11 . 22
In 2008, when the Hunger Games was published, Suzanne Collins was still a working writer. She spent her mornings in a bleak future dystopia of starvation and gladiatorial spectacle and her afternoons freelancing on the kids' show Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! Five years later, the Hunger Games trilogy has more than 65 million copies in print in the U.S., the first movie earned nearly $700 million worldwide, and the series' hero, the gimlet-eyed but tenderhearted Katniss Everdeen, has taken a place alongside Harry Potter and Bella Swan in the pantheon of popular mythology. Collins, who is 51 and bears a striking resemblance to the actress Julianne Moore, hasn't given an interview in more than two years, but with Catching Fire opening on Nov. 22, she sat down with the film's director, Francis Lawrence, and TIME's Lev Grossman to talk about Katniss, writing about war for children and her personal survival strategy.
Let's start with Katniss. Where did she come from?
Suzanne Collins: Katniss arrived almost fully formed--she was an archer, she was the sole support of her family, 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 at too early an age, and it had formed her. So there's some ways in which she's very mature and some ways in which she's extremely immature for her age.
Why do you think people identify with Katniss?
Collins: Well, 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. 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 1 and you don't have to worry that this character's going to feel morally superior to you for three volumes. Right away you know, O.K., she's not perfect. But very quickly, within a couple of 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.
How has Katniss changed since the beginning of the first film?
Francis Lawrence: Well, she's been through the games. I think one of the things that interested me most about this book was that we start to see the kinds of effects that the games have on people, the effects that violence has on people.
Collins: She's got a lot of classic posttraumatic-stress-disorder symptoms. She has nightmares. She has flashbacks. You can see she's practicing avoidance--she's completely pushed Peeta to arm's length, you know? She's trying to stay away from him, because everything associated with him except some very early childhood memories is associated with the games. She's conflicted to some degree about her relationship with Prim because she couldn't save Rue. So she's dealing with all that, and her method of dealing with it is to go to the woods and be alone, because there just are so many triggers in her everyday life.
Is Katniss the character that you identify with most?