Her hair is brown, curly, and rather unruly. Her eyes are the color of whisky; they are hawkish and observant[i]. At 5”6, her nose fits neatly in the hollow of Jamie’s chest. Despite her generous bum and her full bosom, she is trim.[ii] In the first book, Claire responds to Jamie’s blurted inquiry of “How much do you weigh, Sassanach,” with the unguarded answer of “Nine stone.”[iii] These are the physical attribute of Claire—this is what she sees when she looks in the mirror. Although, to be fair, considering the fictional life she lives, she doesn’t always have one to hand. But that’s perfectly fine, because more often than not, Claire does give a rat’s ass if she looks “proper” or not.
Besides her lack of preoccupation with appearance, one of the things I love best about Claire is that her appearance is not static. It changes. She changes. During times of trial and hardship, she loses weight; her stomach becomes nearly concave. One cold winter, when activity is understandably limited due to the weather, Claire describes herself as “squidgy.”[iv] Her hair starts to turn, some strands fade to white while others take on a silvery sheen. Her ankle is marked by a broken vein. Faint stretch marks are a testament to her feminine form.
And yet, based on (or in spite of) the words on the page, readers undoubtedly find themselves in Claire:
She is tall like me (…or short like me…)
She is curvy, like me (…or thin, like me…or has a round rear-end, like me…)
This seeing ourselves in the characters may be one of the reason that readers be so emotionally invested in the appearance of their beloved book characters when they do finally make an appearance on the screen.
Unfortunately, whenever a character is cast, it seems that the Appearance Police make their own appearance…
Hmmph, Brianna’s hair is so not that shade of red. Cant’s they just use the dye they use for Jamie?
Claire’s eyes should be whisky colored. Seriously, how hard would it be to wear contacts?
Brianna should be taller. Geez, can’t she just, like, wear some platform shoes?
Roger’s hair should be blacker. *produces bottle of hair dye and waves it threateningly*
Claire is too thin (…or too curvy).
Jamie’s hair is too short (…or long….or red…or curly…or fuzzy…) Because, you know, they totally had some great hair products back in the 1700s… Bear grease, anyone?
Admittedly, it seems like the screams of outrage are louder for the casting of the female characters. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall having heard too much drama over the casting of Dougal (Disclaimer: I love Graham. Seriously. Not hating on Graham. But, if you want to get picky, he really doesn’t look like Book Dougal. And yet…no drama. But geez, let poor Catriona rock her own eye color rather than some boozy hue and OMG! The Skye[v] is Freakin’ Falling!).
It seems that of All The Things I Stage Whisper To My Husband While Watching Outlander, none of these things are about physical attributes. Mostly, because I tend to read characters and develop a “sense” of them rather than a mental image. So I’m kind amazed when I see how absolutely rabid some[vi] of the Mental Imagers have with regard to the casting.
I just don’t get it.
But as I read all of the Twitter (and Facebook) outrage over the latest round of castings, it made me want to understand. The best I can come up with is this: maybe those qualities that the Casting Blasters believe they share with the main character weren’t retained, and it makes them sad to miss that perceived connection.
But I do know that Jamie loved Claire when she was bony and when she was squidgy. He loved her when she was his brown haired lass, when glints of white shone in her curls, and even when her head was shaved. He loved her pre-stretch marks, and he loved her even more when the marks—these tangible evidence of the life they created– wove their silvery web across her stomach. He loved her unconditionally. Because Jamie loved the essence of Claire…not her appearance.
While lovely, Claire was so much more that that. Jamie knew it. Hell, even Lord John knew it:
“When he began to speak of you, both of us thought you were dead,” he pointed out. “And while you are undoubtedly a handsome woman, it was never of your looks that he spoke.”
To my surprise, he picked up my hand and held it lightly.
“You have his courage,” he said.
*Drains whisky glass.*
So, I am thinking that maybe it would help if instead of Casting Bashing, we channel our inner-Jamie and wait and see how an actor/actress actually acts before we judge him/her. We need to give them time to “show us what they got,” so to speak.
This approach works really well with fictional characters…come to think of it, it works pretty well for Real Life People, too.