We’re just about eight weeks out from the return of new Outlander episodes, so there’s no time like the present to revisit the past. I do not hold myself up as the paragon Outlander expert. I’m just a fan who’s intrigued by storytelling, who sees this series of books and shows as delicious study material, and who wants to have a conversation I hadn’t yet heard online. I welcome your constructive insights, clarifications, and critiques. So, let’s begin!
- We open with the sweeping expanse of the Highlands—awe-inspiring and magical. We’re about to learn just how magical they happen to be; to help us along, we get the first voiceover. The voiceover is an element of this production that has been hailed and criticized, beloved and berated by hundreds of other people already. I’m only going to talk about the voiceover issue sparingly. Suffice it to say that I think it’s largely necessary and successfully implemented most of the time. “People disappear all the time,” Claire begins to recite. The entire book was told in the first person, but I, for one, didn’t read these words as if they were spoken by Claire. I think that’s because I listened to the audiobook. These words are read by the man from Recorded Books who introduces the titles. Even in print, having them stand alone on the page implies that they’re statements of empirical facts, not necessarily Claire’s musings. Having Claire recite them on television begins a series of character empowerment techniques I’ve really been pleased to see. It’s tough to remember that, for all her sophistication and near-equality with Frank, she’s still a woman in 1946. I think Diana’s characterization of Claire in this time and age, with a shade more deference to Frank than her television counterpart, is more historically accurate. It also sets up the evolution of her character over the course of the novels to come.
- Here’s a quick nod to the fact that the book starts in the days leading up to Beltane, but the show starts just before Samhain. Beltane’s modern-day counterpart is May Day; Samhain’s is Halloween. Show producers have explained that the adjustment was purely a matter of filming scheduling and logistics. The alternative would have been to wait another six months to begin production. You wouldn’t have wanted that, now, would you? I didn’t think so.
- Let’s talk blood. Sacrificial blood, at least to start. In the book, Claire is at first dumbfounded by what the substance splashed about the Inverness thresholds might be. Once Frank graciously identifies the substance and explains its significance to her, she’s disturbed and her stomach turns. Humph. She’s just finished more than five years of field hospital work, and she was raised in the nomadic and academic realm of the archaeology. I think that Claire would be at least passingly familiar with pagan or Hebrew traditions; if she weren’t, she wouldn’t be so shocked or disconcerted when she learned of them. I like that the television version rectifies this anomaly.
- Here are a few non-spoiler-y things we learn from the book that we don’t (at least yet) see in the show:
- The backstory of how Claire and Frank meet: The connection’s made through Uncle Lamb, who has Frank come to an expedition to provide his historian’s expertise.
- Trying to get pregnant: Whereas the idea of having children is discussed in the show as “renewing our efforts,” the preoccupation with the ability to get and stay pregnant is a far more pressing issue in the novel. Also, Book Frank goes to great lengths to explain that he won’t consider adopting children; it doesn’t come up on TV.
- In the book, Claire hears screaming through the stones. In the show, she only hears a voice in 1.08 Both Sides Now. We’ll get to recap soon enough.
- The trip to Loch Ness: Is on the cutting room floor, save a shot in the opening credits of two people in silhouette at the end of a dock. Expediency; no biggie. Will it appear in the deleted scenes, perhaps?
- Here are some things we get in the show that vary from the book:
- It’s Book Frank’s idea to entertain Mrs. Baird with the creaking mattress springs. She of the constant hoovering within earshot of the couple’s bedroom is presumed to be getting a thrill with overhearing possible procreation attempts behind their closed door. Mrs. Baird on the screen is largely indifferent—only a bit critical, then bemused by the quality of the bed-creaking sounds they’re producing. There’s a delightful story out there from production of the show that explains how Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies improvised the bed-jumping. Bravi!
- I really don’t recall that Book Frank was all that mesmerized by the lines of Claire’s hands. Perhaps this tidbit is mentioned much later in the novel or the series; if it is, the show integrates it at this time. The only real written descriptions we get to the lines on Claire’s hand are to deep lines across her wrist, and…
- …from Mrs. Graham, whose hand study in the show, IMHO, is far more ominous and judgmental than the lighthearted conversation she and Claire have in the book about bigamy.
- It’s also Book Frank’s idea that Claire should take up botany, whereas TV Claire comes to the study of her own volition. Book Claire requires the assistance of Mr. Crook to show her the local plants. TV Claire seems to know how to read and research these things all by herself. WTG TV Claire!
- The story of St. Ódhrán, buried alive, isn’t talked about in the book. This is consistent with the rescheduling of the show to coincide with Samhain.
- Frank springs the trip to the stones on Claire in the book; in the show, it’s announced they’re going on the night before.
- Dalliances such as those that occur during Claire and Frank’s trip to the ruins of Castle Leoch occur, instead, at the standing stones. As to discussing the nature of such dalliances, I’ll leave that compare-contrast conversation to be had in the recap of 1.07 The Wedding. Suffice it to say at this juncture that both Book Claire and TV Claire are sexually confident women.
I found the last third of the episode, post-stones, to be highly consistent between page and screen. It is true that there is no woman at the shack where the men are holed up and fretting over Jamie’s shoulder before Murtagh returns with Claire. Jamie’s initial injury is only the dislocated his shoulder on the show, whereas he was also shot through at this point in the novel (and once again later during the skirmish with the Watch). Dougal doesn’t have hair; Rupert does. In the book, Claire doesn’t tip off her captors to her suspicions of an ambush. The dialogue between Claire and Black Jack is somewhat truncated on television, deleting all use of the word”chuckie.” None of this was much to lose sleep over, as far as I was concerned. What did I miss? This is by no means exhaustive. I left out mention of the VE Day scene, for instance, the beautiful dance sequence at the stones, or any discussion of Reverend or Roger Wakefield. I’ll talk about establishing scenes and tension-building back story in future recaps. Like the show, there’s only so much commentary I can fit within a single blog post. I’d love to know whether any other fundamental changes bothered you or, in the case I found upon closer examination, actually delighted you.