Thoughts On: Character Looks

“Thoughts On” is a feature where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

I finally read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale last year, partly because the adaptation was coming out and partly because why hadn’t I already read it? The tricky thing about reading a book after you’ve seen promotional materials, though, is that it’s really hard to imagine the characters as anything other than the actors.

Aside from the illustration on the cover, we get no visual clues as to what Gilead or our characters look like—but I’m a visual learner, y’all! Unless a physical characteristic is explicitly mentioned, I imagine kind of like a blurry outline. But when it is? I’m often thrown out of the story. Regardless of whether Elisabeth Moss was how I imagined Offred to look, she’s close enough that thinking of her face when reading didn’t take me out of the story.

Which is where the graphic novel adaption comes in. I loved the book and also really love the TV show. I was excited to experience Atwood’s story in another format—until I paged through the book. I understand that Renée Nault was going for a morose dystopic vibe, but the way she drew the characters is so far from how I now see them that I can’t even pick it up.

The Commander

I won’t say that Joseph Fiennes was my first choice to play The Commander—he’s a little short and definitely less imposing than what I imagined—but he oozes a smarminess that has made me swear at the screen. Nault’s Commander is so old-looking and physically over-bearing that it makes everything he does in retrospect so much grosser.

Aunt Lydia

Eek! I know that Aunt Lydia is a literal monster, but Ann Dowd’s mannerisms and vocal inflections completely sell the character that I don’t need her to also look the part. (Dowd looking like someone’s beloved mother or grandmother over Nault’s Red Skull really highlights how evil Aunt Lydia is.)

Serena Joy

There’s really no way to make Yvonne Strahovski as ugly looking as her fictional counterpart—Nault’s Serena Joy really makes physical her emotional decay—but there’s just something about Strahovski’s acting (as well as a beautiful person being unallowed to play up her looks) that I really love. The show has attempted to make us sympathize with her, and I don’t think that’s possible with Serena Joy looking so gaunt.


I wanted to highlight Samira Wiley’s casting as Moira as one of the few times where I became disappointed in the book after I’d read it. There are times when an adaptation can improve on the original!

So tell me, friends:

  • Are you a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale casting? Or did the actors butt up against how you envisioned the characters?
  • Are there any movies or TV shows that completely nailed who you think of when you read the book?
  • Are there any that completely fail? (One of the reasons why I couldn’t watch The Passage was because all I saw was Zack Morris with a beard!)

Thoughts On: Book Adaptations

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

Done right, book adaptations are one of my favorite things to read. What’s not to love about revisiting favorite characters in a different setting, or with different life experiences, or even just at different ages? Although breathing life into original characters is hard work, tweaking well-loved fictional characters so that the source material’s fandom doesn’t come at you with torches and pitchforks is just as difficult. An author has to expand the established canon without destroying it, upsetting fans, or pushing the story that much outside of what’s expected that it’s no longer really an adaptation. (Hi, Fifty Shades of Grey.) Sherlock is one of my favorite shows and Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice is one of my favorite films – which is why I was actually quite excited about reading both A Study in Charlotte and Eligible.

Until I stopped reading Brittany Cavallaro’s YA novel 28% of the way through and reluctantly finished Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling and was like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. For both novels, there were too many annoyances that took me out of the story and straight into some variation of “why????” For instance, in only a couple of chapters of A Study in Charlotte, I already had a list of questions: Why does Jamie Watson suddenly have Hulk level anger fifteen pages into the story? (Because that anger needs to move the plot forward??) Why do Jamie and Charlotte call each other Watson and Sherlock at sixteen years old? (Because we need our main characters to??) Why did Cavallaro set her novel in a boarding school? Why sixteen and not eighteen? Why high school and not college??

And Eligible… #groan. Why did Sittenfeld change Charles to Chip but keep Fitzwilliam? Why does everyone call Bingley Chip but call Darcy Darcy? Why does William Collins still kiss Lizzy and propose marriage even though they’re step-cousins? (It’s still weird, okay, even if they’re technically not related.) Why does Charlotte move to California to live with Collins when they’re practically strangers? (Because Lizzy has to visit someone in order to meet-cute Darcy at Pemberley??) Why is Mrs. Bennet such a homophobic racist and Mr. Bennet such a stick in the mud about single parenthood? Why is Lydia’s marriage such a horrible awful thing???[1]

I don’t consider myself a capital-F fan of Sherlock Holmes, but I am one toward Pride and Prejudice. The push and pull relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy is akin to a sacred text. Get it right (I’m looking at you, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and I’m in a fangirl puddle over what’s going to happen and are Lizzy and Darcy going to get together and how is everything going to work out??? But get that dance wrong? Change just enough details in the wrong way? Suddenly it’s an affront to all things good and pure.

I understand that both Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice are in the public domain and so authors can do with it what they will, but, to me, neither A Study in Charlotte nor Eligible succeeded as a “modern retelling” of nineteenth- and eighteenth-century novels, respectively. In some instances, Cavallaro and Sittenfeld took the overarching themes of Conan Doyle’s and Austen’s novels and reworked them to make sense in the twenty-teens… and then, in other instances, they simply rehashed plot points to fit within the narratives even when they didn’t make sense. (For example, why make Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson direct ancestors of Holmes and Watson? Why not just make these new iterations the only Holmes and Watson? We already know they’re supposed to be facsimiles. Why not have plot points come naturally to the characters instead of forcing the characters to work around pre-determined plot points?)

I gave up on A Study in Charlotte, but I did power through Eligible. With every Pride and Prejudice retelling, a familiar reader will basically know in what situation the Bennet sisters will find themselves by the end of the story. But I was wholly underwhelmed with Sittenfeld’s specifics, and my takeaway was: would I have kept giving her novel unlimited chances to get better if it wasn’t a Pride and Prejudice retelling? The answer, unfortunately, turned out to be no, no I wouldn’t have.


Sittenfeld turns Wickham into Jasper Wick and makes him a total cad toward Lizzy only. The big blowup that spurs Darcy into white-knighting Lydia’s hush-hush marriage deals with her boyfriend Ham’s transgender status. My annoyance came not with Ham being transgender but with how many times Sittenfeld used the word in the span of two pages. After this “big reveal,” I just wanted the story to move forward. Like, I understand that Ham is trans… but, so what? He loves Lydia and she loves him. They are adults. They can legally get married. Why are you making such a big deal out of this????

Have your own thoughts on book adaptations? Let me know!

Top Ten: Book-to-Movie Adaptations I Still Need to Watch

logo-TopTenTuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme was book-to-movie adaptations I still need to watch / to which I’m looking forward. And, since I have so many freakin’ films on my to-watch list, the following are ones that have come out within the last year (or so).


Beasts of No Nation, based on Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala


Dark Places, based on Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


The Diary of a Teenage Girl, based on The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner


Foxcatcher, based on Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold by Mark Schultz


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, based on Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


The Martian, based on The Martian by Andy Weir


Paper Towns, based on Paper Towns by John Green


Room, based on Room by Emma Donoghue


The Theory of Everything, based on Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking


Unbroken, based on Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand