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Friday Fun: The Glow Up- Novel Characters on the Screen

Happy Friday readers and welcome to the end of another week in 2020. We hope you are all hanging in there, safe, and healthy. Today we are talking about another fun facet of novel adaptations to screen: the character glow up.

When authors write characters, they have the opportunity to create them with not only personality quirks and flaws, but also specific physical attributes. Their characters might have specific scars, possess obvious physical disabilities, or have specific physical descriptions that include amputations or missing facial features such as one of the notable cases below. Now, if these stories land an adaptation either to the big screen or the small screen, then these characters get the Hollywood casting treatment, so our literary heroes might not look quite as we pictured them. Another side effect of the Hollywood treatment? The personality shift. Sometimes, a character personality is tweaked for the better, but mostly, arguably, a lot of good character traits don't make it into the screen play.

Now, sometimes these glow ups and shifts are not as obvious as others, or the characters are skillfully portrayed to the point we overlook the discrepancies between book character and screen character, but sometimes, the changes to appearance and personality are not only noticeable, but baffling. And sometimes, the changes are for the better. Let’s peel back the curtain here from some of the character changes made to ‘recent’ and popular book series.

The Glow Up

Tyrion Lannister- Game of Thrones

No one can argue Peter Dinklage didn’t own this role. His portrayal of the oft drunk and knowing Tyrion was one of the brightest points of the show. Whether you loathe the series finale or not, he was still a fan favorite to the end, a character you were hoping would survive GRRM’s literary sword. While Tyrion did suffer a few scars along the journey, his literary counterpart was chewed up and spat out by the Reaper a few times over.

“Tyrion’s fingers went to the great gash that ran from above one eye down to his jaw, across what remained of his nose. The proud flesh was still raw and warm to the touch.”

In the books, the battle of Blackwater left more damage on the eventual Queen’s hand than a roguish scar. Considering how grisly the character’s scarring is described in the novels, this may have been a visually distracting element the show runners chose not to include due to that jarring visceral effect.

Triss Merigold- The Witcher

The Netflix adaptation of the character may be different in the appearance department compared to the book and the game, but the character of the show’s personality matches closer to her novel counterpart. Unlike the full on romantic plot of the games, Triss’s romantic relationship in the books is mostly one sided, more in lust with Geralt than mutual feelings. Triss is more of a companion to Yennefer than she is to Geralt, and her lustful feelings for the white haired Witcher are a cause of friction between the two mages.

The Triss of the show might not be the same slightly malicious lusty redhead, but she is played by a beautiful actress, and her personality definitely received a glow up, arguably for the better.

The Personality Flip

Annabeth Chase- The Lightning Thief

If you are a fan of the Percy Jackson novels, by Rick Riordan, you may have had many issues with the film adaptations made of the first two books in the series in the early 2010’s. The films were indeed such a sore spot for many fans, there is a lot of fragile hope being placed on the new series coming from Disney. One of the big changes the film made for the worse was to the female lead, Annabeth Chase.

It wasn’t the changes to her appearance but rather the absence of Annabeth’s central role as a masterful tactician, the signature wisdom and intelligence she had as a daughter of Athena, and as the brains of the central protagonist trio. The character on screen was portrayed as a female warrior badass, straight sword board, and lacking the nuance of her literary counterpart who won battles with her mind.

Jace Wayland & Clary Fray- Shadowhunters

Ah the Shadowhunters. Despite a film and a television show that lasted several seasons, Hollywood has never quite managed to nail the appearance or personality of these characters compared to their book counterparts. While some aspects are there, and the film version of Jace is a dead ringer for his novel counterpart, there is just something missing.

This definitely falls into the grey mire of screen adaptation, where character traits and storylines that enrich and mold them are either cut short to fit a two hour window or stretched into oblivion to fill a 13- 20 episode season arc. (Or in some cases, plot points that were barely addressed and should have been, looking at you ‘possibly siblings?? plot’) While both the movie and the show fall short of offering a satisfying adaptation of the Shadowhunter series, we will always have the books.

Characters in adaptations receive tweaks to their appearance and personality for a number of reasons. Often these sort of changes do a disservice to rich and complex literary characters, though sometimes change is for the better When a production team actively chooses to diversify their cast, it is a much more palatable and important change than nixing a female character’s tactical intelligence.

What are some recent (or older) character book to screen adaptations you loved or you hated? Let us know!

Resources & Further Reading

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