I came across an unusual post on My Modern Met the other day. It featured the work of artist and filmmaker Brian Joseph Davis, specifically his ongoing project The Composites. The project produces police sketches based on what the book descriptions suggest and is a wonderful example of the power of words to create an image in a reader’s mind. Davis created the images using commercially available law enforcement sketch software and manipulated the black and white images to fit the author’s vision.
It is doubly interesting to see how the descriptions came to life in films, in the case of books that have been turned into movies, as My Modern Met has done in its post.
Jack Torrance, The Shining, Stephen King
Ullman folded his neat little hands on the desk blotter and looked directly at Jack, a small, balding man in a banker’s suit and a quiet gray tie… Danny’s face, so much like his own had been, his eyes had been light blue while Danny’s were cloudy gray, but the lips still made a bow and the complexion was fair…His eyes were far away and cloudy. His hair hanging in his eyes, like some heavy animal. A large dog… or a lion.
Norman Bates, Psycho, Robert Bloch
The light shone down on his plump face, reflected from his rimless glasses, bathed the pinkness of his scalp beneath the thinning sandy hair as he bent his head to resume reading…”Looking for a room?“ Mary made up her mind very quickly, once she saw the fat, bespectacled face and heard the soft, hesitant voice. There wouldn’t be any trouble…The puckered lips were beginning to tremble…The eyes behind the fat man’s glasses seemed vacant.
Annie Wilkes, Misery, Stephen King
Her body was big but not generous… Her hair like some battered helmet…Her hair fungus-frowzy around her face…Grinning rictus…He thought Misery was a wonderful name for a pig. He remembered how she had imitated it, the way her upper lip had wrinkled toward her nose, how her cheeks had seemed to flatten…The impervious prow of her face…If he had been a farmer observing a sky which looked the way Annie’s face looked right now, he would have at once gone to collect his family and herd them into the storm cellar. Her brow was too white. Her nostrils flared regularly, like the nostrils of an animal scenting fire…That stony, obdurate look covered her face like a mask…Only her eyes, those tarnished dimes, were fully alive under the shelf of her brow.
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin, we even have the same gray eyes. But we’re not related, at least not closely…They erase my face with a layer of pale makeup and draw my features back out. Huge dark eyes, full red lips, lashes that throw off bits of light when I blink…My legs, arms, torso, underarms, and parts of my eyebrows have been stripped of the Muff, leaving me like a plucked bird, ready for roasting…I may be smaller naturally, but overall my family’s resourcefulness has given me an edge in that area. I stand straight, and while I’m thin, I’m strong…Then Venia goes to work on my hair, weaving strands of red into a pattern that begins at my left ear, wraps around my head, and then falls in one braid down my right shoulder.
Daisy Buchanan, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth…a conscientious expression…Slenderly, languidly…an expression of unthoughtful sadness…her cheeks flushed…she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society…a bright ecstatic smile…Aching, grieving beauty… For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery…A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek…
The Monster, Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began…How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing… but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.
Marla Singer, Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
My power animal is Marla… Black hair and pillowy French lips. Faker. Italian dark leather sofa lips…Marla stares up at me. Her eyes are brown. Her earlobes pucker around earring holes, no earrings…She actually felt alive. Her skin was clearing up…Marla never has any fat of her own, and her mom figures that familial collagen would be better than Marla ever having to use the cheap cow kind…Short matte black hair, big eyes the way they are in Japanese animation, skim milk thin, buttermilk sallow in her dress with a wallpaper pattern of dark roses…Her black hair whipping my face…The color of Marla’s brown eyes is like an animal that’s been heated in a furnace and dropped into cold water. They call that vulcanized or galvanized or tempered.
Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
A pale, skinny young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck…On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, a dragon tattoo can be seen on her left shoulder blade. Her natural hair colour was red, but she had dyed it ivory black…Crooked smile.
Christian Grey, Fifty Shades of Grey, written by E. L. James
Unruly dark copper-colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly. He’s watching us like a hawk, his eyes hooded and speculative, his mouth a hard, impassive line.
If you found this inspirational for your writing, check out Davis’ The Composites for dozens of more images!
Interesting how some movies came close to what the illustrator came up with and others not. Probably a natural thing–as what works on screen is a different phenomenon than the narrative word.
Agreed! Obviously, there are many factors at play when casting, so it was actually surprising how close some were to the book description.
This was brilliant! Happy New Year to you and yours Nicholas 🙂
So glad you enjoyed it, Debbie! Thank you 🙂
Really enjoyed this, Nicholas! Thanks for sharing…
Yay! Thank you, Sarah 🙂