Have you read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon? Have you watched the new series? Elizabeth Eckhart joins us today with her views on the new series AND the actors who portray Jamie and Claire.
For the book that made it nearly impossible for librarians and book stores across the world to agree on a genre or classification, the transition from page to small screen is nothing short of miraculous.
Firstly, Diana Gabaldon is both ferociously proud and protective of her Outlander novels and characters. She has ranted against fan fiction, a feature many writers see as a sign that their work has “made it,” since she despises seeing her characters take actions she knows for a fact they would never do. As flattering as it may be for some authors, Gabaldon has zero tolerance for the manipulation of the characters that took her decades to perfect and flesh out – a trait that makes it difficult to believe she has finally allowed someone to have creative input after years of denying film hopefuls her work as the basis for a movie script.
In addition, Diana Gabaldon has been adamant that her novels are not romance. Sure, the books may center on two characters (Jamie and Claire) that have one of the most epic literary love stories of the past century, but Gabaldon contends that the novels are a better fit in the historical fiction section. She’s even seen her work classified as science fiction, due to the time-traveling element, and mystery – if readers pay attention, they will discover there is a mystery element in each of Gabaldon’s novels.
Gabaldon has gone so far as to personally write to the head of Barnes and Noble after countless letters to the staff beneath him, to address why she believed a smaller, but still notable, bookstore was selling 40% more of Gabaldon’s novels. She claimed that it was due to the fact that other book stores were not stacking her novels in “the effing romance section.” A few weeks later she received a personal phone call from the president, and shortly after that, her novels were reshelved.
Not that Gabaldon takes issue with romance, rather it’s the limiting stereotype of the genre and self-restricting audience that the author finds bothersome (try to remember the last time you saw a man wander into the romance section). Gabaldon knows that she has created a series where romance plays a central character, but is not the only character. Meaning that she feels her story will appeal not only readers and watchers who enjoy romance, but others who enjoy historical dramas, mysteries, and simply put, good storytelling.
Gabaldon actually took the matter of finding the perfect Jamie and Claire, to create the perfect romance, quite seriously; the chemistry between the two actors, Jamie’s ability to rile up women across the world, and Claire’s strong yet feminine personality, all had to be flawless for Gabaldon to approve further movement in production. So far, it seems Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan are inseparable from their roles – both the right amount of stubborn, brave, and intrigued by the other.
With eight novels and a ninth on the way, Gabaldon knew that a two hour film could hardly encapsulate the story she was set on telling. Battlestar Galactica producer, Ronald D. Moore, was the first to discuss a television series, with one season (17 episodes) per novel. This, it seems, fit Gabaldon’s taste. “Outlander is a very big story,” she says. “The very intricate plot fits together like the pieces of a watch. You start pulling things out and the whole thing isn’t going to work.”
Since 1991, the release of the first novel, rumors have been tossed around regarding possible screen productions, however, nothing caught the author’s attention or approval. Gabaldon insists that Moore’s pilot script was “the first thing I’ve seen based on my work that didn’t either make me turn white or burst into flame.”
The Outlander Starz series, which has gone the route of previous networks like DirecTV and Netflix by releasing episodes online for subscribers only, has received mostly positive reviews, though with only two episodes out it’s difficult to tell how well the series will perform. So far, audiences have commended the scenery, acting choices, and unique style that implements Claire’s narration in a similar style to the novels (although a few have complained the narration is overdone).
Readers have often commented that Gabaldon’s explanation of the romance between Claire and her first husband Frank was integral to the story. Though other writers may have rushed through the opening chapters, or more typically, pinned Frank as an abusive, boring, or lackluster husband, Gabaldon, and now the producers, have made sure to explain the deep connection between the original couple. Without demonizing Frank, Outlander shows a true struggle between two men, and two lives – both of which could have made Claire happy for different reasons.
The first episode followed this format to the tee, taking care to display the mutual affection and love between Claire and Frank before Claire is thrown back in time to 18th century Scotland. The producers also chose to not shy away from the sexual aspect of their relationship – important since Outlander fans are no strangers to love scenes, and cutting what defines major differences between Claire/Jamie and Claire/Frank would leave the Starz series lacking (from some serious plot points, and major steaminess points!). Though this is a positive feature now, there is perhaps a collective fear of how the show will approach later, more violent and graphic sex scenes with perverted, sadistic, antagonist Black Jack Randall. Skimming the scenes would undermine a major test Jamie must face, while spending too much time may cause some viewers to be turned off from the series.
The show has also been careful to avoid rushing romance between Jamie and Claire, again, following Gabaldon’s set path of believability. One of the best features of the novels (perhaps because Gabaldon was aware she had a good ten thousand pages to expand) is Jamie and Claire’s romance unfolding at a satisfying, but realistic pace. Claire does not quickly abandon her previous affections for a strapping young man – in fact, she fights it for as long as possible.
The scenery, which was appropriately filmed in Scotland, is often dubbed a character itself in the novels. Gabaldon’s extensive research, from the intricate detailing of costuming, language, setting, and even meals, has not been lost on the show’s producers. Starz teased viewers with Gaelic instructional videos prior to the premiere and, as hoped, the cast uses the language as frequently as their historical counterparts would. The shots of Scottish highlands, castles, and even fog and rain are undeniably breathtaking – hopefully everything that Gabaldon imagined while first constructing her novels. As it is now, the first episodes have, in one writer’s opinion, given stunning epics such as Game of Thrones a run for their money, without any use of special effects!
Of course, at the end of the day, only two episodes have aired, meaning there is plenty of room for error as the series continues. However, with Gabaldon’s nature regarding her work, it’s unlikely any aspect too far from the novels has escaped her notice. Which means plenty of Jamie, Claire, and Scottish adventures to enthrall us over the coming weeks and years (season two has already been confirmed!).
Are there any features of the show you found lacking, or are worried won’t be adequately represented on screen?
Join us on Wednesday for tech guru Pat Haggerty and his post – I went to RWA Nationals and got a lot more than a bag from Harlequin.
Bio: Elizabeth Eckhart graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from Loyola University. She enjoys blogging about books, film, and novel to screen adaptations in her free time. Outlander is one of her favorite series, but she’s also fond of other books that involve time travel, historical fiction (a favorite author is Philappa Gregory) and of course, romance!