Suzanne Collins talks ‘The Hunger Games’ books, Katniss’s family, Peeta and Gale, and lots more

The Hunger Games fandom knows it’s not every day we hear from Suzanne Collins, and so every interview, every appearance is a day to cherish. As it is the tenth anniversary year of The Hunger Games‘s first publication, here is one such day: the author sat down with publisher David Levithan for New York Times to talk about the books and the movies.

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The interview is an absolute gem filled with insight into the ‘just-war’ theory that Collins used to set the trilogy up, Peeta and Gale’s characters, and lots more.

Check out excerpts below:

Katniss-EverdeenDL: Another key piece of The Hunger Games is the voice and perspective that Katniss brings to it. Some novelists start with a character and then find a story through that character, but with The Hunger Games I believe you had the idea for the story first, and then Katniss stepped into it. Where did she come from?

SC: Katniss appeared almost immediately after I had the idea, standing by the bed with that bow and arrow. I’d spent a lot of time during The Underland Chronicles weighing the attributes of different weapons. I used archers very sparingly because they required light and the Underland has little natural illumination. But a bow and arrow can be handmade, shot from a distance, and weaponized when the story transitions into warfare. She was a born archer. Her name came later, while I was researching survival training and specifically edible plants. In one of my books, I found the arrowhead plant, and the more I read about it, the more it seemed to reflect her. Its Latin name has the same roots as Sagittarius, the archer. The edible tuber roots she could gather, the arrowhead-shaped leaves were her defense, and the little white blossoms kept it in the tradition of flower names, like Rue and Primrose. I looked at the list of alternative names for it. Swamp Potato. Duck Potato. Katniss easily won the day. As to her voice, I hadn’t intended to write in first person. I thought the book would be in the third person like The Underland Chronicles. Then I sat down to work and the first page poured out in first person, like she was saying, “Step aside, this is my story to tell.” So I let her.

Willow Shields as Prim EverdeenDL: I’m curious about Katniss’s family structure.

SC: Her parents have their own histories in District 12 but I only included what’s pertinent to Katniss’s tale. Her father’s hunting skills, musicality and death in the mines. Her mother’s healing talent and vulnerabilities. Her deep love for Prim. Those are the elements that seemed essential to me. I have a world of information about the characters that didn’t make it into the book. With some stories, revealing that could be illuminating, but in the case of The Hunger Games, I think it would only be a distraction unless it was part of a new tale within the world of Panem.

IG-Exclusive-PeetaDL: Why is Peeta a baker?

SC: Bread crops up a lot in The Hunger Games. It’s the main food source in the districts, as it was for many people historically. When Peeta throws a starving Katniss bread in the flashback, he’s keeping her alive long enough to work out a strategy for survival. It seemed in keeping with his character to be a baker, a life giver. But there’s a dark side to bread, too. When Plutarch Heavensbee references it, he’s talking about Panem et Circenses, Bread and Circuses, where food and entertainment lull people into relinquishing their political power. Bread can contribute to life or death in The Hunger Games.

jennifer-lawrence-katniss-eDL: Do you picture your characters as you’re writing them? If so, how close did Jennifer Lawrence come to the Katniss in your head? And now when you think about Katniss, do you see Jennifer or do you still see what you imagined before?

SC: I definitely do picture the characters when I’m writing them. The actress who looks exactly like my book Katniss doesn’t exist. Jennifer looked close enough and felt very right, which is more important. She gives an amazing performance. When I think of the books, I still think of my initial image of Katniss. When I think of the movies, I think of Jen. Those images aren’t at war any more than the books are with the films. Because they’re faithful adaptations, the story becomes the primary thing. Some people will never read a book, but they might see the same story in a movie. When it works well, the two entities support and enrich each other.

Read the full conversation here.

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