Dec 17 2013 6:30pm

Outlander Roundtable: Thoughts on Diana Gabaldon’s Epic Novel

Outlander by Diana GabaldonTeam H&H was thrilled to hear that Starz had picked up Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series for production. The idea of this epic romantic couple coming not only to life, but into our homes, was thrilling. The news inspired us to do an Outlander re-read (or in some cases a first-time read). We asked each member of Team H&H to share his or her thoughts to get us talking before Claire and Jamie come to life next year:

The Re-Reader (Megan Frampton):

When I first read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I was a relative newbie to romance. I don’t even remember how I came across it, just that I read the blurb and heard the raves and was sufficiently intrigued (plus, I read very quickly, so I figured if the book wasn’t for me, it wasn’t that much of a waste of time).

The thing I recall most vividly about reading it the first time is that I woke up in the middle of the night—mind you, I was a mom whose kid was maybe three or so, so I was constantly sleep-deprived—and hauled myself out of bed and down to the other end of the apartment so I could devour some more of the book.

Now, probably ten years later, I’ve reread it, and the experience is no less interesting, even if I groused more about its length and definitely did not give up sleep to read it.

Since those early days, I’ve come to have strong opinions on what I like and don’t like in my genre reading. One thing I do not like is time travel, because my mind stumbles over the logistics of who knows what when, how the world might be changed, and how there wasn’t decent toothpaste or OB/GYN visits in the past.

But this is one time travel I love. I am also not a particular fan of Scottish historicals. But this is one Scottish historical I love. Ditto also infidelity, an intense use of brogue, lots of minutiae about Scottish politics, herbal remedies, horse birthing, and savage over-the-top villains.

This book is like the fictional equivalent of Stone Soup, only Diana Gabaldon is the only one throwing things into the pot. Lusty virgin, love triangles, power struggles, religion, beliefs, the law, what love means, etc. etc. It’s all in there. And somehow, it all works.

Now, I did love Outlander, but when I heard spoilers for the rest of the series, I was done. I am too much of a romance fan to endure  what the rest of the series promised, but I did read at least one of the Lord John spin-off books, because I wasn’t invested with him. If the series ends up going beyond what I’ve read, and I’m hooked on the show, I’ll stick with it, because I can deal with my television not giving me my happy ending (which is to say, if the book is not billed as a romance, I am fine with an UnHEA, but this book had the promise of being an epic love story, so I wanted it to stay that way).

I feel as though this book should come with a warning to writers: Don’t try this at home, because it takes all these elements that shouldn’t work together and makes it work. I still love Outlander, and Jamie and Claire together, and traveling into the past to watch them fall in love.

The Romance Virgin/Fantasy Freak (Christopher Morgan):

Going into Outlander I knew only a few things: 1) It is about a woman who enters a magic portal and travels to the past; 2) I hate, HATE portal fantasies; 3) Outlander is one of the few books that I've encountered that is almost universally beloved, even by my mother-in-law. So armed, I picked up Diana Gabaldon's Scots-filled epic. 

Let me begin by saying that I was disappointed upon first meeting Jamie. For full disclosure let it be known that I my previous knowledge was based on a whole other kind of Highlander. His name was Macleod, not Fraser, and there could be only one. Freddie Mercury once sword-fought him on an exploding stage. It may be this rather epic set up that lead me to distrust Jamie from the start. I'm not saying that Jamie was a bad guy but he's not a sword-fighting immortal that is best freinds with Sean Connery. 

That being said, Jamie was surprisingly witty and filled with plenty of pleasing banter. Good, snappy banter is the key to what I most enjoy about a novel, and Jamie doesn't disappoint. I liked Jamie, despite his lack of immortality and thus his not being a true Highlander. However, he is a wonderful protagonist/hero.

Which brings me to his heroine. Claire. Claire disappointed me a bit, much in the same way that Beth of BDB fame disappointed me. She turned her back on Frank a bit too fast for my liking. Granted, I'm a sucker for bookish academics. But the whole relationship with Jamie developed a bit fast when compared to actual book length. It's a niggling thing and quite minor when one considers just how impressive and well-researched Outlander is as a whole.

This then brings me back to the fact that this is a portal fantasy. Let me just say that I didn't care. Like I said before, I despise portal fantasies and avoid them as an excercise. It raises far too many questions and issues that are quite similar to Megan's reasons for not liking time travel. (Which, to be honest, unless it involves Michael J. Fox or The Doctor I'm not that crazy for it either.) But the world-building was wonderful. It was exaustive. There was perhaps too much time devoted to it. It was perfect epic fantasy. 

I'm not a romance fan by nature. I'm a reader, but romance is not my genre. That said, Outlander felt fimiliar in the way that fantasy feels familiar. Sure, the word count is daunting but then I hit that wonderfully fimilar and comfortable stride and clipped through it as I do any other of my typical 700+ page books. I'll eat crow and agree with everyone who ever told me that this is a great book that resists placement in only one genre.

The 'Shipper (Heather Waters (redline_)):

I read Outlander during my second year of college, and while it took me a while to warm up to it, once I did? I was all in. Classes be damned, I had to finish Claire and Jamie's epic first adventure as soon as humanly possible. And I did.

As a serial 'shipper, I tend to judge stories first and foremost on their romances, and as controversial as Claire and Jamie got, I just remember being completely swept away by them. They have so much going for them—older heroine/younger man, friends to lovers (albeit on an excellerated track), star-crossed lovers, opposites attract... Basically, fictional relationships don't get more epic, and that's before you even add in all the drama and angst that comes with the plot (including a secret baby!).

So while the details have gotten a little fuzzy in my mind in the years since I finished the book, my fond feelings for these two remain. Can't wait to see what Outlander TV series showrunner Ronald D. Moore does with them, as he was the one behind one of my favorite 'ships of all time: Kara Thrace and Lee Adama in Battlestar Galactica 2003. I guess my biggest question (probably like a lot of people's) going into it is: Will he be able to capture enough of the essence of book Jamie/Claire—the humor, the chemistry, the emotional honesty—to make Outlander as addictive to me as the book did?

The Outlander (Jennifer Proffitt):

This was my first time reading Outlander, a book that had always been on my TBR list, but its size and its hype always led me to hesitate to read it. Now it's time for Claire to move over because I think I'm going to be the Outlander in this situation—pun always intended.

I didn't love Outlander. I loved the idea, I loved Jamie and Claire and I think they will make excellent TV, but it was a struggle every day to read this book.

I think the main issue is that, like Christopher Morgan said, this is a great starter book for people who have a fantasy background. It's sweeping, it's epic, and it's incredibly detailed. Unfortunately, that's where my problems lay with it. Gabaldon is the Tolkien of romance. She could go on for pages about herbs just like Tolkien described a tree for 15 pages. For some, it is this detail that makes them love Outlander, but for me, it was a dealbreaker.

That being said, if we could just hack off about 150 pages, this would have been close to a perfect book for me. I really and truly did love Claire and Jamie together. I had issues with them separately—mostly Claire being able to just up and (mentally) leave Frank without ever really thinking about it. Sure, she thought she was going to be stuck for good, but I would have liked a little more resistance. Like Megan, I have been spoiled on where the rest of the series goes and my little romantic heart just can't handle it. However, the angst I know these two can feel will make for great TV and I can't wait for the show, and I will gladly take on anyone who would like like persuade me to fall in love with this book.

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