Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Thousand Voices, A Thousand Faces

I recently reread The Hobbit, because the world is dark and full of terrors and I needed some good escapism. Of course, once you reread The Hobbit you almost have to go right into The Lord of the Rings, and I'm sure I'll be skimming The Silmarillion again before too long.

What was odd was, I noticed that Barliman Butterbur had started sounding like Rubeus Hagrid in my head.


Yeah, that guy.Which was odd because I'm fairly certain, back when I was a kid, that he didn't sound like Hagrid. But I'm also fairly certain he sounded close. And now I'm reading his lines again, and he doesn't sound like Hagrid. He's a bit higher pitched, and definitely a bit sharper when he speaks. And his cadence is faster, which is fitting for a guy who's run off his feet most of the time.

By the way, Butterbur doesn't sound like this guy:


Or look much like him neither, tell the truth. My Butterbur is a bit younger, a bit redder in the face, more lively overall. He doesn't have the muttonchops, but he does have a mustache I think, with less of a droop. And of course he's wearing a white apron.

Then there's Thorin Oakenshield.


Yeah, not him. My Thorin wears the blue cloak and a tasseled hat, with big gloves and bigger boots. Why gloves and boots? I don't know. His beard and hair are black, but his beard comes to a point and his mustache is slicked with a slight upward curve at the tips. He's about as broad as he is tall, like all the Tolkien dwarfs in my head, except Bombur who starts at broad-and-a-half. And he sounds pretty damn pompous when he speaks, and often ill-tempered - closer to Uther Lightbringer than Richard Armitage's leonine growl.

Movie Thorin is pretty great, and Armitage and the costumer deserve a lot of credit for bringing the character to life. But he's not the guy I see when I'm reading. And I don't see Martin Freeman or Elijah Wood or Sean Astin when I read Lord of the Rings.

Viggo Mortensen has crept into my Aragorn, but the one in my head is clean-shaven and looks younger. You can blame the book cover over on the left for that, it's the one that my local library stocked when I was a kid and reading the books for the first time. My Aragorn has longer hair, though, and a leaner face; but he has a deeper voice than Mortensen, too.


The Legolas on The Two Towers cover remains more my Legolas than Orlando Bloom, and he doesn't have a British accent. John Rhys-Davies has almost entirely replaced the vaguely-formed Gimli I kept in my head, though; mine's certainly not the one on that cover. As for Gollum, for years he was that black nightmarish thing on the old cover of The Hobbit. Now he's largely Movie Gollum, but he goes back to the nightmare whenever his eyes start to glow in the text. His voice is irrevocably Andy Serkis's now, though.

Is Ian McKellan Gandalf? He's crept in, to be sure, but my Gandalf wears big boots and a pointy hat at all times, with bushy intimidating eyebrows and a disapproving face that is not to be trifled with. In all honesty he's probably Sir Astral from Shining Force II - except even that's not right, because my Gandalf's eyebrows are black, and so are his eyes.


My Saruman's the big weirdo of the bunch, though, as he looks nothing like the one in the movie or the one described in the book. Mine has long hair, silver-blonde, and no beard. He's younger where Gandalf is older, smiling where Gandalf is frowning, and the robe of many colors works for him. His voice is soft, melodious, but ugly and hissing when he's unmasked. (My Google-fu is failing me here, but I suppose he's close to Primarch Fulgrim in the face and hair.)

Image via Noldofinve on DeviantArt
All of which is a really roundabout way of pointing out that when you're a writer, everyone is going to view your characters through a lens built out of their own experiences and predispositions. Sometimes that's going to be out of your control: the cover artist might spin a character a certain way, or the reader might skim a descriptive passage too fast and fill in something you didn't intend.

But! If you're consistent with your character's voice and her mannerisms, you can bring the reader closer to your intention. My Butterbur doesn't sound like anyone else's Butterbur, but he's closer than a stranger to the one in the movie. And I suspect everyone's Gandalf sounds at least a bit like Ian McKellan these days.

Are they any characters you hear or see in a non-traditional way?

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