Outlander: Outside Looking In

Outlander

 

My wife has always been an avid reader but my first memory of her being caught up in the fandom of a book series was the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich.
I wound up reading through book twelve or thirteen in the series but lost interest because the central character seemed incapable of getting any smarter.
The entire fandom of Babes vs Cupcakes reached a fever pitch and my wife even penned a Fan-Fiction version of her own (which was really rather good) but eventually she moved on. Then came Outlander.
Long before the STARZ television series came to be, my wife would eagerly await the release of the next book in the series. We attended a couple of book signings where the author spoke for around thirty minutes, answered some questions and cursed herself to writers cramp signing books for the next several hours. I must give this author proper due for fan loyalty because she remained at the signing table until every last person in line had their turn.
Diana Gabaldon is a mercurial character in her own right. A well educated, articulate woman steeped in scientific background and possessing a razor-sharp wit, she is an entertaining speaker but the depth of her books shows her self-confessed non-linear writing style. I mean no insult by that statement because she has devised one of the singular most intriguing time travel stories I can recall in my lifetime. Obviously, many others agree.
Similar to what I did with Stephanie Plum, I began reading Outlander to form common reference and to sample the phenomenon for myself. I made it through two novels. To be fair, any two of the Outlander books might equal ten of Stephanie Plum, in the same way a thirty minute sitcom stands up to Lord of the Rings or Les Miserables. I also discovered, not to put too fine a point on it, these books are an extremely high level of soft porn and I have discovered it is part of the giant appeal to the feminine audience. This should come as no surprise since Mrs. Gabaldon herself stated at the book signing we attended that she chose a Scottish Highlander as her dashing hero because he would have the ability to “take her” against a wall with only his kilt in the way. That painted a rather clear picture of her imagination on the subject.
Rumors came and went for years about Outlander making the transition to the big screen, but given the enormous content I never felt it stood a real chance. I have tried my hand at screenwriting and I can tell you it IS NOT for the faint of heart. I’ve said many times, the people who have my greatest respect and sympathy are those who are tasked with the monumental job of adapting a successful novel for the screen. Be it film, television or mini-series, it is a thankless job sure to be laced with the perils of vicious criticism.
Authors lavish paragraphs on descriptions of both characters and settings, yet no matter how great their command of the language, the reader is the one who conjures the images in their mind. When the writers, director, producer, actors and a host of other crew set about creating the visual interpretation of those words, the chances of universal success are all but impossible.
When word finally surfaced that STARZ Network was developing Outlander for a series, there was both joy and unbridled fear among fans…my wife included. When she told me Ronald D. Moore was given the reigns, I told her with great confidence to lay her fears to rest because the precious story could not be in better hands.
I’ve known Ron Moore’s work since his days of writing for Star Trek:The Next Generation and he has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. His early master stroke was his re-imagination of Battlestar Galactica. The transformation of a somewhat campy, cheezy 80’s television show into a taut sci-fi drama wound with human conflict and gritty survival was dazzling and it still stands tall today. Ron Moore knows how to drive a story, entertain an audience and weave a plot line that is not 100% predictable. An even tougher task when the source material is a best-selling novel series.
Mr. Moore and his staff have kept close counsel with the author (a testament to his dedication of the work) and provided a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes insight into the production. I think it was pure genius that he built a writers room of half who had read the books and half who did not, certainly a strong move to get fresh perspective.
I have gotten enormous enjoyment sharing this brilliant series with my wife on STARZ and the recent premier of the fourth season was no exception.
Bear McCreary has been a musical wizard for the series so far, but his use of the Ray Charles version of “America┬áthe Beautiful” was a pure emotional bulls-eye. At the very first, it seemed out of place, but then it sinks deeper and you realize how it touches the time-travel transcendence of the story. In addition, had they chosen a period specific church choir for instance, the impact wouldn’t have been the same. The song did not exist in that time frame and given the history lesson shared between Claire and Jamie earlier, the line of “A dream for some, but a nightmare for others,” comes with haunting impact. When you also consider the ancestors of Ray Charles were slaves, his melancholy blues rendition is more of a lament than an anthem, hence the tragedy of the scene.
We proclaim ourselves the “Land of the free and the home of the brave,” but the reality is we have spilled hard, angry blood on our own soil along the way.
My wife has made new friends via this exceptional series of books and has joined her share of social media (what successful franchise doesn’t do that nowadays?) but I still remain astounded at the picky negative feedback that pours in relentlessly. The size and color of a dog? Do you know anyone who trains wolves? The costumes, the dress, the settings, the length of hair, add infinitum.
Yet, YET, a character who was killed in the book continues to hang in limbo and is repeatedly bally-hooed over when he will return? Isn’t that kind of a bigger off-the-rails change?
I can fully understand the desire to see Murtagh survive because he was a loyal and entertaining character, but if we are willing to swallow that pill without complaint does the color of a dog carry a lot of weight? LOL
In the end, I’m actually enjoying the show even more not knowing anything about the books I haven’t cracked. My wife can spill whatever spoilers escape her lips with no disruption whatsoever on my part. For me, I rest assured Diana Gabaldon has supplied a wealth of source material to build on and as long as she is happy with the product the talented Mr. Moore is cranking out, then who am I to complain? I trust both of these people to paint an entertaining hour of television my wife and I can share, and that is what I enjoy most.
If details get missed, omitted or changed along the way, just be glad the days of a studio buying the rights to material and then forking it over to someone determined to put their “artistic interpretation” on it is a proven fool’s errand and mostly a thing of the past.
When a novel sells a million-plus copies then there are at least a half million visions/opinions shared by readers, so the chance of any production pleasing everyone is a non-starter.
I say Bravo! to the cast and crew of Outlander for a job well done and I look forward to more adventures to come. I hope you do too.
 T. August Green

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