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.

What if the Movie is Better Than the Book? Egads!

If you’re a reader (and if you’re reading this, you probably are), then you know the feeling when your favorite book is made into a movie.

First, the excitement. They finally recognize the genius of My Favorite Author! I wonder who they’ll get to play the MC? Oh, it better not be So and So, because I will just die if it is. And that one scene, they have to get that right, or . . .

And then the doubts come marching in. OMG. This is one of my favorite books. What if they screw it up? What if they cut my favorite scene? What if the actor they get to play the MC doesn’t have the right color eyes!? (YES, this matters!) And if they change even ONE WORD of the dialogue, I will SCREAM!!!

And by the time it’s ready to be released . . . well, you’re 100% convinced that this movie will suck and it’ll get everything wrong and there is no way in hell you’re going to go see it. Ever.

Well – maybe. There’s really two groups:  those of us who believe the movie must remain as faithful as possible to the book, and those who don’t mind if there are changes, so long as those changes are good. The problem is, who determines which changes are “good?” I still despise Alfonso Cuaron for what he did to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Seriously, how hard is it just to make a Patronus that looks like a freaking stag? For crying out loud, you’re doing all this digitally! Just get it right, damn it!

But what happens when you don’t read the book first? Instead, you watch the movie? And fall in love with the movie?

I did this with Practical Magic. It’s one of my favorite movies ever. I love the characters, the dialogue, the actors. That’s why, when I found a copy of Alice Hoffman’s book last week, I decided I’d read it, to see how it compared.

I’m on page 65 and ready to give up.

It’s not just that the book and the movie diverge so radically from each other; it’s because those changes are what make the movie so great. (Oh, I see the villagers with the pitchforks and stones coming to get me now!) But as I run away, let me explain why:

Sally is a much stronger character in the movie. The movie is told from her POV, which draws us into the story immediately and makes us sympathize with her. Gillian, likewise, is a strong woman – a bit too eager to fall in love, but we see how strongly she loves her sister, and that makes her a likeable character. The aunts are fantastic, and the little girls are wonderful. Sally’s #1 goal – to be normal – is jeopardized when Gillian calls for help in getting away from her crazy boyfriend. Because Sally is take-charge and loves her sister, she chooses to help, and things spiral downward from there.

I think what I like most about the movie, though – aside from the characters – is that the supernatural elements are so very, very present throughout. This is a true paranormal movie. You can’t have Ghostbusters without the ghosts, and you can’t have Practical Magic without the magic. All the problems stem from the magic – unlike the book, where all the problems seem to stem from who knows what. If there’s any magic to be found in the book, I have yet to discover it. Maybe it’s past page 65? If so, that’s a long time to wait.

I also can’t stand how the book is written. It’s almost omniscient. We get varying POVs on the same page – a HUGE no-no for any writer. And it’s all telling, not showing. You know how fairy tales are told? “Hansel and Gretel were greedy children, and one day they decided to go for a walk in the woods because they’d heard all about this magical house made of candy. But they didn’t know a witch lived there!” Blah blah blah. This book is written exactly the same way. I though maybe the first 30 pages of this were just exposition, world building, background. But no. Here we are, page 65, and we’re still enduring it.

Here’s a good example of what I mean. These paragraphs are from pages 63 and 64:

Sally sits down. She’s a little woozy hearing all this information about her sister’s life, and the concrete stoop is cool and makes her feel better. Gillian always has the ability to draw her in, even when she tries to fight against the pull. Gillian sits down beside her, knee to knee. Her skin is even cooler than the concrete.

Gillian eyes the house, unimpressed. She truly hates being on the East Coast. All this humidity and greenery. She’d do almost anything to avoid the past. Most probably, she’ll find herself dreaming about the aunts tonight. That old house on Magnolia Street, with its woodwork and cats, will come back to her, and she’ll start to get fidgety, maybe even panicky to get the hell away, which is how she ended up in the Southwest in the first place . . .

It’s crazy how many rules of fiction writing this novel actually breaks – and how many the movie gets right. Because of the way the book is written, I’m removed from the characters. I’m watching them from the outside, and I don’t care about them. I’m not sucked into the story, the way I am with the movie.

That’s why, even though everyone tells me I need to read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I adore that movie. I adore the characters. I adore the dialogue. I adore the gritty reality of it. I adore Minnie and her pie. 🙂 I adore Celia and Johnny. Will I hate the book? Maybe. Maybe not. But why risk it? The movie is so perfect.

Usually, the book is better than the movie, no doubt about it.

But sometimes – every now and then – the movie is actually better than the book.

Crazy, huh? 🙂 Especially for a writer.