Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine trilogy cleverly uses found black-and-white photos from junk shops and swap meets to tell the story of a group of “peculiar” children: children with magical talents or features who are cast out from the “normal” world. Chased by frightening wights and hollowghasts, the kids in the three books—Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, and Library of Souls—try to save their fellow peculiars, with the help of wise Miss Peregrine, an “ymbryne” who can control time and change into a bird.
The engaging, spooky series is the source for Tim Burton’s movie, opening Sept. 30, and this fall Riggs releases a charming new book, Tales of the Peculiar, which, Beedle the Bard–style, fills in some of the folklore and mythology around his magical characters.
My 11-year-old daughter, Lyra, always has a million questions about the books, so I decided to let her just ask Riggs, who gamely agreed to a phone interview. He spoke with Lyra about peculiar parenting, about plot holes he can’t explain, and about why fans shouldn’t worry when details change from book to film. —Dan Kois
Slate: OK, so I have three categories of questions. Questions about the new book, Tales of the Peculiar; questions about the trilogy; and questions about the movie. First I think I’m going to ask you some questions about the new book, Tales of the Peculiar.
Ransom Riggs: OK.
My first question is: Do peculiar parents tell the Tales of the Peculiar to their “normal” children?
Oh, I can already tell this is gonna be hard. OK. No, they would definitely not do that, it would mess them up. They would have to hide most knowledge of peculiar things from their normal children.
Do peculiar parents even tell their children that they’re peculiar?
I guess that would depend on the parents and their situation. I mean, every peculiar family unit is different. If two peculiars are lucky enough to meet and, like, fall in love, and get married, which, you know …
… Is unlikely.
Yeah. They’re lucky. Because that doesn’t happen too often. If they were in a community or loop of supportive peculiars in a fairly safe place, I think they could be fairly honest with their normal kid. But if there’s danger around, it’s probably better and safer for the kid to know nothing.
Well, they might end up figuring it out anyways.
That’s true, the kid might be smart and figure that out, which would be … that would be a great story, I’m gonna write that down.
But like if they’re living in the normal world, there would be a small chance of the kid ever finding out that his or her parents are peculiar.
Probably. On the other hand, I think most kids think their parents are peculiar.
I definitely think my dad is peculiar!
Slate’s dad: I’m sitting right here, Lyra.
My second question about the new book is: I really love the illustrations by Andrew Davidson in Tales of the Peculiar. Why did you decide to have illustrations in the book instead of photographs like the trilogy had?
I really wanted this book to feel like an artifact from the world of the peculiars. You could have found this on Miss Peregrine’s own bookshelf. Woodcuts have a really timeless sort of feel, and they feel like a book that’s a couple hundred years old. And honestly working with photographs is really limiting. I have to find photographs that match the wacky stories I tell. It was much easier to come up with the stories and then give them to the illustrator and have him illustrate something appropriate.
That leads to my first question about the trilogy. Where do you go to look for old photos?
Los Angeles, which is where I live, happens to be a great place for junk. People have a lot of it and they sell it and trade it: At these big swap meets, many, many hundreds of dealers of junk will descend upon a football field on a Saturday and sell all their stuff.
Do you have one amazing photo that you really wanted to include in the trilogy but it didn’t fit the storyline?
I had many. Many many many. But that’s OK! I had more than I knew I would need, which left me a lot of wiggle room when I was writing. Maybe the leftovers will be useful in some way.
Maybe further books???
Maybe! Or maybe I’ll hold an art show.
Miss Peregrine’s brother Bentham and Miss Peregrine had two very different stories about the creation of the hollows. Was Miss Peregrine just uninformed, or was there some other reason behind her telling only half the story?
I don’t remember. It’s too complicated! And I don’t want to give you the wrong answer.
OK, my first question about the movie is: In the new movie coming out, it appears that Olive and Emma switched peculiarities. Can you tell me why the moviemakers made that choice?
No. Not really. I can guess, but I did not write the screenplay, and I didn’t have much input into the development of the story. But having seen the movie I can say that, cinematically, it works really well. Her peculiarity comes in very handy.
All the changes they made to the characters make the movie more exciting to watch. And that’s the kind of thing you have to take into account when you’re making a movie rather than a book. Like Bronwyn. In the movie Bronwyn is a tiny little girl, she looks like Shirley Temple or something. Which for the movie is so much funnier than having her look like a big brawny teenager.
Oh, because that’s more unexpected.
Right, a tiny little girl who can pick up boulders is hilarious.
But don’t you think that would clash with what you wrote?
It’s not the filmmakers’ job to do exactly what the book did. When I heard about the changes but hadn’t seen the movie, yeah, I was like, “Hey!” but when I saw it, I said, “Oh, that’s cool.” And I think fans will feel the same way.
Instead of feeling majorly let down … which they won’t be because I’m sure the movie’s great! OK, next question. Do you think the wights and hollowghasts will be frightening in the movie? I mean, I know the movie’s rated PG-13, so.
Oh they’re terrifying. I think the only reason it’s rated PG-13 and not PG is that they’re so scary.
My suspicion as well. Anyways, I’ve got two final questions that don’t fit in any of the three specific categories. Do you want to write more about the peculiar world, or, for further projects, do you want to write things about our world instead?
I think there’s more to be explored in the peculiar world, but I haven’t quite decided what to do about that.
[Silently pumps fist, spins around in chair.]
But I’m pretty young and I got to this pretty early, so I have other kinds of books I expect I’ll write too.
My last question is: How did Miss Peregrine discover that she was an ymbryne? Was her mother an ymbryne? Was she raised in a loop? Will you ever write a book that is Miss Peregrine’s childhood story?
I don’t know the answers to those questions because I haven’t written the story yet. You’re not alone, a lot of readers have questions about stuff that happens off the page. And for the most part I don’t know. But it’s probably a good story! I’ll have to write that one too. You’ve given me so many good ideas.
Oh, that’s great!
I’ve got a lot of homework now.
Like me. Well, not right now, it’s summer. Well, those are all my questions. Thank you for allowing me to interview you.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nightlight is Slate’s pop-up blog about children’s books, running for the month of August. Read about it here.