The OUTLANDER Smackdown: Book vs Show, Part One


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.





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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Filed under Actors, Books, Movies/Television, Outlander

14 Responses to The OUTLANDER Smackdown: Book vs Show, Part One

  1. Rachel

    Is there further review for the rest of the seasons/books? This was so well done for episodes 101-103…I’m just now (a few years late to the game!) starting the show and only starting into book 2 (sort of hoping to stay ahead with my reading from my watching, but we’ll see). Anyhow…loved the reviews so was hoping to find more!

    • Dear Rachel,
      I haven’t yet had a change to read subsequent books or watch subsequent seasons of Outlander, so no further reviews yet. Hope you’re enjoying the books and the show.

  2. Genevieve

    Just thought I would let you know I’m reading all your posts. I just finished book 1 & want to watch the show but I’m scared. So this is helping before I start watching 🙂 Yes, I know I’m late.

    • Dear Genevieve,
      You don’t have to apologize to me for being “late” watching the show or reading the book. I never even heard of Outlander till the show aired, and I waited to read book 1 until the entire first season had aired so #NoSpoilers.

      Glad to know the posts are helping. Some readers prefer the books over the show, some like the show as much as the books, some prefer show over books (because books don’t have much description of historical items and show “shows” them). Enjoy.

  3. Alex_Sassenach

    love love your way of analisinng it all ! I do agree with you on many points and even though i know it’s impossible to have THE perfect adaptation, I think that one of the most important parts needed to be well adapted. Claire’s relationships wth her husbands for example. The show did a poorly job of adapting claire and frank’s relationship. Poorly is a strong word, let’s say it was half-done right (or wrong).

    Claire clearly loved Frank, it’s conveyed well, but the writers really NEEDED to ALSO show that they had problems and arguments like any other couples (children and adaoption, frank’s historical ramblings).
    I myself watched the shows before reading the book and then watching the show a second time, and what i can recall from this is that you feel much more pain for frank and a bit of anger towards claire on the show than in the books.

    Because when you think about it, in the books Frank’s historical babbles annoys the HECK out of Claire, but yoou’re supposed to love and admire such parts of your husband’s personnality and it’s not just once she hates it , eveytime it happens, but it amuses her on the show, she smiles at his rambles.
    After speaking of ‘potential affairs’ Claire even hints that maybe Frank got suspicious with the ghost because he might have been himself unfaithful during the war.
    Plus, he sex does not seem to be all that amazing. they hoenslty have intercourse like regualr marrried folks without that much passion, which is bad cause they didn’t see eahc other for years durng the war.
    She doesn’t feel as deeply as she does with jamie when she’s sleeping with Frank.

    Like seriously, on the show she seemed to enjoy her time with frank and seemed to love every aspects of their lives together (they don’t mention the sore subjects) that i diddn’t really understand how the HELL she could fall for another man THAT fast. But in the books, it’s much easier to accept that she’s fallen for Jamie, when you know she had soem problems with Frank, that maybe frank was not (he is NOT) the love of her life…

    • Dear Alex Sassenach,
      Thank you so much for the detailed comments on Claire’s relationships with her husbands, in the books and in the show. I agree that the relationship with Frank is not nearly as detailed in the show as in the books, and the show seemed to be going in the right direction when it gave Frank more screen time, but that disappeared pretty quickly, leaving viewers who had not read the entire Outlander series confused, wondering why Claire was even with Frank if she was able to “abandon” him so quickly for Jamie.

      Your comments about how their relationship was presented in the books are very interesting. Thank you for the analysis of Claire’s relationship with Frank in book/show.

      Question: Does Frank simply disappear in books the way he did in show? Claire and Bree showed up for the Reverend’s funeral, met Roger, and Frank was dead. Is that the kind of treatment Frank’s given in book, or does he get shown actually raising Bree?


      • Laine

        Late to this discussion but it’s now a well known fact that the show runner Ron Moore liked both the Frank character and the actor Menzies who played him so he beefed up Frank’s importance and likeability quotient compared to the book. Moore is on record as saying otherwise Claire would look foolish wanting to get back to Frank for most of Season One. However, Moore concomitantly diminished Jamie (e.g. making him seem a bumptious naive fool at home in Lallybroch instead of the competent laird of the manor that he was raised to be by his father to age 19, polished under his Mackenzie uncles’ fostering, better educated than his rural sister Jenny). This made Claire look the bigger fool for shortchanging Frank when she went back to escape Culloden while pining for (diminished) Jamie for 20 years. And why give up a daughter and a 20th century surgical career for a flawed ordinary Jamie? Why did Moore not think of that?

        A concrete example of transferring something from Jamie to Frank was the TV show’s early scene in the ruins of Castle Leoch where Frank pleasures Claire below the waist. This did not happen in the book. Though he is not her first lover, it’s Jamie who loves Claire for the first time that way, quick sexual learner that he is. Claire tells him she’s never experienced it. And it would certainly weigh with a woman, would it not?

        • Dear Laine,
          I completely agree with you. I watched the show before I read the book, and I was very confused, in the first season, about Claire’s attraction for Jamie: he didn’t seem to be a hero of any sort. When I read the book, I could see how very much Ron had changed the character, and I was sad about it. Jamie didn’t have to be diminished, even if Ron wanted to beef up Frank’s character.

          And as I’ve said many times, in many forums, I suspect that RDM sees himself as a Frank character, or, at the very least, as a twin of Frank, and wants him to be much more important and interesting in the show than he appears to be in the books.

          I actually liked the scene in the castle when Frank pleasured Claire in the castle, and was hoping for more of that sort of thing from Frank and Claire, but alas, Frank was more developed in the show than in the book. That being said, I guess I didn’t think much of the show-Frank after the first part of season 1, even if he was in the show more than in the book. I didn’t find him a pleasant or interesting character. Maybe RDM made Frank even worse so Claire would want to abandon her poor daughter for the Jamie that was presented in the show early on, I don’t know.

          Happy new year,

  4. Selina

    I love what you are doing with this blog series. As someone who read the books first and then watched the show, I was also shocked by the Mrs. Fitz scene, however, I think it was meant as a dramatic envisioning (as “show”) of what *would* happen if Claire dared to say something. In the book she does go on in her internal monologue about how impossible it would be to tell ANYONE the truth. So no, it doesn’t happen in the book, but it does represent the possible (exaggerated) reaction of a regular person like Mrs. Fitz were Claire to tell her secret.

    I’m enjoying this series, and good job matching up the facts in the book with the show!!

    • Dear Selina,
      Since I hadn’t read the book when that first scene with Mrs. Fitz and Claire was aired, I was a bit confused. OK, more than a bit. I was totally lost. I just had to guess that it was Claire’s imagination about what might happen if she told anyone the truth. Sometimes, adaptations can be better than books; sometimes, worse. But one should never have to read the book in order to understand the adaptation: that’s why they’re dramatic adaptations. But I’ve had a good time with OL 1 trying to understand what was bad writing, and what was my total bewilderment and confused state. I thought it was because I hadn’t read the book. I found out that reading the book didn’t help the show.
      Thanks for the compliment.

  5. Bravo! Great low down as always and I agree with 99% of what you say. I would say 100% but in some countries, that would mean we would have to marry. 😉 Cheers!

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