Nineteen years ago, producer Nikki Silver approached Lois Lowry about making a movie from Lowry’s novel “The Giver.”
That movie comes out August 15.
How did it happen? Last week, Lowry and Silver talked to students from several local schools about that process at the Library of Congress.
“The Giver” is an important story, Silver said. She called it the first dystopian (pronounced dis-TOE-pee-an) novel for young people. That means it’s about an imaginary society that is unpleasant, even frightening. “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series are two recent — and hugely popular — examples of this kind of literature.
Lowry said, “I took out everything that makes life difficult” in her book. There is no disease, money, poverty or divorce. Emotions are carefully controlled. “Then I introduce the idea that something is not quite right in this lovely place,” she said.
The government in the book chooses a 12-year-old boy named Jonas to receive the memories, happy and sad, of the whole community. Jonas then realizes how much people have given up to have an orderly, painless life. He begins to break the rules.
“We should be very, very careful about the choices we make,” Lowry said, “and the compromises.”
Although she did not write the screenplay for the movie, Lowry read it and made suggestions. “A movie can’t ever be the same as the book,” she said.
One reason that it took so long to turn the book into a movie is that a movie relies on images that tell a story. The book, though, is full of Jonas’s thoughts. We “needed the right screenplay” to help turn that into action, explained Silver in an e-mail after the event.
The audience could see one big change from the book when they watched a short clip from the film. The character Jonas is older by several years. He is played by Australian actor Brenton Thwaites. The wise man called the Giver, who transfers the memories to Jonas, is played by Jeff Bridges. Bridges also worked with Silver to produce, or help get the film made.
Eliza Jones, a fifth-grader at Hyde-Addison Elementary School in Northwest Washington, is eager to view her favorite part of the book. It will be interesting to see how the film “builds suspense when the Chief Elder skips over Jonas’s name during the [jobs] ceremony,” she said.
“I loved seeing Lois Lowry and hearing about her writing,” said Senia Cade, a sixth-grader at Capitol Hill Day School in Southeast Washington.
Lowry told the audience that she first knew she wanted to be a writer when she was about 8 years old, but she didn’t start writing for kids until she was 40. By that time, she had four children of her own. She has written 43 books, including three other novels in the “Giver” series.
“The Giver” won a big children’s book award, the Newbery Medal. But some people thought young people should not read it, Lowry said. They thought it was too complex and sad. They wanted to ban the novel from libraries and schools. (The book’s cover says it is best for age 12 and older.)
Many young people supported the book, Lowry said. They spoke at school boards and wrote letters to newspaper editors.
“Reading ‘The Giver’ was very thought-provoking for me,” said Eleanor Rothera, a sixth-grader at Calverton School in Huntingtown, Maryland. “It made me realize how precious our memories and freedoms are.”