I posted this on my other blog, after hearing Lois Lowry at a reading from her 4th novel in The Giver series. This was part of my annual salute to banned/challenged books; The Giver is high on that list. Lowry won the Newbery in 1990 for Number the Stars, and then again in 1994 for The Giver.
Lois Lowry, Son (2012), 393 pp.
At B&N last night, Lois Lowry spoke about and read from her new novel, Son, the fourth and final book of the series that starts with The Giver. Before an audience comprising middle school students, teachers and adult fans, Lowry revealed much about herself, her relationship to her characters and books, and her respect for children’s abilities to grapple with difficult subjects.
It seems that a photo album was the spark that started this quartet, back in the early 1990s. While visiting her father in a nursing home, she found him able to recall the past when prompted by photos, including those of the family car (a 1954 Chrysler 300) and some of dogs (funny story here about children getting revenge, but I won’t go into that). But when looking at a picture of his eldest daughter, who had died young, Lowry’s father would say, “There’s your sister. I can’t remember her name. What happened to her?”
Lois began to wonder: Can we control human memory? Is it possible for a society to get rid of thoughts and memories that make people sad or scared. Would this be a good thing? Is there anything about it that could be bad? [Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) addressed this, as did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), dystopian bookends for Lowry’s masterpiece.] One year later, The Giver was submitted to her publishers, and she thought she was done with that world.
The first sequel came in response to fans dissatisfied with The Giver‘s ambiguous ending, the next two in response to questions about what had happened to Characters X and Y. This is a phenomenon worth studying — the way characters come so alive that readers can’t imagine their lives ending with the book. Fan fiction grows out of this, as we extend the stories beyond “The End”. We will have to rely on fan fiction from now on, because Lowry’s promises that she will not write a fifth book for the series. She thinks of “four” as a perfect number, like a barbershop quartet. Exactly the right number to do what it aims to do.
An unexpected bonus came at the end of her talk, when one of the B&N hosts asked for Lowry’s understanding of why parents disapproved of The Giver. Lowry pointed out that the book had been frequently challenged but rarely banned. In an interview* with WNYC’s Leonard Lopate, Lowry extended her comments, giving one reason for parents’ negative reactions to the book: it’s about children challenging authority.
At B&N, Lowry wondered if The Hunger Games, with all its violence, would receive similar attempts to remove it from curricula and school libraries. She should be satisfied, although not happy, to know that Collins’ series has joined hers on the list of Banned/Challenged books.
*Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read books 2 & 3 in the series, Lopate’s interview reveals something that could ruin those for you.
Evidently a deal for a film version of The Giver has been finalized, with Jeff Bridges in the title role. Whether an actual film will result remains to be seen. Entertainment Weekly has an interesting take on the challenges of casting films of popular novels.