In the fourteenth chapter of Catching Fire, the crushing reality of the most terrifying plot twist imaginable weighs heavily on Katpee and Haymitch. In a desire to take the Games as seriously as possible, they spend time watching videos of victors past, where they learn the unbelievable way in which Haymitch Abernathy won the second Quarter Quell. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Catching Fire.
So, after a wonderful conversation with my food-porn friend, I should make it a little more clear that the method in which I am reading this book is entirely fucked up. I need to acknowledge that more often than I do and make it much more clear that what I’m saying is representative of the chapter I’m reviewing. Looking back, I have been pretty negative and not stating that I don’t hate the book, despite that it seems this way.
I’d like to make sure I’m transparent about this process to make sure I’m fair to Collins’s vision for this book. Despite that it has chapters, it wasn’t meant to be read at a snail’s pace. Fair enough? Then let’s move on with what is conveniently one of the better chapters in this book.
I remain at the window long after the woods have swallowed up the last glimpse of my home. This time I don’t have even the slightest hope of return. Before my first Games, I promised Prim I would do everything I could to win, and now I’ve sworn to myself to do all I can to keep Peeta alive. I will never reverse this journey again.
My issues with this bizarre “I have to keep the other alive” plot choice aside, this is about as bleak as it gets. We know Katniss is going to survive BECAUSE DUH THERE IS ANOTHER BOOK DUH, but it doesn’t make this situation any less horrific. I think one thing Collins has done particularly well is build this oppressive sense of dread. The Games are obviously going to be worse than before and I can’t think of a way that Collins will manage to keep both Haymitch and Peeta alive. One of them have to die. None of this is going to be pleasant at all.
Too heartsick to cry, all I want is to curl up on the bed and sleep until we arrive in the Capitol tomorrow morning. But I have a mission. No, it’s more than a mission. It’s my dying wish. Keep Peeta alive.
This may make me unpopular, but I’m still not convinced that Peeta and Katniss should love one another. I understand Gale and Katniss, even if Gale is kind of an asshole, and I understand Peeta’s crush. But actual, full-on love? I don’t know, dudes and dudettes, what reason does Peeta have to love her? What reason does she have to make her dying wish to keep him alive? Wouldn’t your dying wish be better suited as like, “Hey, I wish that the Capitol would dismantle the Games” or something? I don’t know if this is because Collins hasn’t conveyed this well or if I am truly without hope when it comes to reading about romance. Maybe I’m just a lost cause. I AM WILLING TO ACCEPT THIS.
This chapter also converts most things into AWKWARD TOWN, USA, and understandably so. No one, aside from Effie, seems to be into much of a conversational mood, most especially Haymitch, who has been unable to have a single drink in quite a long time. (I assume he hasn’t had a drink since Peeta threw out all his alcohol, right?)
So what do they do when they can’t seem to talk? They rewatch the reapings across Panem. This is a healthy bunch of friends, isn’t it? But is important to do, since it’s their chance to see who they’re competing against much earlier than the last time around. (THAT IS SO WEIRD TO TYPE. I never thought they would ever go back.)
There’s the classically beautiful brother and sister from District 1 who were victors in consecutive years when I was little. Brutus, a volunteer from District 2, who must be at least forty and apparently can’t wait to get back in the arena. Finnick, the handsome bronze-haired guy from District 4 who was crowned ten years ago at the age of fourteen. A hysterical young woman with flowing brown hair is also called from 4, but she’s quickly replaced by a volunteer, an eighty-year-old woman who needs a cane to walk to the stage. Then there’s Johanna Mason, the only living female victor from 7, who won a few years back by pretending she was a weakling. The woman from 8 who Effie calls Cecelia, who looks about thirty, has to detach herself from the three kids who run up to cling to her. Chaff, a man from 11 who I know to be one of Haymitch’s particular friends, is also in.
Well, this is a totally different dynamic. I figured that Collins would have to change a lot of details if she was visiting the Arena a second time because she wouldn’t want to bore people. Here, we’re no longer dealing with tributes who are victors. They’re all adults, some much older than others. I have a feeling that the tributes themselves won’t be as brutal this time around, though. My prediction is that whatever is in the Arena is what is going to be worse.
I think that it’s the uncertainty of all this, despite having faced it once before, that might be one of the reasons Katniss can’t sleep. Sure, the nightmares are probably triggered in even worse ways, too. But I think about how much terror the idea of a second visit to the Games brings to me and I can’t even begin to imagine what Katniss is experiencing right now. Sleepless after waking from a particularly gruesome nightmare, Katniss orders some warm milk from an attendant and heads out of her room on the train to see if anyone else is having a hard time sleeping. She finds Peeta in the television room, watching old tapes of previous Games. Two things happen here that I do enjoy very much.
First, Peeta asks Katniss if she wants to talk about her inability to sleep and this happens:
When Peeta holds out his arms, I walk straight into them. It’s the first time since they announced the Quarter Quell that he’s offered me any sort of affection. He’s been more like a very demanding trainer, always pushing, always insisting Haymitch and I run faster, eat more, know our enemy better. Lover? Forget about that. He abandoned any pretense of even being my friend. I wrap my arms tightly around his neck before he can order me to do push-ups or something. Instead he pulls me in close and buries his face in my hair. Warmth radiates from the spot where his lips just touch my neck, slowly spreading through the rest of me. It feels so good, so impossibly good, that I know I will not be the first to let go.
Given that she says this, it’s still strange that she has such an intense desire to save him, especially since she states here that they don’t even really have a normal friendship, let alone one based on love. However, this passage doesn’t feel awkward or out-of-place. At least for Katniss, the emotions she feels for Peeta seem situational. They come and go, arriving in moments when she feels she needs him. To me, that makes sense. That is a reason to care about someone the way she does.
Peeta makes a good point after this, something that had only briefly crossed my mind.
“I don’t think the people in the Capitol are going to be all that happy about our going back in,” says Peeta. “Or the other victors. They get attached to their champions.”
I don’t believe this specific Quarter Quell was always intended to turn out this way. I have a suspicion that President Snow ordered it. What I don’t understand is how he thinks this will work, even if he didn’t orchestrate it. I have a sensation that it’s going to backfire against the Capitol. Does he think the rest of Panem is just going to accept the destruction of their only sign of hope?
Katpee turn their attention to the videos of the past Games and Peeta says he has no real pattern to watching the videos, so he offers to let Katniss pick the next tape they will watch together.
The tapes are marked with the year of the Games and the name of the victor. I dig around and suddenly find one in my hand that we have not watched. The year of the Games is fifty. That would make it the second Quarter Quell. And the name of the victor is Haymitch Abernathy.
Oh. My. God. It’s happening. Please let it happen. Please don’t skip over this.
“You think we ought to watch it?”
“It’s the only Quell we have. We might pick up something valuable about how they work,” I say. But I feel weird. It seems like some major invasion of Haymitch’s privacy. I don’t know why it should, since the whole thing was public. But it does. I have to admit I’m also extremely curious.
RIGHT???? Oh christ, you guys, I have been waiting for this moment SINCE MANY, MANY REVIEWS AGO. oh god I can’t breathe oh my god
Katpee watch the video, which starts with President Snow reading the plan for the second Quarter Quell, then the horrifying reapings, where scores of kids are chosen to be murdered, including one of the only people that Katniss’s mom mentioned that she knew from the Games, Maysilee Donner. Standing alongside Maysilee is Katniss’s mom and Madge Undersee’s mom as well.
I think of Madge’s mother. Mayor Undersee’s wife. Who spends half her life in bed immobilized with terrible pain, shutting out the world. I think of how I never realized that she and my mother shared this connection. Of Madge showing up in that snowstorm to bring the painkiller for Gale. Of my mockingjay pin and how it means something completely different now that I know that its former owner was Madge’s aunt, Maysilee Donner, a tribute who was murdered in the arena.
Wow. WOW. Collins, what an evocative and DEPRESSING way to explain so many of the small details you’ve been dropping since the first book. Holy shit, guys, this is fucking awesome.
We learn a bit more about Haymitch’s personality during his interview with Caesar Flickerman before the Games start:
“So, Haymitch, what do you think of the Games having one hundred percent more competitors than usual?” asks Caesar.
Haymitch shrugs. “I don’t see that it makes much difference. They’ll still be one hundred percent as stupid as usual, so I figure my odds will be roughly the same.”
So his wonderful sense of cynicism was not born in the Games. It’s been there the whole time. So what happened to him?
Was I ever prepared for this? Not in a trillion years.
It’s the most breathtaking place imaginable. The golden Cornucopia sits in the middle of a green meadow with patches of gorgeous flowers. The sky is azure blue with puffy white clouds. Bright songbirds flutter overhead. By the way some of the tributes are sniffing, it must smell fantastic. An aerial shot shows that the meadow stretches for miles. Far in the distance, in one direction, there seems to be a woods, in the other, a snowcapped mountain.
So the Gamemakers decided to go with sheer beauty. Of course, this beauty doesn’t trick Haymitch, who immediately bolts for the Cornucopia to get weapons and supplies.
Eighteen tributes are killed in the bloodbath that first day. Others begin to die off and it becomes clear that almost everything in this pretty place—the luscious fruit dangling from the bushes, the water in the crystalline streams, even the scent of the flowers when inhaled too directly—is deadly poisonous. Only the rainwater and the food provided at the Cornucopia are safe to consume. There’s also a large, well-stocked Career pack of ten tributes scouring the mountain area for victims.
The possibilities at this point are endless. Just when you think you’ve thought of something super fucked up for the Games, the Gamemakers come up with something worse. This is just awful.
Haymitch, however difficult he finds the arena (with things like CARNIVOROUS SQUIRRELS or STINGING BUTTERFLIES), seems convinced to head in one direction: away from the mountain. Maysilee, on the other hand, uses a poisonous dart gun to go about murdering to stay alive because she is a clear bad ass forever. Then there is a GODDAMN VOLCANO ERUPTION THAT KILLS TWELVE PEOPLE because the Gamemakers are the most sadistic people of all time, so the remaining tributes are forced in the opposite direction. Well, that’s where Haymitch already is and he continues that way until a thick hedge forces him to circle back. It’s then that Maysilee saves him from being killed by a Career and they decide to team up. And that is when everything gets unbelievably weird as Haymitch insists on moving further into the woods.
“Why?” Maysilee keeps asking, and he ignores her until she refuses to move any farther without an answer.
“Because it has to end somewhere, right?” says Haymitch. “The arena can’t go on forever.”
“What do you expect to find?” Maysilee asks.
“I don’t know. But maybe there’s something that we can use,” he says.
WHAT THE FUCK!!!! This is not even something that I would consider. The edge of the arena? It exists? It’s real???
Indeed it is. Using a blowtorch to get past the hedge, they find the end of the arena: a cliff leading to a rocky death below. That’s when Haymitch tells Maysilee that he is staying behind. She doesn’t want the game to come down to just him and her, so she leaves. That is when everything gets OUTSTANDING.
Haymitch skirts along the edge of the cliff as if trying to figure something out. His foot dislodges a pebble and it falls into the abyss, apparently gone forever. But a minute later, as he sits to rest, the pebble shoots back up beside him. Haymitch stares at it, puzzled, and then his face takes on a strange intensity. He lobs a rock the size of his fist over the cliff and waits. When it flies back out and right into his hand, he starts laughing.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO SAY. THIS IS WILD. THIS IS SO AMAZING. Oh my god, can you escape the arena? THERE ARE LIKE A MILLION NEW QUESTIONS AND NONE OF THEM ARE BEING ANSWERED.
Unfortunately, Maysilee is murdered by a bunch of pink birds with knives for beaks just after this, so we don’t get to learn more about the “edge” of the arena just yet. That doesn’t happen until it’s just down to Haymitch and a girl from District 1.
She’s bigger than he is and just as fast, and when the inevitable fight comes, it’s bloody and awful and both have received what could well be fatal wounds, when Haymitch is finally disarmed. He staggers through the beautiful woods, holding his intestines in, while she stumbles after him, carrying the ax that should deliver his deathblow. Haymitch makes a beeline for his cliff and has just reached the edge when she throws the ax. He collapses on the ground and it flies into the abyss. Now weaponless as well, the girl just stands there, trying to staunch the flow of blood pouring from her eye socket. She’s thinking perhaps that she can outlast Haymitch, who’s starting to convulse on the ground. But what she doesn’t know, and what he does, is that the ax will return. And when it flies back over the ledge, it buries herself in her head. The cannon sounds, her body is removed, and the trumpets blow to announce Haymitch’s victory.
I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t even believe this. Haymitch figured out the arena. He figured out what no one else did or even tried to do. My head cannot handle this.
“You know they didn’t expect that to happen. It wasn’t meant to be part of the arena. They never planned on anyone using it as a weapon. It made them look stupid that he figured it out. I bet they had a good time trying to spin that one. Bet that’s why I don’t remember seeing it on television. It’s almost as bad as us and the berries!”
Haymitch is now my favorite of all time forever and ever until everything ceases to be. I am in awe of this backstory and character development. Holy god.
“Almost, but not quite,” says Haymitch from behind us. I whip around, afraid he’s going to be angry over us watching his tape, but he just smirks and takes a swig from a bottle of win. So much for sobriety. I guess I should be upset he’s drinking again, but I’m preoccupied with another feeling.
I’ve spent all these weeks getting to know who my competitors are, without thinking about who my teammates are. Now a new confidence is lighting inside of me, because I think I finally know who Haymitch is. And I’m beginning to know who I am am. And surely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive.
I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am right now.