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The OUTLANDER Smackdown: Book vs Show, Part One

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Episodes 101-103
Chapters 1-9 (mostly)

UnknownAs most of you who’ve been following my posts on Starz’s Outlander know, I blogged on the show as a stand-alone drama for the past two years, not having previously read Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book(s). Many commenters and Facebook members have been urging me to read the book, but I wanted to wait until the entire first season was completed, so as not to change my perspective of the show itself.

Now that I’ve finished the first book in the series, I can let you know how I view the show as a reader. Since it would be impossible for me to do the entire book and season 1 in a single blog, though, there will be several posts concerning season 1 and the first book on which it was based.

imagesI want to make it clear that these posts are not an evaluation of the book itself, nor of its writing. They are not going to be book reviews: there are other places more appropriate for that (and, besides, I honestly don’t have time to write book reviews).

I won’t be talking about how there’s more “telling” than “showing” in the books, nor about the technical aspects like the Point of View unless they relate directly to the show. The Point of View can sometimes be important to the dramatic show, for example, since some adaptations use the narration in a book as a Voice-Over in a film or series.

I’m not interested in analyzing the book unless something in the book — like the First Person Point of View narration — is directly used in the series: the narration from the book would be called the “Voice-Over” in a film or other dramatic adaptation. Outlander has used some Voice-Over. Sometimes it is directly from the book, and, at other times, it’s not. In those instances, I’ll evaluate how successful the adaptation was in using the Voice-Over and how the Voice-Over “narration” compared to the First Person POV narration of the book itself.images-1Therefore, if you’re looking for a book review or an analysis of Gabaldon’s writing, you won’t find it in these posts since, having watched and blogged on the show as a stand-alone drama, I’m now interested in comparing the adaptation to the book on which it was based.

101: Sassenach
Chapters 1-3

images-30Since the book Outlander is written in First Person Point of View, with an “I” or a “we” as a narrator, with Claire as that narrator, the book gives us more insight into Claire’s personality than the adaptation does. Claire is much more caustic, sarcastic, and dismissive in the early part of the book, especially of Frank’s research into his family’s genealogy: she openly admits her boredom, and does things like flop on the bed and snore loudly when he begins to discuss it.

images-34In the show, she’s not too terribly excited about his family background, but she’s not as openly dismissive. She’s more tolerant of his interest, even if she does take opportunities to escape being around him when he’s researching his family tree: she has tea with the Reverend’s housekeeper instead, or stays in the room reading, or (fatefully) goes to the stones at Craigh na dun to gather some flowers. outlander claire at stonesIn “Sassenach” — the adaptation — Claire really just wants to reconnect sexually with her husband after having been separated from him during the War. Surprisingly, there was very little sex in the book itself, especially in the beginning between Frank and Claire, though they are supposedly on a “second honeymoon.” What little sex the two had was implied: it was not explicitly described. outlander claire and frankIn the show, however, Frank and Claire were shown having sexual relations several times, at least once in the boarding house bedroom, and once in the 1945-decrepit Castle Leoch. Claire’s Voice-Over about the sex, which was not present in the book, stated that they could always find each other in the sex act, that they could always re-connect, as it were. In the book, Frank and Claire do not seem as interested in sex, though they are apparently interested in having children and starting a family.

Unknown-1In any event, Frank and Claire were much more affectionate to each other in the show than in the book, even if they weren’t having sex constantly, and even if they were spending some time apart on this “honeymoon.”

images-5Of course, “Sassenach” was much more visually beautiful and interesting in the adaptation than in the book. The scenery of Scotland itself was not described in the novel, so the adaptation was more successful in that respect.

Claire’s time as a combat nurse during the War was also more effectively displayed in the adaptation, despite its having only a scene or two devoted to that aspect of her life. She was shown as competent, fearless, and strong. In fact, when I first saw her tending to a wounded soldier, I thought she was a doctor rather than a nurse: she was doing very sophisticated medical procedures to his open body cavity as well as giving firm instructions to those males who were assisting her. outlander claire 1945 nurseNone of those things were in the book. In fact, to my disappointment and surprise, Claire “shudders” — in the book — at the thought of blood-filled leeches bursting. Clearly, Book-Claire and Show-Claire have quite different tolerances for blood.

Craigh-na-dunThe stones at Craigh na dun are vitally important to Claire’s story, and it was with great surprise that I read the description of the stones themselves and of Claire’s travel through them. For one thing, the great stone through which she travels is “cleft” in the book. She literally goes through the opening in the stone, and it does not seem to be a pleasant experience.

photo copy 5In the show, she only touches the main stone, and then is shown lying on the ground, awakening, and somewhat dazed.

images-32She does hear humming, in both the book and the show, when she’s in the circle of stones, but in the book, she also hears the sounds of battle, the cries of dying men, and the screams of wounded horses. Claire’s journey through the stones is much more dramatic in the book than in the adaptation, which surprised me, since it would have been quite easy to make Claire “hear” the battle sounds as well as the humming in the show, to have the stone be “cleft,” and to make her journey more “traumatic.”

imagesOne of the best “improvements” from the book to the show in “Sassenach” was the scene of the women dancing among the stones at Craigh na dun. In the book, the women are all clearly identifiable by Claire — taking away their mystery — and wearing bedsheets — taking away their dignity.

The show made their dance lovely, lyrical, and haunting.

Despite the changes from book to show, the adaptation of the first 3 chapters to “Sassenach” was mostly faithful. It was, at the very least, faithful to the spirit, and recognizably an adaptation of Gabaldon’s novel.

For a book-to-show rating, I give “Sassenach” a 9.5/10.

102: Castle Leoch
Chapters 4-7, 9

images-7One of the weakest parts of the novel, considering the fact that it is considered “historical fiction,” is the fact that virtually no description is given of many of the historical costumes. Though Claire states that Mrs. Fitz “oversaw my dressing from the skin out,” we are given no details of how she gets from start to finish.

images-11The show gives us those “skin out” details, letting viewers know exactly how Claire (Caitriona Balfe, who’s very skinny) gets such an hour-glass figure in the show, for example.

images-2The flashbacks in the Starz adaptation — which are not “shown” but “told” in the book itself — are more effective in the television adaptation.

From Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) first flogging by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies),

images-3to Colum’s stately-though-crippled processions through his Castle,

images-29to the other Highlanders’ outfits and hairstyles,

images-13to the bleak scenery, symbolic of Claire’s isolation,

Unknownthe adaptation shows much more than the differences among the Clan plaids. The book describes the plaids, but only fleetingly, and not memorably enough to make them stick in the mind.

That’s one of the adaptation’s strong suits: showing rather than telling (although sometimes there’s too much telling in the show as well, as when Mrs. Fitz thanks Jamie for taking the beating for Laoghaire, telling him, “She’s my granddaughter, ye ken.” Uhm, if Jamie already kens this, she wouldn’t tell him it; therefore, Mrs. Fitz is either telling Claire or the viewing audience (or both). That’s just poor writing).

images-12Geillies Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) was introduced in the second episode, though she doesn’t appear till chapter nine in the book, and she and Claire quickly became friends and fellow “healers.”

images-31As a healer, Claire tends to Jamie’s wounds.

Unknown-3Claire thinks more of her traumatic trip through the stones in the book than she does in the show, while the adaptation shows Claire thinking, instead, more of Frank as he’s portrayed actively looking for her in 1945.

images-4She also recalls her time with Frank in Castle Leoch in 1945,

images-3when Colum, in 1743, makes it clear that, even as a healer, Claire is his prisoner.

imagesClaire’s growing intimacy with Jamie is missing in the show because it’s in her narration in the book, and there’s no corresponding Voice-Over about her slowly changing relationship to or feelings toward Jamie.

Though the second episode of the adaptation skips around in some of the chapters, and the 1945-ish bugle music playing while Claire is shown in 1743 is distracting, to say the least, the show still stays relatively faithful to the book, so “Castle Leoch” gets a rating of 8/10.

(And that is despite my strong moral objection to Book-Claire relating Jamie’s flogging and scars to the Nazi atrocities and genocide during the Holocaust.)

103: The Way Out
Chapters 7, 8, 9 (partial)

images-1Unfortunately, “The Way Out” seriously departs from the book.

That doesn’t mean the show automatically suffered. It was still good drama. The show just made a dramatic and radical departure from the book on which it is supposedly based.

For one thing, Claire told Mrs. Fitz that she was from 1945, more than 200 years in the future, and Mrs. Fitz called her a “demon” and a “witch.”

In the show, that is, not in the book.

Then Mrs. Fitz slapped Claire.

Not in the book.

And Claire was suddenly sitting in front of the mirror while Mrs. F was combing her hair.

Not

In

The

Book.

Paint me confused.

Did Claire really tell Mrs. F that  she’d come through the stones, or was she just thinking of telling her and imagining the subsequent reaction?

I don’t know, and I couldn’t tell you because that scene doesn’t appear anywhere in the book.

images-14Neither do any of the scenes with Father Bain, who’s attempting to exorcize the devil from a dying boy who ate a poisoned plant.

Neither does the scene where Jamie takes Claire to the “Black Kirk” where the sick boy had gone with a friend (who died) and points out the plant that the boys probably ate. Jamie calls it “wood garlic,” but Claire “recognizes” it as “Lily of the Valley.” (Some viewers have stated that they don’t recognize the plant as such.)

Neither does the scene where Claire cures the boy against the priest’s violent opposition, setting up enmity between him and Claire, and earning Mrs. F’s gratitude since the boy is her nephew.

None of this is in the book.

In fact, only four things in this episode are in the book.

(1) The friendship between Claire and Geillis,images-8(2) Claire’s interfering with a young thief’s punishment (via Geillis, who talks to her magistrate-husband Arthur), and via Jamie by convincing him to yank the nail out of the boy’s ear to free him from the pillory (as opposed to the boy’s having to yank himself free),

images-15(3) Claire’s seeing Jamie kiss Laoghaire in an alcove and inappropriately teasing him for it in public (at dinner),

Unknown-1and (4) Claire hearing the harpist sing the story of people who’ve gone through “the stones,” which she takes as a sign that she may be able to get back to her own time.

6Other than those four plot events, everything in the show is fiction but not part of the fictional story from the novel.

Because the episode is still pretty good drama despite its huge departure from the book, it rates an 8/10.

As a show from the book on which it’s supposedly based, however, this episode only rates a 4/10.

For the four things that were actually from the book.

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