I used Outlander for one of my MA classes called Romance and its Remediation. We looked at romance tropes in medieval romances, and how they have been remediated in several more contemporary novels, graphic novels, TV series, movies and even video games. Of course, because I’m such a huge fan of the Outlander series, I wanted to use it for academic reasons, and I really enjoyed working on this. Today, I give you my introduction, and for the next few Fridays, I will also discuss the novel, the graphic novel and the TV show.
Outlander: Same Story – Different Media?
The first novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander saga was published in 1991, and the story of Claire Randall Beauchamp and Jamie Fraser immediately became very popular. Outlander can be included in novels that remediate the romance genre for several reasons, one of these reasons is the supernatural aspect. At the beginning of the novel, Claire inadvertently travels through time, 202 years into the past.
When Claire is introduced in the story, she is on a second honeymoon in Scotland, with her husband, Frank Randall, and it is just after the ending of the Second World War in 1945. During the war, Claire was an army nurse, and Frank was a pilot, and they did not see each other for the duration of the war and need to reconnect. They had chosen Scotland for their trip partly because Frank wanted to continue his genealogy research into his family, and also because Claire wanted to continue studying medicine, and had a big interest in using plants for their healing properties. Soon after they arrive in Scotland, however, they go to the local Stonehenge at dawn to watch as some local druid women dance and sing to welcome the sun. During this, Claire more feels than hears a strange buzzing noise, and when she comes back on her own later in the day to collect some flowers, she touches one of the stones and is transported 202 years back in time. As in medieval romances, the base of Claire’s time travel is coincidence or fate, as if she was indeed meant to travel back in time both in order to meet Jamie, and to help him and his clan in their quest to fight for a free Scotland.
Once Claire realises and admits to herself that she is indeed in the past, her quest to go back to her own time starts. The quest is also an aspect that was present in medieval romances, and while Claire’s quest happens because of an accident, it is still a quest. Her quest is not an easy one, especially because some Scots who want to protect her against the English soldiers who are roaming the Highlands soon take her in. Jamie Fraser is among the younger of these Scots, and it is apparent that he will become very important to the story unfolding. Jamie is on his own quest, too, as he is on the run from the English, and hiding with part of his clan in another part of Scotland from where he grew up. Because of the harsh environment, and the patriarchal society where she has ended up, Claire also has to stay close to the Scots in order to stay safe, and it is difficult for her to adhere to the rules of the clan of men who are used to women obeying them.
This brings about yet another aspect that mirrors the romance genre: the love triangle. However, the love triangle in Outlander is not as innocent and unobtainable as love triangles sometimes were in medieval romances, as Claire ends up marrying Jamie to survive, and they grow to love and respect each other. And while Claire is technically married to two men, at the same time she isn’t, as Frank lives on in the 20th century, and she continues to evolve in the 18th century. For quite some time, Claire is the only character who is aware of the fact that there is a love triangle, because her story seems so unreal, even to herself, she doesn’t find a good way to share her time travel with Jamie in a way that will not make him think she is insane or making things up. As the story unfolds, Jamie’s love for Claire is part of what makes him take action in different situations, and this can been seen as yet another characteristic which is important in medieval romances.
One of the aspects of the Outlander saga that is very appealing is that Claire is a very strong female character. She is definitely out of place in 18th century Scotland, but she was also seen as a feminist in the 20th century, because she spoke her mind, participated in the war, and did not obey any man who tried to tell her what to do. This brought the struggle women are still fighting today into the story as well, and seeing how Claire mostly managed to get her point across, even with the Scots who were not used to a woman taking charge and telling them what to do made the story as well as the characters complex and multi-faceted. This anachronism is important during the whole saga, as Claire often depends on her 20th century knowledge in order to solve problems, both historical and medical, in the 18th century.
Readers may have very different experiences when reading the novel, both because they bring their own real life experiences with them when they read, and because of their knowledge of history and human nature. The fact that Outlander now exists in three different media can both enhance and remediate the story, as impressions coming from the words on a page differ from the drawings in a graphic novel, and this is even more changing when it comes to a TV show. In each instance, there are more senses being involved in the experience of the story. In a novel, the words on a page or e-reader count, and the writing itself is what is important. The way the narration is done, the character development, the plot points as well as the storyline and the story time all participate in making a novel an experience for the reader.
In a graphic novel, the characters and the setting are partly brought to life through drawings and colours on the page. The layout of the page is different, and the illustrator can help draw the reader’s attention to one part of the page rather than the other, or try to make the reader’s attention go to one point before it is brought to another. The experience changes even more when the story moves from the page to the screen, because there are actors interpreting the characters, and a director is making decisions about lighting, which scenes to include, music, costumes and what perspective to use.
While the media can change, it appears that Outlander stays close to the story that unfolded in the novel, both in the graphic novel and in the TV show, the characters behave in the same way, and are recognisable to the audience no matter the media through which they first got acquainted with Outlander in.