She’s perhaps best known as Kate Austen from Lost and the pointy-eared elf Tauriel in The Lord of the Rings films. But Evangeline Lilly has another, lesser-known talent: children’s book author. Her first publication is The Squickerwonkers, just released on November 18th, a cautionary tale about a spoiled girl named Selma who gets more than she bargained for when she meets a band of colorful marionettes (aka The Squickerwonkers).
“I don’t like the polarized worldview propagated in traditional children’s stories where there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ and ‘we’ are good and ‘they’ are bad,” she says. “I think it’s important to teach children that there is good and bad in each of us and that the choices we make can come to shape the consequences that befall us and how we perceive ourselves. So, in The Squickerwonkers, I turn roles on their heads.”
Below, hear more about her literary life, plus the roles she’ll forever be associated with. And then don’t forget to flip through her Squickerwonkers magazine for more about the book and the inspiration behind it. The magazine also includes a Flipboard exclusive letter to the editor on the book, the characters and her writing process:
Were literature and storytelling a big part of your own childhood?
No, not really. In fact, I didn’t learn to like reading until I was a teenager. I actually wrote more than I read as a child. My parents weren’t big literature buffs and I don’t have any memories of them ever reading to me. I’m sure they must have, but it wasn’t prominent in our home. It was my grandparents on my mother’s side who opened a window into literature for me because they always bought me and my sisters such strange, quirky, incredibly illustrated books for Christmas. That really appealed to my sensibilities. Those books were a window into the potential that story has to inspire and transport you.
What were some of your favorite books as a child?
I had very eclectic taste. I liked fantastical books like Dinotopia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Hobbit. I liked dark books like The Rainbow Goblins and the Dwindling Party. I loved nursery rhymes—Mother Goose, of course, and Dennis Lee. I liked simple, sweet books like the Mr Men series and the The Giving Tree. And, of course, I loved Dr Seuss. He is in a category all of his own.
What do you want kids who read The Squickerwonkers series to take away from the experience?
I want children to come away more accepting of themselves, vices and all, but also to come away with a sense that life is not as simple as fairy tales lead you to believe. Bad things can befall good people, good things can befall bad people, and we all have a dark side. I want kids to wonder about themselves, because there’s nothing more dangerous than being ignorant of your own stumbling blocks. I want kids to start asking their parents tough questions about what happened to Selma and why. I want parents to help kids to reflect on their choices and how those choices can hurt or help them. I want parents and their children to be able to have discussions about how nobody is perfect and that that doesn’t make you a “villain” or unlovable. I want kids to come away from the whole Squickerwonkers series realizing that people who look “odd” or might not seem appealing can be fun and lovable.
How about acting—what’s been your favorite role to play so far?
Tauriel—because she was the greatest challenge to play. Learning to be an elf (and the incredible pressure I put on myself to get that right), the Elvish, the English accent, the knife and bow and arrow skills all while nursing my first child…it was the hardest I’ve ever had to work to create a role.
But also it’s the only role I used to fantasize about as a child! Stepping into Middle Earth wearing that costume, those ears, that wig…surreal.
Why do you think Lost was such a phenomenon?
The world was ready for it. Family sitcoms and college-aged comedies weren’t satisfying the appetites of a digital world. When you spend almost every spare moment you have looking at a screen, you want more and more out of that screen.
Lost was the first big show to put the kind of money into its production quality that films do. Our pilot cost more than any pilot in history. We were one of the first to really create highly complicated, highly intellectualized material with a continuous plot. Lost took that immeasurable leap into asking audiences to never let up, to always tune in, or be…lost. Before that, most weren’t brave enough to create a six-season-long movie that you HAD to tune in for (now every other show is structured this way). It was so risky and could have just as easily fallen on its face, but, as it turns out, the timing was perfect. About the time that Lost aired, DVR showed up and people starting TIVO-ing our show if they couldn’t be home to watch it.
Where you satisfied with how it ended?
I was so, so relieved and proud that Lost ended with yet another question. It must have been so tempting for our writers to wrap it up in a pretty bow of answers, but then we would have made ourselves no different than any other doctrine in the world. Instead, they honored our audience with the ultimate question and, once again, our viewers had to turn to their families, their friends, their co-workers and themselves for the answers. I was always so proud to be a part of a show that brought people together and made them ask the really big questions of life.
We’ve heard that you’re happiest outside and consider yourself an environmentalist. What drives this passion?
Well, you’ve answered your own question: what drives my passion for the outdoors is that I am happiest there. Look, there are two sides to my person: One is super rational and no-nonsense, and the other is a total head-in-the-clouds hippie. And, on the issue of the environment, both sides agree…and that never happens.
The rational side of my brain SEES with my eyes the destruction and damage all around us: the yellow-gray skies, the polluted lakes and rivers, the disease and damage and says, “Without rich soil, biodiversity, clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, without healthy oceans, we’re all dead.” Then the hippie side of me pipes up and says, “Seeing what we’re seeing makes me feel dead already.” A little piece of me dies every time I recognize how we’re abusing the natural world and ourselves.
In this day and age, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, man or woman, black or white, old or young, whatever side of whatever divide you’re on, I just can’t imagine ignoring the truth of what needs to be done. We need to fix it. And we can if we can all just work together to get it done.
I recommend reading the INCREDIBLE book Weather Makers by Tim Flannery as an introductory book into the issues at hand. I did and it sat me up and lit a fire under my ass.
What inspired The Squickerwonkers? Find out here:
~MiaQ is curating “Ten for Today”