Hollywood ruins book characters

Many new movies are based on comic book superheroes, so we have an idea of what the characters look like before we buy our popcorn. Superman will have muscles, a firm jaw, a spit curl of hair over his forehead.

Novels are something else altogether.

When we read a book, we don’t generally have pictures of the characters provided for us. We have to use our imagination, which makes books better than movies. (Simmer down, millennials. Walk it off until you’ve realized I’m right.)

For generations, readers had to imagine what Captain Ahab looked like, and they weren’t disappointed when Gregory Peck picked up the harpoon in cinematic version of the Melville novel.

Huck Finn, Jo March, Gatsby, Lolita, Jane Eyre, Yossarian, even Alice – all just pictures in our individual minds until we watched them in the movies. The old man was one thing when we read Hemingway and another after Spencer Tracy gave him a face in The Old Man and the Sea.

When Dorothy Marie Johnson published a short story in 1953, she probably didn’t see John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart as the protagonists in the movie made from it nine years later, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Watching that film the other night, though, I know I couldn’t name two actors who could have done a better job.

Peck, Stewart and the Duke all did wonderful jobs of turning the page into film, but sometimes Hollywood doesn’t even try. Three instances come to mind.

The Shipping News (1993), by E. Annie Proulx, was a well-written book. Its protagonist, Quoyle, was a tall, fat, goofy, ugly man with a “great damp loaf of a body.” He had a “failure of normal appearance,” was “hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas ad cramp.”

Got the picture, the hideous picture? Now, do you remember who played him on film? Kevin Spacey. That’s right. The star of House of Cards and American Beauty. The statistics say Spacey stands 5-foot-10, but he plays a foot shorter.

When I read Forrest Gump (1986), I didn’t picture Tom Hanks, although he was stellar. I realize he stands 6 feet tall and starred in Big, but Gump was, in the Winston Groom novel, already 6-foot-6 by the time he was 16. Grow, Tom, grow!

My wife has a complaint about a series of books she reads by Lee Child and featuring investigator Jack Reacher (he could “reach” high shelves). He is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds: “He was extremely tall, and extremely broad, and long-armed, and long-legged.”

Maybe you’ve seen the movie version. Reacher is played by Tom Cruise, who is half that size. My wife isn’t rushing to the theater.

I just noticed that all three characters I cited were tall in print and short on film. Pure coincidence, but I wonder whether you have complaints about what Hollywood does to your favorite book characters. Let me know.

Reach Glynn Moore at glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

More in Life

A girl dressed as Snow White takes candy from a witch at the Orca Theater’s Trunk or Treat in Soldotna, Alaska on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
October packed with Halloween events

October brings with it fall festivities, trick-or-treating opportunities and other seasonal celebrations

A copy of “Two Old Women” is held inside the Peninsula Clarion offices on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ahlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Athabascan legend enchants, informs

The two women, shocked that they’ve been left behind by their family and friends, resolve that they will not resign themselves to death

Shredded chicken and vegetables are topped with a butter crust in this classic chicken pot pie. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A meal for when you need a hug

This classic chicken pot pie is mild and comforting

Kenneth Branagh portrays Hercule Poirot in “A Haunting in Venice.” (Photo courtesy 20th Century Studios)
On the Screen: Murder most haunting

Hercule Poirot takes on supernatural in latest Agatha Christie adaptation

Jack Meyers, Jackson Hooper, Kincaid Jenness, Kry Spurgeon, Leora McCaughey and Oshie Broussard rehearse “Lockers” at Nikiski Middle/High School in Nikiski, Alaska, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
High school drama

Teenage archetypes hit the stage in Triumvirate production “Lockers”

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Get Ready

It looks as though some early deep freeze history may be about to repeat itself

This mildly sweet and nutty gnocchi was made white sweet potatoes, but any potatoes will do. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Gnocchi brings it home

Enjoying an afternoon in the kitchen

Andrew Agosti prepares carrot gnocchi at the Harvest Moon Local Food Festival’s Chef Tent at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Vendors and vegetables

Harvest Moon Local Food Festival celebrates local food scene at Soldotna Creek Park

Most Read