Outlander – In Which a Small Complaint is Made

Okay. I’ve been trying not to do this, because I really hate when people bag on things just to bag on them. There are, of course, exceptions. Twilight. 50 Shades of Grey.  Donald Trump.

But I have to say this, because it’s bothering me, and because it’s important to me.

Writers of the Outlander TV show, STOP CHANGING MY BOOKS!!!

Outlander-1991_1st_Edition_coverI first picked up Outlander when I was in high school. 20+ years ago. (Never mind the exact number of years; not important.) My mom ordered it, along with Dragonfly in Amber, from Doubleday, and I devoured them both. I’d never read anything remotely like them, and I was a voracious reader – I’d gone through the Shannara chronicles, and Dean Koontz, and there wasn’t a moment of the day when I didn’t have a book to hand. I fell in love with Jamie and Claire and the Scottish Highlands, and the use of the first-person narrative. I fell in love with Diana Gabaldon’s writing style, her attention to detail, the smallest little turns of phrase that snagged me deep inside and stayed with me, long after the covers were closed. I loved that every small thing led to something else. I loved that they were character-driven. I loved Claire’s sarcasm and her refusal to relinquish her 1945 sensibilities and independence, even in 1743 Scotland.

And like most readers, I’d spent years wondering:  if these were ever made into movies, who would play the characters? Likely someone I’d never heard of, I was sure. And honestly, I have no issue with any of the actors. They’re marvelous. Especially Tobias Menzies, who does such a fantastic job portraying Jack Randall that I was actually having flashbacks in the Season 2 premiere when he was playing Frank.

No, I’m good with the actors. It’s the writers I’m having trouble with.

Yes, these are incredibly long books. Outlander is 627 pages (the 20th anniversary edition); Dragonfly in Amber is at least twice that. So I understand that some scenes need cut, and others merged. That’s okay – as long as the characters stay the same.

But they’re not.

1376218157DragonflyhbDelacorteTake, for example, the first few episodes of Season 2, where they are trying to stop Charles Stuart from raising the funds he needs to invade England. In the books, this is as much Jamie’s idea as it is Claire’s. He’s not being dragged along for the ride; he’s convinced that this is the best thing possible, the only way to save Lallybroch, the clans, and the Highlands. Does he doubt? Of course. He wants to see an independent Scotland as well, but he’s also convinced that Claire knows what she’s talking about. But in the show? He acts like this is all Claire’s idea, and he’s just doing it because she says so. It’s maddening.

Still, I could forgive that, if Claire was who she’s supposed to be. I feel the writers understand every other character in the books are are being truly faithful to them – but not Claire.

And. It. Drives. Me. Nuts.

Take, for example, the scene in Outlander where she and Geillis Duncan are tried as witches. In the show, Claire is a victim, pure and simple. She never fights back; she never even really defends herself. In the book, though . . .

“So I’ve the choice of being condemned as a witch or being found innocent but drowned, have I?” I snapped. “No thank you!”

The judge puffed himself up like a threatened toad.

“You’ll nae speak before this court without leave, woman! Do ye dare to refuse lawful examination?”

“Do I dare refuse to be drowned? Too right I do!”

Does it cost her in the end? Yes, a bit, but we’re right there with her, cheering her on anyway, because we get it. We’d do the same thing. Or at least, we want to think we’d do the same thing. But in the show she’s – so quiet. So passive. So . . . boring. We get flashes of her true self, but only flashes – for instance, when she’s trying to bind Jamie’s shoulder in the first season, by the side of the road, and cusses when the bandage slips. That’s from the book. So is the wonderful line, “You can bloody mind your own business and so can St. Paul!” I think it’s because we can’t get into her head in the show the way we can in the books – but still, there are ways to do it and the writers are simply not getting it done.

There’s another key scene, left out of the show, that I adored and wish had been put in. It was, in fact, the scene I was most looking forward to seeing. When Claire is first taken to Jack Randall at the fort, she goes through the office before Randall comes in, and  . . . I opened a small cupboard behind the desk and discovered the Captain’s spare wig . . .Carrying the wig stand over to the desk, I gently sifted the remaining contents of the sander over it before replacing it in the cupboard.

A small, spiteful bit of revenge, but I love the visual.

There’s other things that bother me, too – not scenes missing, exactly, but scenes made up.

I was fully expecting the Season 2 premiere to start off with Roger and Brianna, in the 1960s. Not a long-winded thing in which she basically forgets Jamie in a week’s time. Having been there and done that, I can tell you flat out, no one recovers from losing someone who was your world in one week. Not one year. Maybe not one lifetime. And especially when Gabaldon had done such a masterful job of portraying Frank and Claire’s marriage after her return as one full of tension and mistrust – he never full forgave her, nor did he ever truly understand or believe her – it was disappointing to see Claire throw Jamie aside so easily in the show. Not just disappointing:  practically treasonous.

Likewise, there wasn’t any need to lie to Jarrod about why they were in Paris and why they needed access to the Jacobite leaders. In the book, Jarrod hires Jamie to oversee his business while he’s out of the country; what Jamie does while he’s gone isn’t his concern. Jamie himself, as Lord Broch Tuarach, is able to gain access to the Paris nobility, and as a fellow Scot, gain the trust of Charles Stuart. No problems.

These books are beloved by millions. They shaped my writing. I’ve read them dozens and dozens of times. These characters live and breathe in my imagination. I’ve walked the Hopital des Anges in my mind, and Lallybroch. I probably know them better than the show’s writers do.

I truly believe Caitriona Balfe is doing the best she can with the material she’s being given. The problem is, the material she’s being given just isn’t the Claire we know and love.

So please, writers, get it right.

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3 thoughts on “Outlander – In Which a Small Complaint is Made

  1. Thank you! I swear this is the reason I get so pissed off at some shows and movies, even ones not based on books. It’s like… I can understand why they had the Aragorn getting the sword scene where they did in the LOTR films, but other choices in other shows? No, not really. A change or a depature from the established character must make sense within the larger context of the material.

  2. I haven’t either read these books or seen the series, but this article has made me add them to my reading list. Not sure if I would want to see the series now, or leave it as I have quite a long back list of books to read first…

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