The Outlander Series' Book to Film Adaptation
by Spencer Blohm
For readers worldwide, it’s pretty much expected at this point that any book with minor success will be adapted into a film. While some of these films have gone on to become Hollywood classics (like To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind), all too often they’ve flopped and done the book, the author, and its fans, a great disservice. Many times failed adaptations are the result of trying to condense a rich and complex story into a tidy two hours. This challenge has led many producers and directors to instead turn to the television channels, many of which are looking towards books as sources of inspiration for their series or mini-series. The television series format often makes more sense than a condensed novel, especially when you think about the broken up segments in which the stories are delivered − an episode per chapter may not always be a perfect crossover, but there are clear guidelines and minor narrative plots that make episodic narratives out of both novels and television series. Of course, you’ve likely heard of the massive success of Game of Thrones, but another, equally beloved, book series that’s been made into a show is Diana Gabaldon’s best selling Outlander series, which just aired its mid-season finale on the Starz network.
For those who don’t have Starz (you can try here to view its availability) or simply haven’t been able to catch up, the first half of the season is easily available through Starz on demand and their Starz Play website (which is here). It’s best you catch up to the mid-season finale before reading this though, because it will contain some spoilers.
As previously stated, it’s long been a source of contention that film adaptations of books aren’t able to cover all the necessarily information, situations, and characters in such a limited amount of time. The prolonged format of a series has truly benefited the Outlander story and Gabaldon’s detailed account of Claire, the WWII nurse who returned home to London only to be transported back in time to the Scottish Highlands during the Jacobite uprisings. By dedicating an entire season of the show to cover the first book in Gabaldon’s series of eight − she believes the ninth novel will be the series’ last− they’ve been given a license to explore the more nuanced and complicated emotions that Claire (played fantastically by Irish model/actress Caitriona Balfe) must deal with, particularly her conflict between a blossoming relationship with Jamie MacTavish in the 1700’s and her husband Frank, who’s been left behind in the 1940’s.
The series itself was the product of the books' fifth time being optioned over the course of 20 years, which led Gabaldon and many of her readers to be skeptical of the tale ever reaching fruition. However, the series format seemed to be the perfect fit for Gabaldon’s series, and Sony Pictures purchased the rights to the books in 2012 with Battlestar Galactica developer Ron Moore signed on to adapt the books for the small screen. For her part, Gabaldon has served as a consultant and co-producer, but is weary to exert much more control than that, saying, “I don't think I'd want absolute control over a process that I don't normally work in and am not familiar with. I know people who work in film, and I think it would suck my soul, waste my time, and prevent me from writing books.”
Gabaldon still does serve as the final “ok” before Moore puts in any details or sequences that weren’t covered in the book, namely the recent coverage of Claire’s husband Frank’s search for her in the 40’s. He explained to Entertainment Weekly; “We kept Diana in the loop, and she saw scripts and dailies and cuts, and she’ll comment back from time to time, and she’s been very generous and very free to say, ‘You know what? I’m the author, you guys are the TV writers, you do what you do, and I’ll just trust that you don’t destroy my book.’ And that’s kind of the attitude that we’ve taken. We try to honor the book, and we try to preserve the spirit of it, and we try to stick as close to the storyline as we can, but it is an adaptation, and we are adapting it for another medium.”
It’s precisely this type of relationship, where Gabaldon and Moore understand each other’s place and abilities and have faith in each other, that has likely contributed to the quality of the show. In fact, the wedding episode had a staggering 3.8 million live viewers, an increase of 40% since the show’s premiere, with an average of 5 million viewers for each episode according to TV by the Numbers. When you consider that this is for a premium cable channel, that’s a figure that takes on even greater meaning. It’s not only the series that is getting a boost, Gabaldon’s books even broke into Amazon’s and the New York Times’ best seller lists at the end of August, reaching the top of the NYT’s three weeks in a row. That would be an impressive accomplishment for anyone, but is particularly amazing considering the book was released over 20 years ago.
While you’ll have months to wait until part two of the first season returns (it’s set to premiere in April 2015), that gap will give you plenty of time to re-read and refresh your memory on the adventures of Claire and her Scottish cohorts. Given that the second season has already been greenlit, I think it’s safe to say you’ll have plenty of Outlander in the future, both in print and filmed form, to keep yourself entertained for hours on end.
*Image sources: www.google.com