Does the Outlander TV series faithfully represent the books? Or have the characters and the plot lines gone too far astray? Let’s take a look at the Outlander TV series, in comparison to Diana Gabaldon’s wonderful novels.
I began reading the Outlander books in 2005 after a glorious trip to Scotland. After I returned, I was missing Scotland horribly and Outlander was not only a way to revisit that beautiful country, but also a way to learn a little bit about its history. I fell in love with Claire and Jamie, and Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous storytelling skills. Thank goodness for me several of the books in her Outlander series had already been written, so I was able to continue exploring that world for several months in a row.
I came to the end of the series, and I had to wait an excruciating year for An Echo in the Bone. That was a wonderful novel which brought Clan Fraser up to the time of the American Revolution. Then I had another painful wait of five years until her latest novel, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, was released. In the meantime, I read all of Gabaldon’s short stories, as well as the Jamie-centric The Scottish Prisoner. But nothing would quench my thirst for Outlander like a full-fledged novel all about the adventures of Claire and Jamie, and John and Bree and Roger and Jemmy and Mandy and Ian and, last but very much not least, William. Although Written in My Own Heart’s Blood is not the best book in the series (my favorite to date is A Breath of Snow and Ashes) it was certainly more fulfilling than most novels you will pick up.
Outlander TV Series
Fast forward to the Outlander TV series premiere episode — nay event. Every time a book is adapted into a movie or a miniseries or a television show, fans of said book wait with knuckles between their teeth. Will their beloved characters be portrayed truthfully? Will the producers be able to capture the magic held between the covers of that near-sacred book? I am tremendously happy to report that Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica), with the help of the author herself, have replicated the epic scope, yet intimate characterization, that makes Outlander so, um, outstanding.
Prior to the Outlander TV series premiere, it had received minimum attention from the press. It seems like the only people waiting for Outlander to premiere were the book fans. But once the first episode aired, and was also made available on the Internet for free, viewers who had never read the books flocked to watch it.
I compare Outlander to Game of Thrones, because the story is more about the characters and their choices than it is about action and events. Don’t get me wrong; there is plenty of action. And for Game of Thrones fans, there’s also plenty of nudity and blood. But the quintessential human flaws of each of these characters, juxtaposed with the most noble traits a person can display, make the Outlander TV series impossible to miss. In fact, other than Game of Thrones, Outlander became the only appointment TV I’ve had this year. (And I even know what’s going to happen!)
Men and women have become avid viewers of Outlander, according to the stats in the press releases I receive. But I think it’s safe to say that Outlander’s female audience comprise the show’s most passionate watchers. Claire is a woman who is strong, intelligent, moral, and uncompromising. Telling the story from her point of view is refreshing, and affirming, to watch. A lot has been written about “The Wedding” episode and why those sex scenes appeal to women so much. All the articles I’ve read are spot on when they say that those sex scenes are appealing because Claire and Jamie equal partners, discovering each other. Claire is not submissive. Claire does not have to be either a virgin or a whore, the only two roles women are generally given in sex scenes. We see a woman who asserts herself in giving and getting pleasure.
It can’t be said that Outlander is a success without also saying that the show’s stars are responsible for the magnetic attraction between each other, and between themselves and the audience. Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe so faithfully and fully inhabit Claire and Jamie that I began new perspectives that I didn’t see in the book. Watching an exchange between two live humans showed me more of the awkward or offensive nature of a situation than seeing it from only one character’s point of view. Parentheses he outlander is written in first person. And parentheseswhen casting notices started coming in, some fans were pleased and summer out raged, which was to be expected. True, Caitriona may not have the large bum that book Claire has, but she masterfully portrays Claire’s fierce determination and capacity for love and compassion. Sam may not have an extra long nose like book Jamie, but he has subtly and charmingly created a strong, brave man in Jamie.
The supporting cast is just as talented. Graham McTavish as Dougal; Duncan Lacroix as Murtag; and Lotte Verbeek as Geillis Duncan. I must especially mention Tobias Menzies (who happens also to be on Game of Thrones) as Frank Randall and Black Jack Randall. Menzies made me sympathetic toward Frank in a way I had not felt before. As for his portrayal of Black Jack, well, let’s just say he knows how to portray a villain without going over the top.
At the end of the season, many Outlander TV series fans were crying in their tea cups because the episode ended on a doozy of a cliffhanger and they have to wait to find out what happens. But as all the fans of the books can attest, a six-month wait is a nothing compared to the exquisitely painful wait between each of Diana Gabaldon’s novels.