A few thoughts about the differences between the OUTLANDER books and TV show

I posted the following message on Compuserve this morning, about the differences between the OUTLANDER books and the TV show. I thought the rest of you might like to see it, too.
I think as time goes on, it's getting easier for me to separate the books and the show. Think of a map showing two roads that run in more or less the same general direction from Point A to Point B. The two roads intersect in places, they go off in separate directions from time to time, but when viewed from a distance, they're traveling roughly the same route. I think this is a reasonably good analogy for the differences between the books and the show. Some of the details may be different, but the overall direction the story is heading is mostly the same.

Season 2 has taken some detours off the main "highway" of the story (more so than Season 1 did), but I think at this point they've mostly found their way back. The Claire we see in Episode 207 is essentially indistinguishable (IMHO) from Book Claire. The Jamie we see in Episode 209, acting as the leader of men he was born to be, is very close to my image of Book Jamie.

Whizzing along the highway of the TV show at high speed, we don't see many of the details that bring the story so vividly to life in the books. (The humor, the lyrical descriptions, the quiet moments with Jamie and Claire just talking, enjoying one another's company. The list goes on and on....) But I believe it is -- still -- essentially the SAME story. <g> Condensed, compressed, occasionally going off on detours that we didn't expect, but it's still recognizably the same story, and the same characters, when viewed from a distance.

Much as we'd all love for the TV show to take us on a long, leisurely drive down that other road, the one that meanders through the Scottish countryside (and the streets of Paris, and the French court at Versailles), moving slowly enough to savor the sights, sounds, and smells of the land we're passing through (and including all of our favorite scenes from the books, either verbatim or as close to the original as possible), the realities of TV production won't permit it.

I can't speak for anyone else here, of course. But for myself, when I "put the books down" (as Diana has said more than once) and try to take the show on its own terms -- and that doesn't AT ALL mean agreeing with every decision they make! -- I find it's much easier to come to terms with the differences.

IMHO they're not irreparably damaging Diana's story or characters with the creative decisions they've made so far, and I don't think they will in future seasons, either. The journey is a bit different, but the overall path they're following is at least heading in the same direction as the books, and I find that reassuring.

What do you think?


Susanlynn♥ said...

Karen, I agree with your points. The one thing that I am missing is the depiction of Jamie and Claire as true soulmates ..the small tender, sexy, loving moments...the touching and talking. However, the show is great and the best show on tv at this time.

LizzyLu said...

I enjoy the show on its own merit, and if I miss something from the books not appearing in the show, I always have the books to read. Thank you for your sensible posts about all things Outlander. You are a perfect example of someone who can disagree with the changes but still remain polite.

p_anderson said...

This is a good analogy, Karen. Just as we don't always see what's ahead on a road or get anxious because it zigged when we thought it should zag, the books and the TV show require the reader/viewer to hold on to what is happening now and be open to what lies ahead. It helps me to agitate less over the differences if I believe that something good will happen in the future to answer my questions. I am enjoying the ride NOW because I know I will have plenty of time between seasons to think about the show and re-read the book. Thanks for posting.

Erin said...

Good post! I agree with your points. Its been so long though since I read dragonfly in amber that its more difficult for me to notice any changes. For the most part I am happy with how they are staying true to the books. A great example of deviating too far from the books would be True Blood. I absolutely loved the books and loved the show too until around season 4 until it became unrecognizable IMO

Kathleen V. said...

Very well said, Karen! I agree with your insights and opinion, but there have been a few times my eyebrows have gone way up because of the choices made. To paraphrase Jeff Goldbum in Jurassic Park, "Just because you could do it, did you ask yourself if you should do it?" During this last episode, it struck me how much Sam has matured into the role of Jamie, just as Jamie himself has matured as a character. We do see this progression in the books, but it's more subtle.

Susanlynn♥ said...

Ann..yes, I agree with you that Sam has done an amazing job of taking Jamie from a boy to a man. He has inhabited this role and is a completely convincing Jamie. I cannot imagine anyone else playing JAmie, and I look forward to seeing Sam interpret Jamie of Voyager ...except I do not want to see him having sex with anyone but Claire.

Jessie said...

Hi Karen—

Your analogy reflects what the majority of fans feel at this point. But there is a growing minority of book fans who find the divergences you describe too great and have lost interest in the show. I am one of them.

I can accept all the off ramps the writers made, including all the Leery scenes, but one thing I can’t abide, and which your analogy does not address, is the intentional undermining of Jamie’s character, the relentless emphasis on a kick-ass Claire, and the lack of focus on the love between Jamie and Claire.

This growing minority feels betrayed by Ron Moore. He sought the trust of book fans at the start by giving us two episodes that aptly characterized Jamie and Claire and their relationship. We spread the word and praised the adaptation. But once Ron had that trust, he started diminishing Jamie’s character and turned Claire into a shrew.

Ron promised his wife, Terry Dresbach, he would not “screw up her favorite book,” but what I have come to realize is that Terry read this book far differently than most fans of the Outlander series. She saw it as the tale of a tough female adventurer rather than a love story for the ages. As a result, Moore made his wife happy and just followed the current trend to showcase the heroic female who outshines all the men. For this reason we got “Claire’s story” (Ron’s actual description of the show) rather than the story of a couple whose love manages to transcend time, place, and culture.

The love between Jamie and Claire is possible to tell within the constraints of television and in the diverging and reuniting paths you describe, but it would take more talented writers and a more creative show runner than Ron Moore to make that happen and to justice to Diana’s books.

Anonymous said...

karen, your analogy is good. the only significant change the show has not really recovered from, imho, is the remaking of laoghaire and the laoghaire/claire relationship in ep 208. but maybe they'll still work that out - we'll have to watch and see. ingeborg oppenheimer

Sara said...

Amen, Jessie! I'm not interested in the wimpy way they write Jamie most of the time. The last episode was good, except they chose to undermine Dougal's character this time. Quarter Day at Lallybroch? That was laughable and a shameful way for the Jamie we know and love to behave.

Mary Tormey said...

Hi Karen , I agree totally and , also TV audiences are very different from Book readers , also each episode is an hour so TV writers have to decide how much to fill in that time frame , the books also cover things that TV can't show , but I think the Books are a bit better , because of the extra scenes in them , plus there's more of Jamie & Claire's relationship that TV audiences don't see , but I think Both the TV show & books are great , but I'm more of a fan of the books , just an opinion, but still love the show, will be watching Outlander this weekend, please post more soon. Sincerely Yours. Mary Tormey, Love your Blog.

Kathy Van Wesep said...

Thank you Karen for once more being the voice of reason and compromise.

In many ways the additions and changes that Ron Moore has made have improved on the books. As an example, I never liked that Jamie stripped Claire to the waist without her consent to make William Grey believe he was going to ravage her. I like that in the TV version it is Claire's idea and Jamie remains the gentleman he is and a loving husband sensitive to his wife's dignity at this point. He thanks her for her selflessness and points out that she has saved many lives. I also think adding the flashbacks to WWII helped me to understand TV Claire much better than I did Book Claire. 6 years in the military did more than teach her how to be a good nurse and strong under horrible conditions; it also left its wounds that never really healed. This was never dealt with in the books. The fact that the episode aired during PTSD Awareness week was intentional and shows that RDM is more than a show runner, he is dealing with issues uncomfortable for viewers, which may anger them, but it has been a catalyst for meaningful discussion and healing for some victims of these traumas.

In more than one interview with Sam, he shared that he did not want Jamie to be as perfect as he was portrayed in the books. He wanted to build the maturing of this young man who is 22 with no real responsibilities other than to survive day to day and have him grow into a man by making mistakes and learning from them. We see him at Lallybroch trying be his father and making an ass of himself, but in the end, he realizes that Jenny was right and he is man enough to apologize and grow. We see him fractured because of BJR's torture and rape and I appreciated that we also got to see the impact and his difficult road to recovery. (He is never truly recovered). I think this evolution of TV Jamie is more realistic and not the fantasized version we get in the books. I love both versions or Jamie and Claire and do not find them mutually exclusive. I just see more aspects of each, so it has actually enhanced my understanding of these characters and made them more realistic.

I have taken the scenic route as I am now on my 4th read of the series (currently on The Fiery Cross reliving Jocasta's wedding) and although the TV series has taken the expressway, there is new scenery never seen on the scenic route that gives me an even greater appreciation of the journey and the experiences it provides. I think of the TV series as ADDING to the Outlander World and not SUBTRACTING anything because the scenic route offered by the books is still there.

Brandy Bruce said...

I agree and it's disheartening. Ron seems intent on making it all about Claire and diminishing Jamie's character.

Unknown said...

Some valid comments, here, are made. I do not feel the need to nit pick with book versus television critiques. Ron Moore's pod casts are sufficient enough to answer any questions as to why some component of the show was executed a certain way. He and which ever guest is his "co-podcaster" state their reasons for the decisions they made. Only after listening to them do I decide to agree or disagree and then with the "oh well, I'll let it roll of my back" attitude I just let it go. Getting high blood pressure over such matters is just not worth it. My thought about this is, who am I to question their decisions especially since they are in a good relationship with Diana. The show is good and has not disappointed me.

Unknown said...

I see it as being about both Jamie and Claire. It is Claire's story after all.

Marsha, TheOutlandish1 said...

I unequivocally love the show for what it is...an answer to 25 years of wishing I could see my favorite books come to life. The shows may not be perfect...but in my world they are about as close as an adaptation can get. I understand how an adaptation takes some artistic license to streamline and get us where we need to go in a limited timeframe and coherent manner.
I don't fully understand any of the negativity... If the author is happy and has a clearly good rapport with the producers, etc...and she clearly is... Who are the rest of us to judge? How is Ron supposed to interpret everything that goes on inside every fan's head? I KNOW these books extremely well... I've had 25 years of reading, re-reading and listening. Both he and Claire are imperfect people...growing into the characters they become in the later books. it's why we love them so much and forgive them. I had no problem "putting down the book" as DG requested...and just sitting back and enjoying the ride.
I wish everyone could see this the way I do; but I understand there is a vocal minority that doesn't. I guess my question is...why do you continue to watch if you find this adaptation so painful? Just go back to the books or listen to the audiotapes. Why waste your time complaining? Life is short; but for many of us...we get great pleasure from all things Outlander and hope it continues with this production team for many more years. I also believe that some of you might see things differently when you rewatch episodes or binge...I think these impossible books are a journey and it's more difficult to see the "whole" when you are just watching a single episode at a time.

Anonymous said...

What annoys me is not Claire being dominant (the books ARE written from her POV after all) but rather the diminishing of Jamie in favour of Frank Randall and his ******* ancestor.

It wouldn't surprise me if BJR survives Culloden and I have no doubt that Frank will take over series 3.

me said...

Great points, and I completely agree that most of the changes were well done and added to the story instead of detracting from it.

Bev Sykes said...

Perhaps fortunately, I don't know the books as intimately as you do. I've read all the books at least twice, but with 8 books, details get muddled. The Outlander Companion helps me remember the basic outline, but my distance from the books allows me to easily separate the books from the TV show, concentrate on the TV and not always be thinking about how they left out such-and-such and how this and that didn't happen like that. It doesn't spoil either the books or the TV show.

One biggie is the inclusion of Murtagh in Claire's back story and I think that was a great decision to make.

Margie McLeod said...

Marsha and Kathy above have done a fantastic job of explaining exactly how I feel about this, and from two different but related viewpoints. Thanks ladies! As a reader of the books from the beginning I am just so happy to have them brought to life in four (or more!) seasons rather than one long movie, which could have happened (if not for our beloved author) and would have been a disaster. Love some of the changes, not so keen on others, but overall just ecstatic to have my long term dream come to life. Thanks Karen fir your excellent blog and sane viewpoints.

Unknown said...

I just wanted to personally thank all of you that have commented on this thread.
I have owned the first 3 books for about a year now, and been thinking about reading them. This last week I ended up binging the first 2 seasons in a matter of days, I just couldn't stop.
I love Mr. Moore as a creator, as he created one of my favorite shows BSG, which is why I decided to give the show a try.
I ended up loving it so much I wanted to pull out the books, but I didn't want to read something if it was exactly as the books.
But based on all of your opinions I decided the books were a must read. And I thank you all for that.
As I have read and seen the true blood series and it is much the same as the books for major plot a lot of the minor plots are different.
I think mostly why I am thanking all of you is for using a series that I knew well to describe the differences in outlander as well.

So yet again I just want to thank all of you for making me thrilled to read the books instead of just watching the show and hoping I wasn't missing antrhing.

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