At what age did you start reading “adult” books? Books that had more than just kissing and fade to black, or were morality tales about what happens when sex happens? Books that acknowledge and celebrate sex as part of a healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) relationship? I’m not entirely sure when that was for me, but it couldn’t have been too much before I turned 15, because that’s the summer I read Outlander for the first time. It was a big fat book that my mom gave me before I went away to camp. Her sister (my aunt) had given it to her and said, “It’s really good!” and not having time to read it herself, she passed it along to me. Whoops. Because this book had some seriously steamy scenes, and some others that were definitely violent and seriously messed up. I think after finishing the book for the first time I thought, “WHY WOULD MY MOTHER GIVE THIS TO ME???” and then “…please tell me there’s more.”
Lucky for me, this was the late 90s, and there was not just a sequel, but THREE sequels, all of them just as big and fat and juicy as that first book. All in all, the series is currently at 8 books (with another forthcoming), and clocking in at nearly 7000 pages, in addition to 2 companion books, 3 novellas/short stories, and a whole spin-off series of short stories and longer works centered around another beloved character from the series. It’s on the same scale as the Song of Fire and Ice series, but longer, deeper, and better maintained, since author Diana Gabaldon – who happens to be friends with George R.R. Martin, as they are both New Mexicans – has been more regular in her publication schedule. Outlander fans have had a new book roughly every 4 years since the mid-90s. Not a bad track record.
So what’s all the fuss about? What’s the story? It begins with English World War II nurse Claire Randall mysteriously travelling back in time to the Scottish Highlands 200 years previous. She can’t explain exactly why or where she is, and neither can the group of clansmen she runs into. But they protect her from assault by the patrolling British soldiers, and Claire gets swept up into their world. It’s a complicated business at first – how does Claire get back to her own time? Does she want to get back to her own time? How does she protect those who she has come to like and admire in this time? And what does she do with her knowledge of history?
Spoiler alert, which isn’t much of a spoiler since the books have been out for more than 2 1/2 DECADES, and we’re also in season three of the television adaptation, but Claire falls in love with a young Highlander, and decides to stay behind and try to make things work in that time. But things get complicated when Claire and husband Jaime get deeply involved in the Jacobite rising of 1745, and they are split again by time when just before the battle of Culloden, Jaime sends a newly pregnant Claire back through the stones to her own time in order to protect her and their child while he goes off to fight and die. Jaime manages not to die in the rebellion, and Claire has a daughter (who looks strikingly like her father) and ends up becoming a doctor – attending medical school in the 1950s despite the barriers for her gender. And all of what I’ve told you only covers through the second book-ish. It’s EPIC.
So when Game of Thrones became this enormous success for HBO, it’s not surprising that other premium networks started sniffing around for their own epic stories to put on screen. Movie adaptations had been discussed in the Outlander fandom for years, with rumors swirling every once in a while, but Gabaldon shooting them down with the notion that it’s hard to boil down that much text into two hours of running time. So when the rumors began to swirl again about 5 years ago with the idea of a television series – everyone got VERY excited. And to top it off, it was being helmed by show-runners who were real fans of the books, and who had some prestige and sway, meaning that this wouldn’t be a half-assed production. And you can tell based on the costumes alone that they’re doing a great job.
A real effort was made to cast the characters in accordance with how they’re described in the books, and to do the bulk (if not all) of the filming in Scotland. The series has been well received, and even garnered a few awards in more niche competitions – which leads me to the strangest thing about the series (both book and television). No one is quite sure how to categorize these stories. Initially it was written off as “historical romance” because it featured a handsome kilted Scot, and quite a lot of sex. But there’s the element of time-travel, which has also allowed it to be seen as a science fiction series of sorts. Not to mention the fact that the books are essentially just historical fiction, with the twist of modern characters who have more knowledge than the historical characters around them.
In any case – the books are wonderful. The series is terrific. I feel so lucky that the Boy initially agreed to watch it with me, and that he has enjoyed it of it’s own worth even after I “forced” him to watch. In the weeks following the Game of Thrones finale, it’s been nice to have another Sunday night show to enjoy together. So if you’re looking for a new book or television series to fill your epic tale needs, and you’ve somehow managed to miss Gabaldon’s books entirely so far – consider yourself advised. These are good ones, and well worth your time and attention.