Whether you’re reading Diana Gabaldon’s smash hit books or watching the Outlander series on television, this is historical fiction / romance done right! Oh, aye Sassenach!*
Here’s the premise of both the books and the series: Claire and Frank Randall are enjoying a post WWII second honeymoon in Scotland when Claire is transported to Scotland in 1743, in the middle of the Jacobite risings that pit Englishman against Scot. In that time period, she meets and marries Jamie Fraser, ostensibly to save her skin in dangerous times, particularly as an English woman who just ‘appeared’ on Scottish soil but who has no relations or kin. It doesn’t take long for things to heat up though, between this unlikely pair, and Claire is left caught between two worlds… and two men, whom she loves. It’s a perfect Scottish storm, complete with battles and arguments and some pretty steamy love scenes!
Books or TV series: which is better?
This post contains affiliate links.
The first thing you need to know is that the Outlander series is pretty true to the books. It doesn’t matter which one you start with, and frankly, Jamie Fraser (as played by the other gorgeous ginger, Sam Heughan) is worth picturing as you read… You’ll see what I mean…
Outlander was almost a feature film
Once you’ve watched even a little of the series, there’s no question that Caitriona Balfe IS Claire Randall and the idea of Katherine Heigl—the originally proposed actress for Claire’s roll—playing the part just seems wrong, somehow!
Guess who was rumoured to be on the short list for the role of Jamie (in the film version)? Liam Neeson and Sean Connery. No. Just… No.
The idea for the series came from a Dr. Who episode
Diana Gabaldon has been quoted, in Scotland Now, as saying, after watching the character Jamie McCrimmon—a young Scot in 1745—in an episode called War Games, : “I was thinking a historical novel might be the easiest kind of book to write for practice when I happened to see a really old Doctor Who re-run.”… “Jamie struck me with his attitude and male gallantry and I thought the kilt was rather fetching.” (Source)
The costumes are authentic to the period, including the kilts
So in case you’re wondering, the actors wearing them did in fact go commando! All in the name of realism! “I’m a true Scotsman, and it’s one of the joys of working on the show is wearing the kilt,” Sam Heughan said. “It can actually be very comfortable.” (Source) None of the costumes had velcro or zippers, to preserve that authenticity and the corsets for the women were true to form!
Also, in the name of authenticity, these same costumes were distressed to appear more realistically aged and well used by receiving a good going over with cheese graters, sandpaper, pumice stones, blow torches and by being baked in a hot oven!
Jamie’s scars aren’t real!
But they did take 2.5 hours per session and 3 makeup artists to get the realistic looking back scarring in place, evidence of Jamie’s previous altercation with the evil and sadistic English soldier Captain Black Jack (played by the same actor—Tobias Menzies—who portrays Frank Randall, Claire’s 1945 husband… could they be related? Hmmm… You’ll have to see for yourself!)
The Gaelic language was real!
Whenever the actors had to speak in Gaelic, much pain was taken to make their speech patterns as authentic as possible, with the employment of a speech coach.
It’s hot… and not because of the Scottish weather!
At the risk of sounding like Paris Hilton, there’s really no other way to put it: the sex scenes—whether book or series—are hot. Certainly, the attraction between Claire and Jamie is palpable almost immediately and the story could not have gone any other way, but best make sure the littles are in bed before switching this one on!
It’s also violent, as the Jacobite risings were, with people being tortured or killed at the drop of a hat. The books, and the series, don’t shy away from either the sex or the violence but they’re done in a way that seems germane to the story and adds to it, rather than having it be all there is.
The UK government delayed the release of the series
Then Prime Minister David Cameron requested that Sony delay the release of the series in the UK as the country was, at the time, weeks away from a referendum to determine whether Scotland should remain part of the UK, or not. A series about Scottish uprising, albeit 1740s style, wouldn’t have helped the cause! Sony granted his request and delayed the release.
So if you’re in the market to go visit the filming locations for the series, or just want a taste of Scottish life as you go through the Outlander books, Visit Scotland has put together an Outlander map, to follow and savour. The map has wonderful details of what was filmed in which spot! Enjoy it!
*A line you’ll hear / read a few times… Sassenach is an old Scottish term that means ‘foreigner’ or ‘outlander’ … or for the sake of this series, in the time it is set in: ‘English person’. It’s meant as a derogatory term, but not the way Jamie uses it! Trust me!