Why Phillip Reeve disfigured Hester Shaw's face with a grotesque scar in Mortal Engines

Sunday, December 3, 2017
tom natsworthy and hester shaw

A little while ago I found a website called 'tall tales & short stories' and it featured an interview with Mortal Engines author Philip Reeve.

The article was six years old and site is now defunct but I did copy Reeve's thoughts on Hester Shaw and her scar with the view to using it somehow one day. 

So here we go...

The interview reveals quite the insight into why Reeve did the role reversal that many books and film shy from i.e. making the female lead quite and genuinely ugly. 

Name a famous movie or book in the last 10 years where the main character is truly hideously ugly.

I'll wait.

If you found one, good on ya. Maybe Aileen Wuornos in Monster?
hester shaw scar make up test
An artist's impression of Hester

Regardless, Hester Shaw is the clear fan favourite when it comes to the Mortal Engines series. While part of her might want to live a happy, healthy life, the Hyde to her Jackal is that she is a murderous wee thing with a hair trigger for some good old fashioned ultra violence.

And she's a bad mother....

So with that in mind, here's what Reeve said of Hester's scar after this interview question:

The main female character, Hester, in the Mortal Engines series is facially disfigured which I find an interesting, but welcome, choice for a female lead.

Was this a conscious decision made at the outset of writing the first book or did it evolve along the way? And what prompted this decision? 

Reeve's answer:

Women warriors are a bit of a cliche in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and they tend to be very glamorous or at least good looking.

But it struck me that people who live by their wits in wastelands tend not to be that glamorous or good looking, and who cares about beautiful people anyway?

So I decided right from the start to make Hester ugly, and I liked the idea that the hero would slowly fall in love with her anyway, which is far more interesting than having two gorgeous people seeing each other across a crowded room and falling in love.

Then it seemed to make sense to give Hester a scar, which she's received at the hands of the villain, so there's her initial motivation - revenge - right there on her face; she's like Captain Ahab with his missing leg!

sketch of hester shaw scar
But I didn't want it to be a little cosmetic scar - the Hollywood way of dealing with facial disfigurement is always to have somebody who's a bit messed up seen from one angle but is still gorgeous from most others.

So Hester's scar is really grotesque; I didn't want her to be pretty from any angle!

I think in the first book my idea was that actually, under this hideous exterior, she's lovely and sweet, but when I went back to write the sequel I thought that someone who had been through what she has, and looks as she does, probably wouldn't be sweet and well-adjusted, so she goes further and further off the rails as the series progresses, though I hope she remains sympathetic, and even attractive in a Ripley-ish way (Tom Ripley, that is, not Ellen*).


That pretty much encapsulates the character quite well! You'd of course naturally expect the author to have the best insight!

So the big question remains, what will Christian River's version of Hester look like in the ME movie?

Well the movie trailer shows that Hester has two eyes and no scarring from what we can see.

We've raised concerns that the trailer shows Hester with two eyes - but is there something under her scarf that will make dogs bark and angels weep?

Has Reeve's honorable vision been trumped by Hollywood...

*As in Ellen Ripley from the Alien films. 

1 comment:

  1. My girlfriend says: I read the books as a teen, am a MASSIVE fan, particularly of Hester, her determination, strength, struggle, her hideousness (an inspirational character to read about when I myself was having many struggles). The films are already a complete sell out as far as I'm concerned. In the books Reeve even takes the p*&s out of the media prettifying Hester with regard Pennyroyal's books... so so so so disappointed and feel very peeved and sad for Phillip Reeve, and wonder if he 'let' the movie-makers do this (for £££££) or if they've done it regardless of his wishes. Really depressing. Hate to think that a generation of youths will see the film only and not get ANY of the positive messages Reeve wrote into the books about shrugging off the shallow aesthetic oppression of women as objects that have to look attractive or are not 'worth' as much *insert word e.g. respect/attention/opportunities/care* unless they are beautiful. Yet here we see the clips and stills so far... everyone is a catalogue model or a catwalk model, not the wild variation in shape, age, and 'conventional attractiveness' of the real world or the books. Another small step backwards for society... another blow for womenkind.


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