If you’re an Outlander geek like me (and chances are if you’re reading this you are) you can have hours of fun clocking up the differences between the novel and the TV series, trying to figure out why they did what they did and what the hell you think about it.
As a rule, screen adaptations can’t include everything a novel does so I expected Dragonfly in Amber (DIA) to be like the director’s cut of the TV series. However, I soon realised that not only are chunks of the novel missing in the TV adaptation, whereby characters and scenes are either amalgamated or missing entirely, but in some respects the TV series veers right off the page.
Both open with Claire back in her own time, thereby ensuring we know from the off-set that Claire and Jamie ultimately fail in their mission. However, whereas DIA starts off in 1968, the opening scenes of the series are set much earlier with Claire having just landed back in 1940s Scotland.
Thus the show starts with characters we know – Claire and Frank rather than characters we don’t – Roger and Brianna. And though Frank doesn’t appear in DIA, it’s a way of reminding viewers who he is – after all he inadvertently plays a major role in events; explaining Claire’s desperation that he be born and Jamie’s desperation to send Claire back to him when all is lost.
The producers were also no doubt aware that people who read historical novels tend to be more patient than your average TV viewer. I was willing to read 86 pages before the first sighting of Jamie. As a TV viewer, I was already getting palpitations 30 minutes in wondering where the hell he was.
And with such a dense novel, full of plots twists and numerous characters, unsurprisingly not all make it to the screen: no St Kilda cemetery scene (what a great scene that would have been with Claire coming across Jamie’s grave); no Johannes Gerstmann (understandable); no Jenny Cameron (understandable but a pity); no attempt in Paris on Jamie’s life (please god, let that be in deleted scenes); Dougal doesn’t make it to Paris (understandable); Lord Lovat’s prostatitis is out (thank goodness) as is Dougal and Jamie’s showcase swordfight (understandable but a shame); likewise Claire’s foray into breaking and entering (probably for the best); Dougal doesn’t give Rupert a coup de grâce (he can’t, with no Willie we need Rupert to chance upon Dougal’s murder and we’ve just lost Angus anyway); likewise no attempted rape on Claire by an English soldier (enough already); and Hugh isn’t hanged (rather he wasn’t thanks).
Certain scenes are also made cleaner to move the narrative along hence no Alex Randall or Jamie arriving at the Paris rape scene. The sabotaging of the port wine is moved from the high seas off Spain to on land in France. Besides being easier and cheaper to film, the scene is moved forward in time in the series. Presumably because it would otherwise have slowed down the dramatic pace and tension of the Faith episode.
Also cut short from the Faith episode is Claire and Jamie’s reconciliation. It’s kept fairly simple, a brief scene followed by Claire and Jamie holding hands at their child’s graveside. The latter is a touching image but needless to say some of the emotional and all of the sexual interplay between the two from the novel is lost, with Jamie seeming to take Claire’s admission of her dalliance with the French King with an equanimity which is impressive if slightly unbelievable.
Conversely what is unbelievable in DIA is Jamie bearing Claire’s breasts to all and sundry as he tricks William Grey into thinking he is about to rape her unless he provides Jamie with information on British troop movements. Such a move would not only be more unbelievable on screen but foolhardy given the nature of Sam Heughan’s Jamie and Caitriona Balfe’s Claire, and wisely the TV series tones this scene down somewhat. It also gets Jamie off the hook morally by having Claire instigate the roleplay. Even more fortunately for Jamie’s image as a fantasy male, she does so before he gets a chance to torture the child by burning his skin with a heated knife, as he does in the book.
Missing in its entirety, however, is the scene where Jamie tells Ian what happened to him at Wentworth Prison. Such a conversation would be difficult for a modern man to have let alone an 18th century Highlander. I’m guessing its omission was due to time constraints but it would have been a wonderful scene to watch; added weight to the trauma that Jamie will always have to bear; and give emotional depth to Jamie and Ian’s relationship as well as to the character of Jamie, underlining once more how great a sacrifice Jamie was prepared to make to save his beloved.
Also missing is the depiction of the Jacobite court in Edinburgh. Maybe the thought of depicting yet another court with characters that most non-Scots have never heard of seemed too much work for too little pay off. But as someone with an (admittedly) above average interest in Scottish history I would have loved it to be included.
So with Edinburgh out, we meet Colum at Lord Lovat’s along with Laoghaire whose appearance, though not in DIA, is presumably an indication she has a role to play later on in the story. And given that we move swiftly from Prestonpans to the Jacobite retreat from Derby, through sheer necessity the Lord Lovat scene is brought forward, the fate of Jamie’s men at the Tollbooth has to be omitted, and Mary, Black Jack Randall (BJR), Alex and Claire meet later on in invented scenes in Inverness.
Also missing is the sex: partly due to the fact that in DIA Jamie is further on in his recovery than in the series. At the end of the first season Outlander could opt to have Jamie still recovering; or do that TV thing of having a character suffer a traumatic event and then miraculously recover before the final credits; or add another episode dealing specifically with his recovery and have Outlander go from a Scottish Poldark to a Scottish Game of Thrones to a Scottish Play for Today. However, as the final episode is also there to hook people in for the next series you can see why they went for the option they did.
Mind you, the TV version seems to exacerbate the relationship between Claire and Jamie in Paris. Thus unbeknownst to Jamie, Claire meets Alex Randall early on in the series and discovers BJR is alive. Understandably she decides to keep this secret from Jamie. This ratchets up the dramatic ante but at the same time undermines the very nature of their relationship.
As for the argument over Claire working in L’Hôpital des Anges, in DIA it happens before Claire goes to work there and in the end both Claire and Jamie back down. On screen, the tension between them is heightened by the neat trick of having the argument happen after the fact, and take place when Jamie feels thwarted, having just been outmanoeuvred by Charles.
However, even Heughan can’t stop Jamie coming across as petulant here; and the one time Jamie is understandably furious with Claire – when she asks him to refrain from duelling with BJR – we miss out on them making up.
The TV version also seems to want to make both characters more duplicitous than they are in DIA. For example, with no French Abbey scene, Jamie is not initially enlisted into the Jacobite cause but actively chooses to join them by lying to his cousin, Jared.
In DIA thanks to servants’ gossip, Claire and Jamie know about Louise and Charles’s liaison from the outset. In the series they finally put two and two together and use a public declaration of their friend’s pregnancy as a weapon to wound the Prince, having no real qualms as to how such an announcement will affect their friend.
And in a completely invented scene Claire proves to be a real bitch when she persuades Alex Randall to forget Mary Hawkins. The reasons she gives are valid ones but that’s not why she says them. Her sole motive is to save Frank.
Later on, she strikes a bargain with BJR that she’ll nurse his brother if he provides her with information on the British Army. This is a harder side to Claire than we’ve seen before: demanding payment to alleviate the suffering of a dying man; but it’s one the producers clearly want to highlight, as in the novel it is BJR who suggests the trade-off.
Then there is the question of her abetting Colum’s suicide. In the novel Colum dies before he can take the poison Claire has supplied. In the series Colum has clearly drunk it. And before he dies, his declaration that Jamie will have guardianship over Hamish (a plot twist not in DIA) again heightens the tension between Jamie and his uncle, and possibly calls into question Dougal’s motives when he seeks such final retribution on Claire and Jamie at the end.
Of course, an added complication for the writers is not only do they have to omit various aspects of DIA; they also have to flesh out certain scenes. This is because some of what Jamie does in DIA is reported speech, i.e. Jamie telling Claire what he’s been up to. That’s fine in a book but makes for rather boring telly.
Therefore certain scenes need to be expanded which meant one of the biggest surprises for me was how little Murtagh and Prince Charles feature in DIA. In fact, one of the best scenes in the series – Murtagh decapitating Sandringham – you don’t actually witness in DIA. And though Murtagh’s absence is not missed when reading the novel, his increased presence in the series turns out to be one of its main strengths.
In addition, in another move away from DIA, Claire and Jamie finally inform Murtagh that Claire is from the future. This not only strengthens the bromance between Jamie and Murtagh but enables Murtagh to be a sounding board; a handy device where the novel can use the auspices of the narrator.
Other additions include the arrival of Dougal, Angus and Rupert in time to fight at Prestonpans; watching Claire suffer post-traumatic stress and Jamie train his troops, highlighting the difference between his more modern and Dougal’s more traditional methods. However, in DIA Jamie’s training of the troops is mentioned in just two paragraphs.
And it’s here where, if I had read DIA first, I might have taken issue with the series. It’s clear the producers are keen to show us the high cost of war, and what better way than have a much loved character killed in the midst of victory. It’s also clear they want to highlight that though the Highlanders were brave, they were mismanaged and their way of fighting – the Highland Charge – though fearsome was outdated by the 1740s and no match for the then modern armoury of canons and grapeshot. And last but not least, that fighting for a cause may not match the reality of what you are actually fighting for.
That’s all well and good but with some of the emotional heart written out of the series, if I were a novel aficionado, I’d be wondering if they have time for all that then why couldn’t we at least have one more scene of Claire and Jamie canoodling.
And it’s not just the sex; it’s the underlying relationship that is evident even when they are shagging each other’s brains out that pulls you in. It talks to us of loves gained, loves lost, maybe loves never experienced but, with a bit of luck, loves yet to come!
Now that may seem superficial. It may well be superficial but that’s coming from someone who initially watched Outlander for two reasons and two reasons only: where it was set: Scotland and when it was set: 1740s. But I’ve watched Season One 20+ times and there’s only one reason why I’ve done that and that’s the hook of Claire and Jamie’s relationship.
So we didn’t even get their last night together. Given their great love for each other and all they’d been through, surely they (and us) deserved a better pay off than a quickie in the mud. Given the structure of the last episode and the build up of dramatic tension you can see why it was omitted. Where the hell would you fit it in? (Not forgetting the sudden appearance of a handily-placed empty cottage). Having everything happen in one morning rather than over 24 hours moves the story along with pace and a sense of urgency. Yet we viewers really don’t care or think about such things. Truth be told: we just want the scene.
Perhaps we could have had the scene in a previous episode? After all, Jamie is always thinking ahead. Maybe after the Gaelic prayer when in a move, more unbelievable than Claire flying though a megalith and going back in time 200 years, she looks at a sexy, naked Jamie in bed beside her who has just whispered sweet nothings at her, and is doing that quirky, sexy smile thing he does, and she simply turns round and goes back to sleep! I mean, how tired can a woman be?
The lack of sex aside what also comes across more in the novel is that Claire has come to Scotland specifically to tell Brianna the truth and how astute Jamie is. He is several steps ahead of everyone around him, and it was only through reading the novel it finally dawned on me why Jamie is so good at chess.
Secondly, it was thanks to the book I realised that Jamie injures rather than kills BJR in the duel on purpose. Jamie’s promise to Claire is paramount; he may want vengeance on BJR, but more importantly Jamie wants an exit strategy for Claire.
Of course the main reason why the TV series isn’t an exact copy of the book is that if it were, it would be dire. Take the omission of Claire’s recovery at Fontainebleau after her miscarriage. This works in DIA because in a novel you can afford to develop a story gradually, and in a novel you get to see the workings of a character’s mind. In TV drama, you need precisely that: drama. You could have an hour’s TV dealing with the intense sense of loss a bereaved mother feels but that’s an entirely different kind of drama programme. And although you can film something from a character’s point of view, you can’t get inside their head like a novel can. There is only so much voiceover an episode can take! So instead the TV version opts to show Claire dealing with the immediate repercussions of her loss. It’s just as heartrending, far more dramatic and makes for a much better episode.
Here lies the nub. If you haven’t read DIA, you judge Outlander by what it is – a drama; if you’ve read DIA, you may judge Outlander by what it isn’t – a book. And of course viewers/readers don’t tend to worry about story, episode, season and character arcs, dramatic pace and tension, time constraints, not to mention the sheer logistics of putting together a multi-million dollar TV series while appealing to both TV execs and an international TV audience of millions.
But let’s not forget, there is always the promise of deleted scenes. I’m hoping against hope that Jamie’s would-be assassination is included. Then again, maybe the producers aren’t that daft, and decided against giving the Bond producers any ideas by producing a scene depicting a sexy, hunky Scot foiling pesky foreign assassins while abroad. Remind you of anyone?
Jen Brister and I are currently podcasting about Season One – we always like to be ahead of the game! You can listen in at https://soundcloud.com/jen-brister