all the characters (which were fascinating, btw) I was struck by Katniss and Prim: Katniss is named for an edible root, one that is available, practical, and will provide food to sustain the family. Katniss spends much of her time providing food for her family, hunting, trading, doing whatever is needed to make sure they survive. Her role even before the reaping is to sacrifice herself to save her family. It’s no wonder that she will sacrifice herself by taking her sister’s place in the Games. Prim is named for a primrose that is lovely, beautiful, pointing to a more spiritual nature of that character. As a flower, the name implies that she is more fragile and delicate than her sister who is named for a sturdy root.

  6. One of the things I find fascinating about the Peeta/Christ imagery is the dilemma this believer has faced of trying to figure out do I love Christ because of who he is, because of what I owe him or because it is what it expected of me? It can be very hard to dissect one’s own motives.
    This said, what is the symbolic meaning of Gale receiving the 40 lashes?

  7. @Rebecca S

    Your mention of Gale receiving 40 lashes and the mention of biblical symbolism got me thinking. Under the Mosaic law, the maximum number of lashes that could be inflicted on an offender in ancient Israel was 40. However the rabbinical tradition later came to dictate that only 39 lashes could be meted out so that there was a reduced risk of the flogger miscounting and exceeding the permissible number. This tradition continued into the First Century of the Common Era as the apostle Paul mentions at 2 Corinthians 11:24 that he received 40 strokes less one on 5 occasions. Many people also incorrectly assume that Jesus, when he was scourged by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers prior to his execution, received 40 strokes; however the Bible is silent on this point, but one may assume that since this whipping was carried out by Roman soldiers using their customary flagellum instrument (as opposed to Jews, who would have been subject to the Law of Moses), they would not necessarily have viewed 40 as the magic number. Indeed, the Romans did not limit the number of blows, leaving this to the judgment of the lictors who inflicted them, the only guiding principle being that the victim was not supposed to die from the wounds of the whip. Nevertheless, the connection between the biblical accounts, even the perhaps popularly accepted but erroneous connection of that number of lashes with Jesus may link in with the Messianic themes present in The Hunger Games trilogy. On the other hand, it could also be linked to the related misconception that the Romans did, in fact, limit the number of blows to 40.

  8. William Sprague says

    @Eeyore Peeta can swim fine. But even Jesus doesn’t baptize himself.

  9. William Sprague says

    @Eeyore I know you saw that, I just wanted it to be clear to see… Sorry if it sounded patronizing the way I put it. I wonder if the Finnick as John the Baptist carries throughout…

  10. In the year and a half since I first commented on this post (which, by the way, brought me to this site in the first place), I have pretty much read everything on here about alchemy and think I understand it better now. At least to the point where I finished Catching Fire last night (My mother-in-law has Mockingjay, or else I’d be reading and not purusing the Internet), I thought to myself, “What an obviously white book.” It starts out in snow, and it’s all snow and Snow for the first several chapters. She meets and befriends, sort of, Finnick, who hails from the fishing district, and the Hunger Games start with water water everywhere. Then of course there’s the fact that Mockingjay only reveals the revolution started behind Katniss in Catching Fire, bringing to light the changes that took place during the Albedo stage.

    Then there’s the three parts in each book– starting out in Coal Mining district, which is very literally black (with coal dust), then into training for the games, where they are purified, at least to the Capitol’s standards, and train in weapons. The whole week is very secret, so it’s only in the (very literally) red bloodbath that the training and “purifying” from the white stage gets revealed. “Oh! So Katniss is crazy good with a bow and arrow! No wonder she got an 11.” Nothing changes in the games themselves; alliances and skills developed in the white stage are revealed.

    Now, I’m sure you’ve said tis all before on the website, but I wanted somewhere to write out in plain words what I’m learning, and, well, I type faster than I handwrite, and I don’t like keeping journal entries electronically. So a blog comment it was. (P.S. T-2 days until I get to see the movie!)

  11. Just saw HG and finished all 3 books. In the movie as the train was entering the Capitol and everyone was cheering as Peeta waved out the window we thought it was a Palm Sunday moment. Wonder if Peeta left the cave 7 days later? Will have to try and count sometime.

  12. Eldon, I cannot speak to the movie, but I know for sure that it was not 7 days later in the books. I believe it was 19 (3 for training+2 for interviews and prep+14 days in the arena).

  13. Thanks, Tracy,

    Yes, I watched the movie and realized that it was more than 7 there although don’t have an exact count. Will have to take notes next time. There was the arrival at the Capitol, the chariot entry, the night on the talk show, three days of training, and about 3 or 4 days in the arena, so at least 9 days, I think. Oh well, it was a theory.

  14. Wouldn’t it be 3 days, not 7?

  15. I believe Eldon’s reference is to the stretch between Palm Sunday and Pascha (Easter), Holy Week, which is seven days.

  16. Yes, John. That’s what I had in mind. Palm Sunday – a heroes welcome. Then, abandoned, beaten, (left for) dead (in the arena). Then resurrection from the cave. The timing may be off, but I like the symbolism.

  17. The symbolism works even if the day count is not exact.

    For those wanting clarification: tit-for-tat allegory requires point-to-point correspondences between story elements and historical events. Symbolism is a transparency through which story readers see and experience transcendent referents.

    In this case, there does not need to be an exact correspondence between The Hunger Games narrative points and the events of Jesus of Nazareth’s journey from Palm Sunday to Pascha for there to be effective symbolism. Holy Week’s events, especially as experienced in the liturgical cycle of the Church, are atemporal and eternal as are the relevant referents.

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