The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the latest installment in the Hunger Games franchise. The new film is adapted from Suzanne Collins’s 2020 novel of the same title, which serves as a prequel to the original trilogy, taking place around 60 years before Katniss Everdeen famously volunteers to compete in the deadly Capitol-enforced “games” in place of her sister Prim. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes tells the story of the young Coriolanus Snow’s rise to power during his time as a student and tribute mentor during the 10th annual Hunger Games. When Snow becomes a mentor for the female tribute from District 12, he meets Lucy Gray Baird — a unique and charismatic girl whose sparkling performance in the arena will permanently impact both the Hunger Games and the future President Snow.
Keep reading to discover all the essential details about the newest Hunger Games heroine!
SPOILERS AHEAD: If you have yet to read or watch The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes or The Hunger Games, please be aware that spoilers are ahead.
Lucy Gray Baird: A Charming Songstress From a Nomadic Musical Group
To understand the significance of Lucy Gray’s role in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it’s important to know the character’s unique background. Lucy Gray is a member of the Covey, a group of nomads who, before the First Rebellion against the Capitol, were famous for traveling around Panem to perform their music. The Covey remained neutral during the conflict but were forced by Peacekeepers to settle in District 12 not long before the 10th Hunger Games, which is where we find Lucy Gray at the beginning of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
After her family was forced to move to the coal mining district, Lucy Gray lost both of her parents — who were killed for opposing Peacemakers — in addition to her two older siblings. As the sole surviving member of her immediate family, Lucy Gray lives with a group of six other orphaned Covey children, and together, they earn a modest income by performing at the Hob and other locations in District 12.
Lucy Gray’s musical talent is an essential aspect of her character. She is a natural performer with a magnetic personality, which draws admiration from her mentor Coriolanus and from Capitol onlookers. Lucy Gray is a charming, confident, and resourceful character who knows how to endear herself to an audience and make a bold statement, which gives her an advantage in the games.
The meaning behind Lucy Gray’s name also adds layers to her captivating character. While her last name, “Baird,” straightforwardly evokes her profession as a bardic poet and singer, the origin of her first name provides an element of mystery to her characterization. “Lucy Gray” comes from a famous poem by William Wordsworth about a little girl who dies and becomes a ghost haunting a forest, suggesting that, beneath Lucy Gray’s glittering stage persona, there is more to the character than meets the eye.
Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living child;
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome wild.
O’er rough and smooth she trips along,William Wordsworth, Lucy Gray
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.
District 12’s Female Tribute for the 10th Hunger Games
Lucy Gray makes a bold entrance in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes when her name is drawn at the reaping to become District 12’s female tribute for the 10th Hunger Games. In response to her name being called, she makes a beeline for the mayor’s daughter, Mayfair Lipp, and slips a snake into her dress collar, displaying a sense of courage and showmanship that draws the attention of the Capitol and of her mentor, Coriolanus Snow. Before she is taken away by Peacekeepers, she fearlessly performs a song in which she scorns those who have used their power to manipulate her titled, Nothing You Can Take From Me.
No, sir,Suzanne Collins, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Nothing you can take me from me is worth dirt.
Take it, ’cause I’d give it free. It won’t hurt.
Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping!
When Lucy Gray and Coriolanus meet in the Capitol before the Hunger Games, they quickly connect as they bond over their shared loss of their parents in the aftermath of the rebellion. Lucy Gray is grateful for the kindness Coriolanus shows her by bringing her food and helping her prepare for the games, and the two characters become attached, but they are separated when Lucy Gray must enter the arena and fight for her life in the games.
A Performance that Changes the Hunger Games Forever
The 10th Hunger Games are very different from the glamorized 74th Hunger Games of Suzanne Collins’s first book. While Katniss and Peeta are dressed up and treated like royalty, Lucy Gray and the other tributes in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes are thrown into the arena after being starved and ill for weeks. However, through Lucy Gray and Coriolanus’s contributions to the games, readers are shown how the Hunger Games began to develop into the spectacle that they become in Collins’s dystopian trilogy.
Snow cunningly uses Lucy Gray’s charisma to win Capitol support for them both by arranging an interview and encouraging her to sing and play guitar. This led to the inception of the sponsorship program, which later became an essential component of the games. Lucy Gray’s dazzling performance in the 10th Hunger Games ultimately encourages the Head Gamemaker, Doctor Volumina Gaul, and the future President Snow to shape the Hunger Games into an extravagant event that garners enthusiasm from the Capitol.
Lucy Gray Is the Anti-Katniss
The Hunger Games series centers around the iconic protagonist Katniss Everdeen, who, like Lucy Gray, becomes the female tribute from District 12 for the Hunger Games. Katniss is an unforgettable character known for her resourcefulness and strength. Although Lucy Gray and Katniss come from the same district and are both placed in the barbaric Hunger Games, their characters have vastly different personalities.
While Katniss is a tough, pragmatic survivalist, Lucy Gray is a performer who succeeds in the games by making use of her charm and magnetism. Franchise director Francis Lawrence has recently stated that he views Lucy Gray as an “anti-Katniss,” claiming that, while Katniss is an introverted survivor, Lucy Gray represents her antithesis because “She knows how to play crowds and manipulate people.”
There is also speculation among fans that there might be a distant familial tie between Katniss and Lucy Gray, who was born around 80 years before the events of The Hunger Games. In the original trilogy, Katniss’s character is known for her singing voice — she sings lullabies for her sister Prim and the young tribute Rue, and she also sings The Hanging Tree, which is revealed in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes to have been written by Lucy Gray. Katniss’s musical talent and knowledge of several of the Covey’s songs might suggest that she has Covey ancestry, and a popular fan theory suggests Lucy Gray’s cousin Maude Ivory could potentially be Katniss’s grandmother.
Besides the connection between Lucy Gray and Katniss’s musical abilities, another parallel between the two characters is that they are both associated with the mockingjay. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Snow relates the Coveys’ music to the sound of mockingjays — a hybrid bird species that becomes a symbol of rebellion due to the Capitol’s failed experiments on the creatures. Over half a century later, in The Hunger Games series, Katniss becomes synonymous with the mockingjay when she is used as the face of the districts’ resistance against the Capitol. In both Lucy Gray and Katniss’s stories, the mockingjay symbol displays a rejection of the Capitol’s power, and the context added by The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes allows fans to learn exactly why the symbol is so infuriating for President Snow in The Hunger Games.
Who Plays Lucy Gray Baird?
Lucy Gray’s vibrant character is portrayed by Rachel Zegler, known for her performances as Maria in West Side Story (2021) and as Snow White in the forthcoming Disney live-action remake. She is a talented vocalist, which is essential for the character of Lucy Gray, and she cites Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, and Joan Baez as inspirations for her portrayal of Lucy Gray’s folk-inspired songs, which Zegler performed live while filming.
At the world premiere of the movie, Zegler expressed that she “feels so honored” to bring Lucy Gray to life. She gushed about Collins’s intricate depiction of the character, telling reporters, “The thing about Lucy Gray is that we don’t know too much about her, and I love that about her. She’s so mercurial and enigmatic. She flies through life for her own self-preservation, and I think that’s such an honorable thing. And she also uses her voice when she has something to say.”
With The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence masterfully expand the world of The Hunger Games, and Lucy Gray Baird stands out as one of the most notable and intriguing additions to the franchise.
The highly anticipated movie will be released in theaters on November 17.
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