It may seem like odd timing for Diana Gabaldon’s award winning book Outlander to be turned into a television series, some 22 years after it was published, but fans of the book and Diana Gabaldon don’t seem to mind one bit. The story of WWII era British Army nurse Claire Randall and her sudden transportation into 18th century Scotland has become something of a cult-favorite television series on the Starz network with both fans of the books, (the show’s first season is based on the 1st novel in a series of 8) and those who had previously never even heard of Gabaldon’s work.
Given that Starz has just ordered a second season already, after only 5 episodes have aired, some might be wondering what all the fuss is about, and if the series stay true to the beloved books. If you haven’t read the books (which you can purchase in all its forms here), or watched the series, (which is easy enough to catch up on with a Starz subscription from your cable provider), but are planning to, be warned! This will contain some spoilers, so go out, catch up, and then come back and finish the article!
The book and the television series both center around the story of the aforementioned Claire Randall and her sudden and unexpected time travel from 1945 back to 1743, where she first stumbles upon an ancestor of her husband’s, named Captain Jack Randall. Though the two look nearly identical, Captain Jack Randall is a very different man than Claire’s 1945 husband, and Claire finds herself in a dangerous situation almost immediately.
Claire is luckily (or not so luckily) saved by Scottish highlanders, who aren’t keen on leaving a woman to the whims of Jack Randall, but also are hesitant to trust a British woman who may or may not be a spy. Claire is kept as a medical aid on house arrest at the Mackenzie castle while the clan decides if she’s to be trusted. There, Claire meets Jamie Fraser, who presents himself as one of the few relatable faces at the castle. It’s known from the series premiere that we will watch Jamie and Claire develop a relationship. Though Claire was concerned about the state of her marriage in 1945 prior to her time travel – she and her husband Frank had been separated by war for the better part of 5 years – the introduction of another man is not easy and Claire finds herself unsure of her complicated feelings, a dilemma which is further explored in both print and on the screen.
As if that wouldn’t be difficult enough, Claire must cope with the challenges that faced everyone in the 1700’s, such as disease and a lack of women’s rights, plus those difficulties that she must battle herself, like figuring out how to live without the modern conveniences she’s used to, as well as how to return home and avoid suspicion regarding her history. Of course, she’s found herself a captive of not just any rural citizens, but the notorious Scottish highlanders who, during this time period, are in the midst of the Jacobite risings. For non-history buffs, the risings were the Irish and Scottish rebellions against the British in an attempt to return the House of Stuart back onto the English throne. Since thousands of highlanders were brutally killed, including many of Claire’s host clan, and the rebellion ultimately failed, to say that she picked a bad time to travel back to is an understatement.
The series was picked up by Starz after Sony Pictures TV acquired the rights to the books back in 2012. Sony then quickly hired Battlestar Galactica developer and producer Ron Moore to write the screenplay. Gabaldon herself had made it clear in recent years that she was skeptical about the idea of a television series or film. On her website she said, “ I don't think I'd want absolute control over a process that I don't normally work in and am not familiar with. I know people who work in film, and I think it would suck my soul, waste my time, and prevent me from writing books.”
In fact, Gabaldon even revealed her skepticism at the series getting picked up by anyone, stating the books had been optioned four times in the past with no results. She did, however, become a consultant after meeting with Moore and finding his script worthy of her material. Her involvement in the project was welcomed with much relief from diehard Outlander fans. While she didn’t exert a massive amount of control over the script or casting (though she did heartily approve of Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe), she surely yields influence over the general direction of the series, and gives final approval of any script - especially when it comes to proposed changes that veer from her original plot line.
For their part, Starz has been investing adequate time and effort to ensure that the series stays true to Gabaldon’s vision. Detailed and inspired costuming and scenery have provided a stunning background for the show. The creators have also made use of Gaelic, resulting in an excellent use of a language barrier that excludes Claire as well as the viewers from the foreign, extinct, lifestyle. So far the series has been warmly welcomed by both fans and critics. The Hollywood Reporter has praised Moore and the series, saying Moore “successfully translates” the books into a show and dubbed the effort “well-executed,” despite its slow pace. On a similar note Time called it “the most promising show in years for Starz” and “a very writerly TV show,” which is a promising sign for fans of the books.
For those of you wondering whether or not the series is going to be for you, regardless if you’ve read the books or not, it simply comes down to personal preference. It’s not a network series, so don’t expect the series to be fast paced and filled to the brim with action and high octane content. Like the books, the takes its time to establish the mood, setting, and atmosphere, but in a visually dazzling way. It’s less Game of Thrones and more The Notebook at times, but it certainly proves to be an interesting story for history buffs and Outlander fans. It’s a series that proves that, especially in this day and age, sometimes good things come to those who wait.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger. He lives and works in Chicago. When not working he can be found camped out in his apartment watching the latest films and newest television shows.