TIME’s Conversation with Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence (Parts 2-4)
TIME Magazine did a very interesting and informative interview with author Suzzane Collins and dirctor francis Lawrence about Catching Fire which they split into 5 parts. Part 1 of the series was posted a few days ago and now we have excerpts from parts 2-4.
The second part of the interview discusses Suzzane Collins writing ‘war appropriate’ stories for kids:
Suzanne, why write a book like this? Why write a book about war and violence for teenagers? Why is it important that they know about that?
Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games is part of a larger goal I have, which is to write a war-appropriate story for every age of kids, which I sort of completed in September when I had a picture book come out called Year of the Jungle. It’s an autobiographical piece about the year my father was in Vietnam and it’s a home-front story. That’s me, that’s my family, those are the postcards he sent, the imagery from it — it’s very nonfiction.
The first one I did was the middle-reader piece, which was The Underland Chronicles: Gregor the Overlander — that’s maybe 9 through 14. And then The Hunger Games was the YA one. My father was career military. He was a veteran, he was a doctor of political science, he taught at West Point and Air Command Staff and lectured at the War College. And when he got back from Vietnam, I was probably about 6, and he, I think, felt it was his responsibility to make sure that all his children had an understanding about war, about its cost, its consequences.
So I felt like I was sort of tutored in that from somebody who was very experienced in it both as a real life and as a historical basis. And if I took the 40 years of my dad talking to me about war and battles and taking me to battlefields and distilled it down into one question, it would probably be the idea of the necessary or unnecessary war. That’s very much at the heart of it.
The picture book is really just an introduction to the idea of war, because at 6 is when I figured out what it was. The Underland Chronicles, sort of moving along in sophistication, is about the unnecessary war. The Underland Chronicles is an unnecessary war for a very long time until it becomes a necessary war, because there have been all these points where people could have gotten off the train but they didn’t, they just kept moving the violence forward until it’s gone out of control. In The Hunger Games, in most people’s idea, in terms of rebellion or a civil-war situation, that would meet the criteria for a necessary war. These people are oppressed, their children are being taken off and put in gladiator games. They’re impoverished, they’re starving, they’re brutalized. It would for most people be an acceptable situation for rebellion.
And then what happens is that it turns back around on itself. If you look at the arenas as individual wars or battles, you start out in the first one and you have a very classic gladiator game. By the second one it has evolved into what is the stage for the rebellion, because the arena is the one place that all the districts that cannot communicate with each other, it’s the one place they can all watch together. So it’s where the rebellion blows up.
And then the third arena is the Capitol, which has now become an actual war. But in the process of becoming an actual war, in the process of becoming a rebellion, they have now replicated the original arena. So it’s cyclical, and it’s that cycle of violence that seems impossible for us to break out of.
In part 3 of the interview the director ans author talk about filming the arena scenes and deciding what would be show as far as content and violent matter:
The descriptions of combat in the arena are so visceral, so graphic – how did you know how far you could go, in terms of describing violence to a young audience?
Suzanne Collins: I think probably my own experience as a child. I had been exposed to these things very early through history, through my father. He I think knew the level that was acceptable at different ages to explore a different topic or something with this. That was probably my guideline through all nine of the books.
I think that it’s very uncomfortable for people to talk to children about war. And so they don’t because it’s easier not to. But then you have young people at 18 who are enlisting in the army and they really don’t have the slightest idea what they’re getting into. I think we put our children at an enormous disadvantage by not educating them in war, by not letting them understand about it from a very early age. It’s not about scaring them. The stories didn’t scare me when I was a child, and in these cases they’re fictionalized. Gregor is set in a fantasy world and The Hunger Games is set far in the future. I don’t get the sense that the young readers are frightened by them. I think they’re intrigued by them and in some ways I think they’re relieved to see the topic discussed.
Francis, did you think about where the line was, in terms of showing graphic violence?
FL: Well, I remember when I was reading the book The Hunger Games the first time, even though I wasn’t involved in that one at all, I was thinking this is going to be really tricky, just because I’ve had ratings issues with other movies that I’ve done in the past. I’m thinking, Gosh, child endangerment is a tricky thing with the ratings board, and showing kids killing other kids is tricky. I on the other hand had a different experience, because there’s far fewer children in Catching Fire than in the Hunger Games. You’re now dealing with an arena full of victors, so now we have an 80-year-old woman, and Katniss and Peeta, I think, are the youngest ones.
SC: They’re the only two that are still technically minors. They’re 17, and the next youngest is probably Johanna and she’s 21.
FL: And there’s also far less human-on-human violence in this movie. The arena itself becomes much deadlier. So I was really far less worried than I would have been had I been making the first film.
Part 4 focuses on where Katniss’ character idea evolved from:
TIME: Where did Katniss come from?
Suzanne Collins: Katniss arrived almost fully formed. That she was an archer, that she was the sole support of her family, that she was a very admirable character but also a deeply flawed character at the same time, because it was going to take that to survive what she was going to have to survive. She was one of those kids who had had great responsibility thrust on them too early in age, and it had formed her in certain ways. So there’s some ways in which she’s very mature, and some ways in which she’s extremely immature for her age.
And then what’s funny – when I sat down to write the book I intended it to be like The Underland Chronicles, third-person past tense. And I started writing and it came out first-person present tense. It was like she was insisting on telling the story, so I went with that. She was fully in my head very quickly.
What do you think people find to identify with her? Obviously her experience is very different from people who actually read the books. Or I hope it is.
SC: Well I think one of the things that people identify with is that she is a flawed character. You know on the first page, for instance, that she tried to drown a kitten. Now if you think about it, there’s a lot of other things you could have done with a kitten. You could have put it outside, she could have asked the neighbors if they wanted it, she could have let it run around there and get mice. But she takes it and tries to drown it in a bucket while her little sister’s wailing, and she relents because it’s Prim, but you’re on page one, and you don’t have to worry about this character feeling morally superior to you for three volumes. Right away you know, okay, she’s not perfect.
But very quickly, within a couple chapters, she’s going to do this remarkable thing, which is that she’s going to volunteer for Prim in the Reaping. So now you have a complex character, already. And you’re not sure – it’s also that her moral compass shifts. It isn’t always pointing north. It isn’t always pointing to the right and moral choice. She deep down has a good heart, but you know that she’s capable of making the choices that nobody should have to make.
Francis Lawrence: I think too that people can really relate to her and believe the choices that she makes. She’s not a superhero in any way. She’s a very real person who wants very real things and is very reluctant to take on any kind of super responsibility. I think any of us, male or female, can imagine being thrust into the situation, and you can identify with the choices that she makes. She’s heroic but she’s not a superhero, and I think that’s a huge thing.
make sure to click the links on each part to read the full interviews and tune back as we post the final part in the interview series tomorrow!