Tonight I finished reading The Giver by Lois Lowry for the first time. I know this book was on school reading lists when I was in elementary school, but I never remember reading it. Given the recent movie that’s come out about it, I thought it would be a good time to give it a go.
It’s a brilliant concept, especially when you remember Lowry wrote it in 1993, before the new millennium even. The premise is that life in Jonas’s community is perfect. (read: controlled). Rules govern everything. There is a Council of Elders who decide on the rules & make decisions for the whole community. Who your match will be. Who your children will be, and you only get 1 boy and 1 girl. What you do with your time. How often, how much, and when you eat. A society where everyone blends in. A community made up of Nurturers and Labourers and Birthmothers and Doctors and Engineers and Instructors and so on.
And one Receiver.
The Receiver is the only person in the community who knows of life before and beyond Jonas’s community. This person is the only person is a Receiver of Memories, who has memories of something outside their community of Sameness. The Receiver is given the “honour” of holding all the memories for the entire community—joyful ones and tragic ones; beautiful ones and brutal ones. Memories of colour, family, love, sunshine, snow, broken bones, hunger, poverty, loss, neglect, warfare. The community doesn’t want to feel real feelings. Because they don’t want to feel pain, they also protect themselves from feeling love & joy & delight. But they know someone has to remember what this is like, to ask for his counsel from time to time. Hence the Receiver. The lonely Receiver.
The event that launches the book’s plot is the Ceremony of Twelves in December where Jonas, along with all the other Elevens-turning-Twelves, receives his Assignment about his job in the community. His was a rare appointment.
Jonas is selected as the next Receiver. The current Receiver (called The Giver) transfers his memories to Jonas, and now Jonas carries them. What does he do with them, with his newfound knowledge? That’s why you have to read the book!
It’s a beautiful story, so poignant with similarities to our world. And written so simply and accessibly. It was definitely a page-turner, and even at the very end, I was wanting more. I was wanting to find out what happens to the community. That’s where I wish we could have a third-person omniscient narrator. But I also like that we’re left to imagine it. The worst are books that give too much away in their conclusions.
I’ve watched the trailer for the film but don’t know if I’ll see the movie. Now after reading it, I can already tell the movie veers quite substantially from the original. Jonas & Fiona are seen kissing & having a much more intimate relationship than they do in the book. The daily injections come in the form of pills, and Jonas never counsels Fiona to skip one. And Jonas doesn’t tell anyone about his training as the Receiver, or what he’s learned of life beyond.
I wonder if the screenwriter added these scenes to make it more exciting, more plot-driven, more filmable? It’s interesting to consider Lowry’s words in the prologue, reflecting on 20 years since its publication:
If I had written The Giver this year, there would have been no gulp. Maybe a yawn, at most. Ho-hum. In so many recent dystopian novels (and there are exactly that: so many), societies battle and characters die hideously and whole civilizations crumble. None of that in The Giver. It was introspective. Quiet. Short on Action.
“Introspective, quiet, and short on action” translates to “tough to film.” Katniss Everdeen gets to kill off countless adolescent competitors in various ways during The Hunger Games; that’s exciting movie fare. It sells popcorn. Jonas, riding a bike and musing about his future? Not so much. Although the film rights to The Giver were snapped up early on, it moved forward in spurts and stops for years, as screenplay after screenplay–none of them by me–was commissioned, written, and discarded.
Despite the all-star cast including Jeff Bridges & Meryl Streep, the movie didn’t do well at the box office. Maybe if it had stuck closer to the original script, more The Giver fans would have given it a shot? What are your thoughts?