No, Ally Condie, You’re Pronouncing it Wrong
April 5, 2014
They’re officially making an Eleanor and Park movie!!
And Rainbow Rowell is writing the screenplay!!
I just had to get that order of business out of the way right off the bat. I’m so excited that RR is so involved and can ensure that the story is honored properly.
This exciting adaption news brought again to the forefront of my mind the old question of the movie of Matched by Ally Condie. I really want a Matched movie, you guys. I can’t help it. I’m a romantic fangirl. The IMDB page still hasn’t firmed up any comforting details about the progress that may or may not be being made, but the page is still there, and I’m just gonna take that as good news.
But here’s the hitch. Yesterday, out of the blue, as horrific revelations so often are, I was suddenly struck in the gut with the force of a fact that I long ago buried somewhere deep in my subconscious.
The official pronunciation of Cassia (the protagonist’s name)… is CASH-uh.
Every time I think about this fact, my whole body trembles with “no”. From the very first page, I have pronounced Cassia “cass-EE-uh”. And though it may seem odd, yes, it is a big deal for me. Cass-EE-uh feels to me like a perfect and immutable representation of Cassia’s character, nay, her very soul. And because Cassia’s affair with Ky, the boy her dystopian society doesn’t want her to be with, is characterized from the start by his name appearing accidentally on the screen that tells her who her official soul mate is, as well as the fact that Ky later spends time secretly teaching Cassia to write both of their names (in the world of Matched, writing by hand is illegal), names are a very symbolic and central part of their relationship.
I am so invested in my own personal and– if we operate on the author’s-word-is-the-last-word philosophy– incorrect pronunciation that I fear it could severely impact my enjoyment of the movie. How can I swoon over the quiet and tender romance scenes with Ky twanging out CASHuh as he takes her in his arms?
This crisis has gotten me thinking. This incident of misinterpreting details and ending up out of sync with my fellow readers at large was not an isolated one. I somehow always pictured Four in Divergent (that well-known standalone novel with no sequels! La la la la!) as blonde and blue-eyed, even though I’m pretty sure he was specifically described as having dark hair and eyes. Even more bizarrely, for the first three books in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, I pictured one of the main characters as entirely the wrong race. Despite being well aware that his family was from China, it was only in House of Hades that I finally got it through my muddled head that Frank Zhang has a traditionally Asian appearance, and is not African-American. How could I possibly have gotten that image? The world may never know.
Do I have a point other than that I’m crazy and a sloppy reader, and that Ally Condie’s pronunciation of a name she invented is objectively incorrect? I guess what I’m wondering is how important it is that our understanding of a story carefully follow what the author intended. I mean, I certainly think just enjoying what you read is a highly legitimate goal—that’s kind of the premise of this site. But authors make choices, even ones about fine details, carefully and with good reason.
My other point is that the whole process of playing out a story within our minds is pretty fascinating. How much do we actually visualize what we’re reading, like a mental movie, and how much are the images more subconsciously perceived? I can’t really even answer that question about myself. But I would love to hear what a neuroscientist has to say about it. A lot of times, when I really try to picture a character clearly, I can’t do it. Their features kind of wobble and melt and shift, like a boggart that can’t figure out what your greatest fear is. I actually think it’s easier for me to picture scenery than faces; what makes it easier, for either one, is when I end up picturing a person or place from my real life. Although it can be a little strange when I have a casual acquaintance mentally cast in a story. (Anecdote: I incredibly clearly pictured Jessica Darling from Meghan McCafferty’s books as Anna Kendrick, who played Jessica in Twilight. Weird stuff.)
Have you had times when you got off track about a pronunciation or image and ended up traumatized when you realized the discrepancy? And how much do you picture things while reading? Please share your thoughts in the comments.