In Part One of the Outlander Smackdown: Book vs Show, I went very meticulously through the first few episodes of the Starz’s show, based on the bestselling books by Diana Gabaldon, comparing episodes and chapters, scenes from the show and dialogue from the book, looking for the good and the weaker in both versions of Outlander.
I have just spent the last two days doing the same thing for the remaining episodes of Season 1 Part 1, and I was intending to analyze each episode in the same way.
But something happened.
Something in me cracked.
I saw more hours stretching ahead of me writing a blog comparing the show adaptation to the book than I’d spent watching the show’s 16 episodes and than I’d spent reading the first book in the series.
I felt weighed down, depressed, and unhappy.
After all, there is only so much you can say about a show that gets further and further away from the book as each episode progresses.
There is only so much you can say about a book that has so much reader love which is, unfortunately, not being translated into love of the show.
So, that’s what I decided to talk about instead.
What is it that’s in the book Outlander that the readers love so much that has not been translated into the show?
What is it in the show that has turned away even non-readers of the book, i.e., what has failed in the Starz adaptation of Outlander as a stand-alone drama?
Jamie & Claire
It’s clear that the major attraction for readers of the book is the relationship between the time-transported Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and her Scots husband Jamie (Sam Heughan). The wedding episode probably had more viewers than any other. It certainly got more pre-air-time publicity, press, and viewer memes.
The number of photos on the internet of women imitating that wedding — from having their gowns designed like Claire’s (above, top), to having their grooms wear kilts, to having their poor grooms grow their hair long so they’ll look more like Jamie — is staggering. (I don’t imagine that it’s the grooms who are saying, “Hey, Honey, how about if I grow my hear real long and shaggy and wear a kilt to our wedding, and you can dress yourself up to look like Claire?”)
Readers are clearly transported by and deeply emotionally invested in the relationship they see between Jamie and Claire, which readers of the book interpret as love.
On forums and Outlander pages, they complain that the love between Claire and Jamie in the book is not shown in the adaptation.
I guess I didn’t see any great love between them, in either the book or the show.
I saw physical attraction, on both sides, but I didn’t see love.
The Wedding Ring
The wedding ring, which is a symbol of the love that readers see between Claire and Jamie, is nothing more than a key in the show: a poor substitute for the beautifully described ring of the book.
The ring, that bothered me.
Why a dull key? Was it supposed to be a symbol? Was it supposed to be the key to Jamie’s heart or something?
It wasn’t anything like the gorgeous ring described in the book, even if Claire didn’t get the book-ring during the ceremony: Jamie used his father’s wedding ring instead, a lovely ring with a ruby, which she gave back to him on their wedding night.
The key-ring of the show was pathetic and insulting.
In the show, Jamie gives Claire his mother’s pearls on their wedding night, when they’re alone. In the book, he gives them to her before they marry. That part of the story works either way for me. She got the pearls on the same day, so it didn’t really matter to me exactly when she got them.
The pearls were lovely.
His wanting her to have his mother’s pearls was even lovelier, book or show.
Frank & Claire
I didn’t mind the show’s changing the fact that Frank (Tobias Menzies) and Claire had originally been married in the same chapel where she and Jamie were eventually married. It was dramatically successful to show that Frank’s “impulsive” civil marriage — before introducing Claire to his parents for the first time — could be regarded as “romantic.”
Besides, it worked better with the contrast of the two marriages to have Frank & Claire marry on the spur of the moment in a courthouse civil ceremony, and to have Claire agonize over marrying Jamie “for convenience” in a religious church ceremony after she’s transported to the past.
A religious ceremony that Jamie takes so seriously he comes late: he’s had to clean up, get his own clan plaids, and look good for his intended bride.
Even if the Frank and Claire marriage wasn’t in the book as an impulsive civil ceremony, that part worked fine for me in the show.
The Great Love
To be completely honest, I didn’t see any great love between Claire and Jamie in the book itself. What I read repeatedly in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander was Claire’s comparing her feelings for Jamie to the “temporary” and “physical attraction” that many “doctors, nurses, and patients” had experienced during the War (chapter 16).
Claire even admitted to having felt such attractions herself during her time as a combat nurse, though she had always refrained from acting on them, thus not ever being unfaithful to her husband Frank (also, chapter 16).
She also admitted that she had long been aware, in her time-transported life, of Jamie’s attraction to her, though she also compared that to the attractions wounded soldiers had for their nurses in the War.
I saw physical attraction in the book.
I saw physical attraction in the show, on Claire’s part, that might have grown into love — I couldn’t tell based on some of her atrocious behaviour to Jamie.
I also saw guilt, on her part, for being attracted to Jamie because she was already married to Frank and also because she’d never acted on those feelings for anyone else, during the War.
What I never saw in the show was her admission that she had ever had those feelings of attraction for anyone during the War, that she had noticed the physical attraction between other people during the War (leading to their having affairs), or that those physical feelings were any different from her attraction to her own husband Frank.
That means the viewers were left to interpret the fact that Claire felt more physical attraction for Jamie than for Frank, which is definitely open for argument in the book, and to interpret that as meaning that she had never felt it for anyone else except Jamie, which is most clearly not what Claire says in the book.
In the show, however, Jamie clearly seemed more than physically attracted to Claire early on: he seemed to have feelings for her from the beginning. Certainly he had them by the time they married, or he wouldn’t have gone through all that trouble to make it a beautiful wedding. In the book, Jamie also eventually tells Claire that he had strong feelings for her — not just sexual ones, though those, too, were present — from their first meeting.
In the book, Jamie told her his “conditions” for the wedding: that it be in a church with a priest, that she have a gown, and that she have a ring. But he didn’t tell her those things on their wedding night. He told her much later. And it was only then that readers might have gotten the idea that Jamie had more love for Claire than she yet had for him.
In the show, he told her those “conditions” on their wedding night, before their first sexual encounter. Since I hadn’t read the book at the time I saw the show, I didn’t know how to interpret Jamie’s “conditions.” I know that I didn’t interpret them as “love,” however; I thought that he simply viewed marriage as a life-long commitment, as his parents’ had been, and so he wanted a nice ceremony.
I admit that it is difficult — but certainly not impossible — to have all the elements of a book written in First Person Point of View, with a narrator’s intimate thoughts and feelings revealed to the reader, put into a dramatic adaptation as a Voice-Over. Screen adaptations are visual, and sometimes that’s better than what you can get in a book: viewers get more historical information about clothing, hairstyles, etc in a dramatic adaptation much more quickly than they do in a book (and, in any event, Gabaldon leaves out most of the historical description in Outlander, so in that arena, the show is an improvement).
But nothing can replace the intimacy of being inside one character’s head for a prolonged period of time. And there have been successful Voice-Overs in dramatic adaptations. The Oscar-winning Isabelle Huppert version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a case in point: it manages to be so faithful to the book that even the ironic Voice of the Author is presented as the Voice-Over commentary on the characters and their behaviour as the viewers see the action on-screen.
I’m not saying that everything Claire thinks in Outlander is profound, earth-shattering, or will change your interpretation of her behaviour. However, having watched the show before reading the book, I can assure you that leaving out virtually all of Claire’s thoughts does, indeed, significantly change not only her own personality, but her relationships as well.
Claire & Jamie,
Her relationship with and physical attraction to Jamie is one of the most important things that gets changed from book to show. In the book, Claire clearly and repeatedly compares what she feels for Jamie to the brief “physical” entanglements that happened between strangers thrown together in intense moments during the War. Physical attractions that she also felt, though she does not specify whether she felt them for doctors or for wounded soldiers who were her patients, but attractions that she felt strongly enough to resist so as not to be unfaithful to her husband Frank.
Many Outlander readers apparently interpret those intense sexual feelings that Claire discusses as love. Especially when she compares Jamie’s feelings for her to those she witnessed and felt in the War, and when she compares her own attraction to Jamie to those War-emotions.
That is all lost in the show.
Because it’s lost, because even the mention of the capability of physical attraction to other men by Claire is lost, then viewers who have not read the book don’t understand the relationship between Jamie and Claire. It seems like a sexual fling.
One that will burn out quickly.
One that, unfortunately, is not even convincing in the first place.
At least the book’s narration provided some awareness on Claire’s part that she did have sexual feelings for men other than her husband Frank, and that she was able to recognize when men — soldiers, patients, Jamie — had them for her.
Also, the book’s narration made it blatantly clear that, as a married woman, Claire chose when to act on those sexual feelings, and that she had only acted on them with Jamie.
Claire & Frank,
One of the strengths of the show is dramatically portraying the relationship between Frank and Claire. Readers don’t seem to like it, however, as they continually insist that they thought “Claire married Frank for safety,” that Claire and Frank had a “Teacher-Student type of relationship,” or that “Frank and Claire never had oral sex.” Those are all interpretations of the book because the book is very vague on the relationship between Frank and Claire, whether it be their sexual connection, their friendship, their love, their marriage, or their long separation during the War.
In fact, except for the physical attraction between Jamie and Claire, the book is just as vague about virtually everything sexual. Only two sexual encounters (detailed below) are graphic. The others are all alluded to.
Concerning Frank and Claire’s relationship between book and show, however, Claire does mention, in chapter 24, for one paragraph, that Frank must be worried sick about her having disappeared, that he must be looking everywhere for her, and that he must have gone several times to Scotland Yard for news of her.
When I praised episode 108 in a blog post last year, where Frank was brought back into the storyline, I got “corrected” in comments.
I was informed that Frank never appeared in the book again, so the show was just “wrong.”
While it’s true that Frank doesn’t appear in the book after early chapters, Claire often mentions him. In that paragraph in chapter 24, she worries about what Frank is going through, mentioning everything he must be doing to find her. The “Everything” Frank’s doing is what the show chose to dramatize. It was perfectly acceptable for the adaptation to show Frank doing those things since they didn’t have Claire’s narration as a Voice-Over very often.
But readers apparently forgot some of those things between Frank and Claire in the book.
So they complained that the show had made them up.
No, the show expanded or dramatized some, like the paragraph that I just indicated, and it interpreted others that author Gabaldon left vague.
Frank & Claire
& the Joy of Sex
Readers are delighted to admit that Claire and Jamie have a great, intense, virtually continuous sexual relationship, which the readers seem to interpret as love. And this is despite the fact that Claire complains about Jamie sexually, saying that he was “too hungry and too clumsy for tenderness” and that “his concern” for her “safety” was “at once endearing and irritating” (chapter 15).
That ain’t in the show.
Readers seem to forget that it’s in the book.
They also seem to forget that Claire and Frank do have sex. It’s always alluded to, but never written about in any great detail. So we don’t know if Claire liked, loved, or just endured sex with Frank.
But the aspect about Claire and Frank’s sex life that really riles readers/viewers is whether the two of them ever had oral sex, if Frank just wasn’t as interested in performing oral sex on Claire, or if he wasn’t as energetic in that particular area of their sexual relations, if Jamie was the first to perform oral sex on her…
Oy, vey, the annoyed reader/viewer discussions on that particular topic, which is left vague and open to huge interpretation in the book, though Claire is shown enthusiastically enjoying oral sex with Frank on the show.
The sexual relations between Frank and Claire are just never described as vividly or in as much detail as the one detailed sex scene that’s described between Claire and Jamie.
Only one sex scene between Claire and Jamie is given in graphic detail, and that one is so much like a rape that Claire begs Jamie repeatedly to stop, telling him he’s hurting her, but he doesn’t, so she hurts him back, with vicious scratches and bites (chapter 23).
Both are bruised, battered, and sore the next day.
Black Jack Randall & Jaime
Is it mere coincidence that the only other graphic sex scene(s) in the book are the rapes that Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies, in a dual role) commits on Jamie in Wentworth Prison, related to Claire by Jamie, after she goes all “General Patton” on him — book and show — in “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” (season 1 finale, episode 116)?
It was hard enough to read, they were so graphic.
Watching those rape scenes was horrific.
For the writers and producers of the show to have shown Jamie’s shame at his involuntary orgasm without having Claire explain why his body had ejaculated due solely to the continued pressure of BJR’s member on Jamie’s prostate gland was absolutely shameful.
And I don’t care if that bit of information would have been anachronistic or not.
She was a nurse. She’d seen battlefield atrocities. She would have known what Shell-Shock was (now called War-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder): General Patton was disciplined for slapping two boys suffering from it, so the condition was well-known during World War II.
Whether Claire would have known about rape-PTSD or not, the show did every boy and man a huge disservice by not explaining why Jamie’s body ejaculated involuntarily, shaming him because he thought it was pleasure. Some reviewers even mistakenly assumed that Jamie actually experienced pleasure.
I know that many premium cable channels — and Starz may be one of them — give their producers and writers complete creative freedom. In this instance, by allowing this kind of misinformation about male rape to be shown, Starz failed its viewers. Male bodies may react because of the type of physical stimulation, but it is not pleasure: it is still rape.
Not permitting Claire to “correct” Jamie’s misinterpretation of his body’s involuntary ejaculation during the rape was shameful, even if it might have been anachronistic (and I admit that I do not know if it would have been anachronistic, but I don’t care. That information should have been given to viewers by Claire’s giving it to her husband Jamie).
In any event, Starz, Outlander producers and writers, the actors themselves, and everyone else connected with the show had a moral obligation to all male rape victims to make it clear that Jamie’s body’s involuntary ejaculation did not mean he was experiencing pleasure: he was still being raped.
Just changing the words from “buggering” to “making love,” like Gabaldon did in the book, did not make the source of Jamie’s shame clear, as the continual flow of comments to me from my post on that issue indicate. Yes, that was how Jamie described it in the book. No, Claire did not correct him in the book. She didn’t even comfort him. She was too busy going General Patton on him.
That doesn’t mean the show shouldn’t have made it clear to all their viewers that Jamie’s body’s ejaculation was involuntary, that it was not caused by pleasure. There are viewers who insist that episode was particularly graphic only in an attempt to win Emmy nominations for Tobias Menzies, but Jamie’s rape was graphic in the book as well.
The difference is that reading about Jamie telling Claire about the rape put more emotional distance between the violent act and the book’s readers.
The adaptation showed it, slamming the viewers in the gut with it.
If the book and show were going to slam the readers and viewers with male rape and a victim’s involuntary ejacualtion, then everyone, from Diana Gabaldon to Ron D. Moore to Starz to the actors, had a moral obligation to all male rape victims — as well as to the women in their lives — to explain why Jamie misinterpreted his body’s involuntary response and why he subsequently felt so much shame that he wanted to commit suicide (by refusing to eat or drink).
In the book, Jamie wants to die because he thinks he’s going to lose his severely damaged hand, while, in the show, he wants to die because Black Jack Randall “broke him,” body and soul, by “making love” to him.
Shame on you, DG, RDM, Starz, et al.
Book vs. Show
How do I think the show was, overall? Fair to middling, I guess. It was much more interesting in Season 1 Part 1, despite its slow parts. But as a stand-alone drama, it deteriorated dreadfully in Season 1, Part 2.
How do I think the show compared to the book?
Not too well, I’m afraid.
We got some interesting things in the show that were not in the book — the addition of Father Bain and the exorcism fit well with the witch-trial, for example, and Claire’s helping deliver Jenny’s breech-baby was much more in line with her having been a nurse than her helping deliver a breech-foal by shoving her hand and arm up into a horse’s uterus.
Also, sometimes Claire’s Voice was inappropriately acerbic in the book: her openly yawning and complaining about the “boring” length of Ned’s defense of her during the witch-trial was incredible. How could a woman from 1945, who would know that women were regularly burned as witches even for inconsequential things like looking different, or saying things that others didn’t understand (e.g., “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ”) but whose words were taken as “casting curses,” how could a woman like that yawn openly during a trial in which her own life was at stake? (no pun intended)
Sometimes, the show did improve on things in the book.
But many of the things in the show that were not in the book did not improve the adaptation at all. In fact, some of the changes damaged the story and its characters. Jamie’s constant change of character, from episode to episode, left me confused as a viewer, and annoyed after I read the book since Jamie is quite consistent in the book. Discovering that book-Jamie knew Latin, Greek, and was more fluent in French than Claire stunned me. All that tripe with the Duke of Sandringham was dull-ness in the extreme. Claire’s constantly stating that she had to get back to Craigh na dun and to Frank always seemed tacked on by the writers of the show: the character didn’t seem to feel it.
Maybe those additions or changes didn’t work because they weren’t in the book.
Then again, maybe they didn’t work because the adaptation wasn’t as good as it could have been.