The Outlander novels, written by Diana Gabaldon, have transcended multiple generations and are generally recognized as one of the bestselling series of all time. With the first installment arriving in 1991, and subsequent novels appearing every few years after, it helps that the Outlander fan group has had decades to grow. Throughout the years, the novels have attracted many readers that enjoy romance, but have also found a place in the hearts of those who enjoy fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction and even mystery novels. Gabaldon has made it abundantly clear that her works are genre-bending, and she’ll have words with anyone who tries to push her series into the romance section.
It’s no surprise then, that a book with such a vast audience would soon find itself invited to be transformed on television. Following the success of shows which provide romance, fantasy, and action all-in-one, Starz pinpointed Outlander as a potential hit. It appears they were correct, since the series premiere pulled in over 5 million views in the first week, and the success of the following episodes have since led Starz to already commit to a second season. The show, which is available only with a Starz subscription (local channel info here), has been the best performing series the network has produced yet.
Outlander has even been described as the female Game of Thrones due to the genre similarities between the two series. Of course, Outlander’s lead character is a strong willed woman, and so her experiences (yes, including sex scenes!) are naturally more inclined, or relatable, to the female viewer. The show begins in 1945 with Claire, as she and her husband Frank tour around Scotland for what they call their “second honeymoon,” or rather, an attempt at reconnecting after five years of war have kept them separated. After Claire journeys alone to revisit a stone circle she found particularly intriguing for its native plants, she finds herself magically transported back in time, to 1743 Scotland. There, she meets Jamie Fraser and the Mackenzie clan, who take her captive and force her into their way of life.
Later in the novel series, Gabaldon breaks into some male perspectives which, if the show continues along its book-per-season path, will be an interesting turn.
Diana Gabaldon has spent years being pitched scripts for screen versions of her work, yet it was Ronald D. Moore’s which finally did the trick for both her and Starz. According to the author, the script was the first she had scene that, “didn’t make her want to vomit” – a less eloquent way of saying a producer finally understood the nature of her work. Moore proposed a show instead of a film, which gave the lengthy stories more room to expand. In addition, his script also demonstrated his intent to change only what hand to be edited for television’s sake – which Gabaldon heartily approved of.
So far, five episodes of the series have aired and Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie Fraser, and Caitriona Balfe, who stars as Claire, have given commanding performances in their respective roles. Claire appears appropriately intelligent, quick-witted, and outright naive when it comes to Scottish tradition, while Jamie comes off quietly smart, morally sound and abnormally strong as a Scottish highlander. Most of the character’s roles have remained largely unchanged from novel to show, although additional scenes between Claire and her 1945 husband, Frank, have been added to intensify their relationship and her loss after being helplessly transported 200 years into the past. Moore also made the decision to quickly make additional characters, such as antagonist and British military man Jack Randall andthe witchy Geillis Duncan, more visible in early episodes – perhaps to assist in getting through the lengthy and slow moving groundwork Diana Gabaldon spent a few hundred pages laying.
The show’s producers have also spent significant time on accurately representing one of the main characters of the show, Scotland itself. With stunning Scottish scenery used as the backdrop throughout the show, it would have been easy to leave the rest of the work half done and still impress viewers. Of course, the crew did no such thing, and so from the detailed costuming to the extensive use of the authentic Gaelic language, Scotland’s rich history shines through at every moment.
Besides being visually intriguing, the show (and novels) do a wonderful job of creating believable, respectable characters. For example, heroine Claire does everything in her power to return home, and remains loyal to her husband until the moment she is forced to admit a marriage to Jamie would keep her alive. The rest of the cast is equally as fleshed out, and there’s little doubt their performances will continue to improve as the series continues.
For fans of historical fiction, epic tales, and drama, Outlander should be on your must-watch list. As of now, the show has made little mistakes, and is proving to be, as many novels-to-shows do, simply a great piece of storytelling. New episodes air at 9pm on Saturdays on Starz!