By Jane WellsWhile Bird on Fire isn't technically fiction - it does have a very strong tie to someone else's fictional work. One of the most popular works of fiction in recent years in fact!
If the title of my book doesn't give you a big enough clue, the subtitle is a dead giveaway. Bird on Fire: A Bible study for understanding The Hunger Games arena, Catching Fire flame and Mockingjay bird.
Yeah. I totally rode Suzanne Collins wave, and for good reason. As a Christian, the books read like a parable of Christian compassion in a world rife with sin and selfishness. Like many best sellers, the Mockingjay trilogy resonated with a society terrified of the social injustices rising around it.
Here is the finale (and my favorite) chapter of Bird on Fire.
In Mockingjay, Katniss must make a difficult choice. Will she accept the role she’s stepped into – that of the Mockingjay leading the people of Panem in revolt against the capitol – or will she sit back, and let things unfold without her?
An ancient queen from the bible has a remarkably similar dilemma. There are only two books in the Bible named for women, and one of them is Esther.
But before we get to Esther, we have to start with Xerxes. Xerxes the Great ruled the Medo-Persian Empire – which stretched from modern day India east to the Mediterranean and then as far south into Africa as Somalia. This is the same Xerxes portrayed in the (slanderously incorrect) movie The 300. But before Xerxes marched against the Spartans – and won, btw – there was some palace intrigue, starting with a queen who refused to cooperate.
I can understand Queen Vashti’s point of view. Xerxes was hosting a banquet for all his buddies and decided they all needed to see just how beautiful his wife was – so he demanded she come out and strike a pose. But she was busy hosting a party of her own and really didn’t want to be subjected to the critical gaze of all her husband’s cronies. As a result of her refusal she lost the crown, demoted to just another member of his harem. After a while Xerxes regretted his decision, but not enough to rescind his order.
So, he orders a reaping.
Beautiful young women were gathered from all over the Persian nation. Esther, “lovely in form and feature”, was among them. As a Jew, she was a member of a minority already subject to discrimination, so her cousin Mordecai (Like Gale, maybe? Or Haymitch?) told her to keep her ethnicity a secret. Hegai, (Esther’s Cinna, Perhaps?) the man in charge of the queen-recruits, placed all his bets on her making sure she had everything she needed to win the king’s favor. When Esther entered the arena – otherwise known as the king’s chambers – she won the crown.
So, Esther won her first Hunger Games – without drawing a single arrow. But like Katniss, this only seemed to make the stakes in the game even higher.
A little later Haman, an Agagite, is promoted to a position second only to Xerxes. Agagites were ancient enemies of the Jews, and Haman was especially sensitive to the fact that Mordecai the Jew would not bow to him. Seeing a chance to wipe out all of his ancient enemies (including Mordecai, of course), Haman hatches a plot to have every Jew in Persia killed in one swift attack. Withholding only a few key details, Haman presents his plan to Xerxes as a chance to rid his nation of a bunch of troublemaking dissenters. Xerxes apparently trusted Haman implicitly, because he signed the declaration without bothering to find out just exactly “who” these dissenters were. The residents of Persia were baffled by the decree, because Jews as a whole were good neighbors and citizens.
Inside the palace bubble, Esther is clueless until she hears of Mordecai’s public display. He is dressed in rags and at the palace gate, wailing loudly for himself, his people and his cousin. She had no idea what was going on until Mordecai tells her the complete story of Haman’s plot, providing a copy of the edict for their annihilation. Mordecai begs Esther to plead her people’s case to the king.
The problem with this otherwise foolproof plan is that one does not simply walk into the king’s presence without being summoned, unless you want to be killed. And in Esther’s case, she hadn’t been summoned in a month. She is pretty sure the honeymoon has ended.
Mordecai asks just one question in response to Esther’s fear, ”Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther agrees to try. She asks Mordecai to fast and pray along with her and her maids for three days. “When this is done,” she says, “I will go into the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
But, she doesn’t perish. Xerxes is pleased to see her and agrees to have dinner with her the following evening - and agrees to bring Haman along. Esther promises then she will reveal to the king the question that is on her mind. When the night of the dinner arrives, Esther reveals all: her ancestry, her relationship to Mordecai whom Haman hates, and the threat to her life that Haman has brought about through his personal vendetta and deceit.
Xerxes is furious and storms out of the room. Seeing a chance to sway Esther’s mind, Haman collapses at her feet and onto the couch where she sat. At that moment Xerxes re-enters the room.
“Will he assault the queen while she is with me in the house?” Xerxes exclaims.
Haman is carried away and executed that night. The Jews are given permission to not only protect themselves from anyone that would harm them, but even plunder and attack their enemies in return.
On the day Haman had set for the destruction of the Jews, they instead destroy their enemies, all because Esther was willing to stand up.
Like Esther, Katniss has to answer a question: Has she become the favorite of the nation for a time like this? When she alone can be the symbol uniting a divided nation? Esther made up her mind when it became clear she was the only one who could make a difference. Katniss becomes the Mockingjay when she realizes the same thing – only she can lead the rebellion, and only she can insure Peeta survives.
You may not be a queen, like Esther, or a leader of a rebellion, like Katniss, but we all have power to change things around us (even when it’s risky).
What do you have the power to change for good, because of who you are and where you are?
What moves you to action?
What can you do today to begin making a change in your world?
From another point of view, where do have influence that you might be overlooking?
What changes are you trying to avoid taking responsibility for?
Jane Wells has always gravitated toward reading material that pushed other people’s buttons. In 2nd grade it was a dinosaur book that upset her teacher at a Baptist school. Now it’s vampires and dystopias that catch her imagination. In them she finds parables and allegories illustrating God’s ancient plan in a language that is uniquely modern – and easily understood by people who may have never set foot inside a church. Glitter in the Sun and Bird on Fireare the results.
Always a writer, Jane’s “real jobs” have included newspaper journalism, youth ministry, sewing machine sales and marketing for a publishing house. Currently she is back to “just a writer” again, while juggling all the typical domestic duties of wife and mother, homeschooling two boys, managing two needy Golden Retrievers and answering to one very demanding cat.