Casting Claire (or How To Stop #Outlander Casting Bashing)

 

Claire_Fraser_(Outlander_TV)
Wait…are her eyes brown in this picture?

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.

Maybe not.

I dunno.

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.

 *Clears throat.*

*Wipes tear.*

*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.

 

 

[i] “She turned to Roger, her gaze an unsettling amber.  Her eyes always reminded him of hawk’s eyes, as though she could see a good deal father than most people.”  Voyager.
[ii] And this is where I would tuck in the quote about her flat belly that I recall from Voyager, when she is appraising her appearance and wondering how she will look to Jamie, after all these years… or at least this is where I would put the quote if I had book to hand and could find it at the moment
[iii] Or 126 pounds.  I rather like that she “owns” each pound; her answer is neither coy nor self-conscious.
[iv] To which Jamie responds something like, “I like ye fat.”  A response that made me crush on him pretty hard, and which every male would be well advised to learn and use when needed.
[v] See what I did there?
[vi] Please notice that I said “some,” not “all.”  If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t assume I am trying to shove your foot into it.

Why I Encouraged My Teenage Daughter to Read #Outlander

When I was fourteen, I read Flowers in the Attic. Several of the other girls in my grade were reading it…whispering about it…stashing it away when the teachers walked by. Of course, I had to read it, too.  I was lucky; my mother was always happy to buy me books (although, had she read the book herself, she might have rethought that, at the time).

Some of my schoolmates had borrowed the book from their own mothers…and by “borrow” I mean that they took the book after their moms left for work and then slipped it back into place before their moms came home in the evening. In the time in between, we consumed the story with a kind of perverse fascination.

So this was what grown-ups read!

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300So when my own fourteen year old asked if she could borrow my battered copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I didn’t hesitate long before passing the book to her. My heart skipped a beat as she dashed to her room to start reading but, to be perfectly honest, this was likely more concern for the fate of my beloved book than for how my daughter would react to the story.

No, that was a given.

This was one of those books that would leave a mark on her soul.

Some stories do that…they stay with you forever. I simply wanted to make sure that her first Adult Book was one worthy of the honor.

I read a lot of the same books that my daughter reads. Not because I am policing her reading, but because I want to share in it. When she comes to me sobbing over some book betrayal, I need to know who has earned those tears. But some of the books targeted to teenagers seem to portray the female protagonists as perpetually enduring some Great Tragedy, or waiting for a male character to define them/save them/notice them/love them.

Not all of the stories, mind you. There are some really good YA books with strong female characters who represented a wide range of diversity. But, honestly, we waded through a lot of simpering fools to find a few strong female protagonists. And a lot of the love interests shown in the books were either sparkly or broody. Many were emotionally manipulative or controlling. If she was going to have a “book boyfriend,” I wanted better for her.

So when I realized that my daughter seemed interested in this massive tome which made me laugh out loud, and ugly cry, and real passages aloud for the simple pleasure of feeling the words on my lips, I didn’t discourage it.

In fact, I encouraged it.

I scoured the books to find passages which showed the strength of love, the resilience of the human spirit, the anguished soul clawing its way out from the pits of despair. Some passages I read aloud. But sometimes, I left the book conspicuously next to the sofa—pages temptingly dog-eared—like an offering.

So when she finally asked to borrow the book, it was a relief, really.

“Where are you?” I’d ask eagerly. But not too eagerly.

The book served as a way to talk about hard things, scary things, awkward things… We talked about love and sex and respect and mutual pleasure and consideration between couples. We talked about marriage and expectations and the roles we construct for ourselves (and those that others wish to inflict on us). We talked about sexuality and about when feelings aren’t reciprocated. We spoke of honor and vows. Of promises kept…or not. We shared tears and heartbreak and loss. We talked about rape and brutality…and of healing. We spoke of hope and faith and trust.  We talked about when to hold on; we talked of when to let go.

I let my fourteen year old daughter read the book not in spite of the fact that the books is mature, but because it is. I let her read the book because I know that a book can be more than just entertainment—more than just a story.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a book can be a conversation…or at least the beginning of one.

 

#Outlander, the Icky Bits, and Nutella

I haven’t weighed in on Season 2 of Outlander yet.  Maybe I was letting it sink in, perhaps I needed to process it a bit…to decide just what I felt about it.

Other fans shared their thoughts and opinions.  I heard talk about how Episode 1 Jamie seemed remote, hard to relate to, almost wooden.   They bemoan the change and how Season 2 Jamie isn’t “their” Jamie–how he’s not the same as Season 1 Jamie.

And, of course, they are right.

They mention the rape, talk about his PTSD, and how he is traumatized.  Yes, yes.  Of course he is.  But a lot of these comments are followed up with the something like, “I’ll be glad when the old Jamie is back.” 

What they likely mean, of course, is that they will be glad when camera focuses less on Jamie’s pain and trauma and gets back to the good times.  They want less screen time that focuses less on his nightmares and more on his smile, his wit, and his cute tush.

And I get it.

I do.

Or maybe they simply mean that they want his suffering to end.  That’s not bad, right?  I mean, they really like Jamie.  Who wants to see someone they like in pain?

But, really, if one of our BFFs suffered a trauma, would we try force “normalcy” on her so quickly?  Or would we give her time to cry, to grieve, to bury her pain in a pint of Ben & Jerrys (or a pint of Guinness, I won’t judge), and to curse the son of a bitch that hurt her…all while we planned his very painful and humiliating demise?

Sometimes you need to hang out in your sweat pants and watch bad Lifetime movies while eating Nutella straight from the jar.  Sometimes that chocolate-hazelnut goodness is all that gets you through the day.

These episodes…they are Jamie’s Nutella Days.  The guy has earned it.  Don’t try to take the jar away just yet.

Yes, broken Jamie is painful to watch.  Broken Jamie doesn’t want to think about Sexy Time.  Broken Jamie is short tempered and doesn’t whisper sweet nothings in Gaelic.

Geez.  Next thing you know, Broken Jamie will start talking about bills, and carpool, and he’ll leave the toilet seat up…

But the thing is, people are like that.  Life is like that.  Love is like that.

There are things you simply can’t rush.  You can’t rush healing.  You can’t rush forgiveness (of yourself or of others).  You can’t rush growth, or understanding, or love.

One of the things I love so much about the books is how Diana Gabaldon doesn’t rush things.  She doesn’t write Jamie’s rape and then pretend it never happened.  We are reminded of it– Jamie is reminded of it—over and over and over again.

Diana Gabaldon did not merely craft a character and a scene.  She crafted scars for him to bear, specters to haunt him, guilt to chain him, and faith to heal him. Her books gave Jamie—and the readers—time to work through what happened and its implications.  She breathed life into fantasy.

Jamie’s rape casts a long shadow, and it reaches through the books and colors events for many years to come.  I appreciate that what he endured was not a simple plot device that, once used, is swept under the rug.  The thread of Jamie’s sacrifice is woven through all of the books…through each page (oh, so many pages) of all of the books (those wonderfully long books!).

Have I mentioned that I love long books?  (Thank you, Diana!)

I do.

Because you can’t rush a good story.

Stories are more than just the good parts.  Life is more than just the good parts.  Love is more than just the good parts.

So I will watch patiently.  I will bear witness to the painful bits, the heartbeats of sorrow, and the moments of aching longing, because these times are the building blocks for what is to come.

Things get better.  They do.  Wounds heal.  Disappointments fade.

Both on screen and on the page…and in life.

Until then, pass the Nutella.

#Outlander and All The Feelings Ever

There is a reason I rarely wear eye make-up.  Well, besides the fact that I am lazy and hate having to take the blasted stuff off, plus it makes my lashes feel inordinately heavy, which makes me think that it must be time to go to sleep).  Mostly, I avoid mascara because, inevitably, it will end up in wet, black tracks down my face.  Call it the burden of being an empath.

For as long as I can recall it seems that other peoples troubles weigh on me as heavily as my own.  If a friend gets dumped, I grab a pint (of ice cream or beer, I don’t judge) right along with her.  When she starts looking for a house, I giddily sign up for house alerts on Zillow.  Those closest to me know to never send weepy memes to me without a *Kleenex Warning.*

Yesterday, I made the mistake of reading a mother’s letter to J. K. Rowling.  Of course I ugly-cried at my desk and hoped all that walked by might think it nothing more than a bit of spring fever.  Even now, when I called my bleary eyed daughter down from bed to read it to her before I left for work, I choked on the words and she had to make an emergency kleenex run before I flooded my keyboard.  (I have taught her well.)

This blessing/curse of feeling All The Feelings Ever also happens when I read.  As a general rule, I avoid books that contain abducted children for this very reason.  (Although I did watch “Room” recently with my eldest child.  We both ended up screaming “Jump!” at the screen while we ugly cried together.  It was oddly satisfying.)

SPOILER WARNING: THIS THE IS PART WHERE I START TALKING ABOUT OUTLANDER

This All The Feels Ever thing is probably also why I read (and re-re-re-re-read) the Outlander books.  It is why I wept mercilessly at the end of Dragonfly in Amber and called over my daughter as I tried to choke through Jamie and Claire’s parting.  It is why I rejoiced when they were reunited in Voyager.  It is probably why I got so incredibly angry when Lady Sassy-Pants blackmailed Jamie.  It is why the sound of the bodhran sent a shock wave up my spine in  A Breath of Snow and Ashes.  Even now, when I read that bit, I have to read it aloud.  And every time, every single time, I get goosebumps:

I sat up, listening hard. It was a drum with a sound like a beating heart, slow and rhythmic, then trip-hammer fast, like the frantic surge of a hunted beast.

I could have told them that Indians never used drums as weapons; Celts did. It was the sound of a bodhran.

What next? I thought, a trifle hysterically, bagpipes?

It was Roger, certainly; only he could make a drum talk like that. It was Roger, and Jamie was nearby.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, chapter 28 (“Curses”). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The All The Feels Ever Thing works both ways–for good and for bad.  Sure, after Wentworth I could barely function, but there might have been a good bit or two in the books to help balance that out.  *blushes furiously*

*ahem*  Moving on…

I’m not sure if the All The Feels Ever thing is genetic or not, but I am fairely sure my mid-kid has it.  She recently took to binge-watching Switched at Birth on Netflix.  This resulted in her bawling and using an entire box of kleenex when someone was cheated on by someone else.  The knowledge that my genetic predisposition would continue on would have been much more endearing if I was not then re-re-reading a certain bodhran scene and had need of kleenex myself.

My husband rolls his eyes at us both and quietly slips off to buy more tissue.  He knew early on what he was getting into.  He teases me about crying over an old Lifesaver commercial and a certain episode of the Simpsons.  Yeah, he knew just fine what I was all about.

I used to wonder about this.  This whole All The Feelings Ever thing.  But then Outlander, as it so often does, offered me an explanation.  In An Echo in the Bone, Claire has to leave her beloved cheetie Adso behind.

“Go on, then,” I said, and set him on the ground.  He stood for a moment, tail waving slowly, head raised in search of food or interesting smells, then stepped into the grass and vanished.

I bend, very slowly, arms crossed, and shook, weeping silently, violently.

I cried until my throat hurt and I couldn’t breathe, then sat in the grass, curling into myself like a dried leaf, tears that I couldn’t stop dropping on my knees like the first fat drops of a coming storm.  Oh, God.  It was only the beginning.

I tubbed my hands hard over my eyes, smearing the wetness, trying to scrub away grief.  A soft cloth touched my face, and I looked up, sniffling, to find Jamie kneeling in front me, handkerchief in hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said very softly.

“It’s not–don’t worry, I’m . . . He’s only a cat,” I said, and a small fresh grief tightened like a band round my chest.

“Aye, I know.”  He moved beside me and put an arm around my shoulders, pulling my head to his chest, while he gently wiped my face.  “But ye couldna weep for the bairns.  Or the house.  Or your wee garden.  Or the poor dead lass and her bairn.  But if ye weep for your cheetie, ye know you can stop.”

“How do you know that?”  My voice was thick, but the band round my chest was not quite so tight.

He made a small, rueful sound.

“Because I canna weep for those things, either, Sassenach.  And I havena got a cat.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE, chapter 12 (“Enough”). Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Maybe I can’t weep for my husband’s heart attack and the resultant health problems.  I can’t weep for the mass in my mother’s lung.  I can’t weep for the heart tests that my eldest daughter is enduring.  If I start, I don’t know that I can stop.  But I can find some escape, some joy, and the release of some much needed tears between the pages of a book.  And, for that, I am so grateful.

The First Rule of #Outlander Book Club

photo
The only rule for Book Club, is bring whisky!

This month is the month that I am hosting a book club. The rules* are simple: (1) the person hosting the event gets to pick the book; (2) she also provides the wine (or, in my case, whisky) and snacks; and (3) anyone who fails to finish reading the book before Book Club must make amends through a gift of wine (or obviously, in my case, whisky).

I know you will be shocked to learn that for my Book Club title, I chose…Outlander. Inconceivable, I know. *ahem* Right. (And, no, I did not simply choose the book because it is really long and could result in compensatory whisky for me.** Mphmm. Cynics!)

A few of the ladies in Book Club have actually already read Outlander, but they are going to re-read it in preparation. Others have never read it and are only now being initiated into All Things Outlander. I exchanged numerous texts today with one such Outlander Initiate who can now count herself among the legions of JAMMF fans. I recognize the giddy biblio-high on which she is riding: the frantic texting, the swooningly sweet recitations of dialogue…yep, she has it bad.

When I suggested (okay, demanded) Outlander as my Book Club selection, I was drunk with power. Finally, I could inflict SHARE Outlander with other book lovers. I could talk about it in detail without eye rolls and murmurs of “obsessed” and “needs a life” being whispered behind polite smiles. No, after they read it, they, too, would finally understand.

I quickly invited even more people to join Book Club because, kind soul that I am, when I find am amazing book I want to share it. And I was prepared to share it, truly I was. I had dog-eared numerous “important sections,” and I had highlighted all the good parts (sooooo many good parts), and I had even discussed appropriate Scottish themed food and beverage (*cough* whisky *cough*) selections with my husband.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the sense of…of what? Ownership? Protectiveness?–I felt towards the book. I didn’t expect to feel such a need for them to understand it, to be carried away by it, to love it as much as I did. Perhaps it is a wee bit like taking a significant other home to meet your parents, or *gulp* your closest friends. You want so much for them see the best in the other, to get along, to adore the other as much as you do. Sometimes they do…but sometimes they don’t.

It is now just one week until Book Club. Time will tell whether I have added to the book’s legion of fans, or if the book simply didn’t speak to them as it had to me. Still, I am hoping, and planning, and making a list of all of my favorite parts from the first book to share next week. Because when you make these introductions, you always do want to make a good impression.

So, while I fret and worry and obsess over which whisky pairs best with Outlander, feel free to help me win over the newbies by sharing your favorite moments, quotes, scenes, and characters from the first Outlander book in the comments, and I will make sure to bring up these epic bits up at Book Club!

* Actually, there is just one hard and fast rule: BRING WHISKY!

** That is a perk, to be sure, but that was not my motive. (However, slow readers be advised: I like Islay whisky best; Laphroaig and Arbeg are personal favorites.)