What is it that we love so much about the Outlander books? Is it Claire and her bad-ass self? The history? The adventure? The steamy sex? The love story? For me, it’s all of those things. But above all else, it’s one James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.
Outlander: 1636 vs 199
Dragonfly in Amber: 1832 vs 133
Voyager: 2508 vs 121
What are those numbers, you ask? Mentions.
One of the best features of e-books is that they let readers (ok, maybe just me) indulge my obsession to find information about my favorite books quickly and easily (i.e., gather data, take notes, and highlight and/or bookmark favorite passages). After the finale of Season 2, and to support my hypothesis that the show runners were getting off track where Jamie Fraser is concerned, I did a little search of Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager, the three books in the series where both Jamie and Frank appear. The figures above show the number of times Jamie is mentioned versus the number of times Frank is mentioned. The difference is pretty striking. It’s also quite obvious who is the more important character. Can’t dispute hard data, Ron.
Some fans (and apparently the showrunners) think that Outlander is strictly Claire’s story, and by extension, the story of her relationships with Frank and Jamie. I don’t entirely agree with that. In the wake of Season 2, I found myself in numerous discussions about this very topic with other “book people.” I wasn’t surprised to discover how many of us see it quite differently; we see the Outlander series as more Jamie’s story than Claire’s. And even when we didn’t agree on that, two things about which we all did agree was that it is NOT Claire and Frank’s story, nor is it a “love triangle” between Jamie, Claire and Frank. The central character in the series is really Jamie. The story may be told from Claire’s perspective, but her narrative is all about him: how he smells, the way he looks, his intelligence, his bravery, his sense of humor, the way he makes her feel…The few times she mentions Frank, it is usually to tell us that he was a good father to Bree and to let us know that in comparison to Jamie, as a man and a husband, he is woefully lacking (whether or not she had a hand in those failures is a topic for another post):
Jamie. Jamie was real, all right, more real than anything had ever been to me, even Frank and my life in 1945. Jamie, tender lover and perfidious black-guard.
Perhaps that was part of the problem. Jamie filled my senses so completely that his surroundings seemed almost irrelevant. But I could no longer afford to ignore them. My recklessness had almost killed him this afternoon, and my stomach turned over at the thought of losing him.
*Note: this passage is from right after she tried to get back to Frank, but was picked up by the Redcoats and taken to Fort William. Makes me wonder if her heart was really in it, or did she just feel guilty and obligated to try and return to Frank? Just something to consider.
As I mentioned, I realize that some people still see Claire as the main character-that the story is about Claire and what happens to her, and that Frank is just as important a part of her life as Jamie. I ask those people to please read the books again. Once Jamie comes into her life, almost everything Claire does and says is relayed to the reader through the prism of Jamie: how events affect him as an individual, them as a couple, and the world they inhabit. He is like the sun; a powerful, magnetic force to which everyone is drawn and around which everything revolves. The difference in Outlander, though, is that the depth of feeling isn’t one-sided. For Jamie, Claire has the same overwhelming pull for him as he does for her
“I had thought I was well beyond that stage, had lost all trace of softness and was well set on my way to a middle age of stainless steel. But now I thought that Frank’s death had cracked me in some way, And the cracks were widening, so that I could no longer patch them with denial. I had brought my daughter back to Scotland, she with those bones strong as the ribs of Highland mountains, in the hope that her shell was strong enough to hold her together, while the center of her “I am” might still be reachable.
But my own core no longer held in the isolation of “I am,” and I had no protection to shield me from the softness from within. I no longer knew what I was or what she would be; only what I must do. (my emphasis)
For I had come back, and I dreamed once more, in the cool air of the Highlands. And the voice of my dream still echoed through ears and heart, repeated with the sound of Brianna’s sleeping breath.
“You are mine,” it had said. “Mine! And I will not let you go.”
-Dragonfly In Amber
*Note: these are Claire’s thoughts after 20 years apart from Jamie. Her first instinct after Frank’s death is to run back to Scotland, in search of a ghost. Her grief is palpable-but it’s not for Frank.
“It’s a lot too late to ask that,” I said, and reached to touch his cheek, where the rough beard was starting to show. It was soft under my fingers, like a stiff plush. “Because I’ve already risked everything I had. But whoever you are now, Jamie Fraser-yes. Yes, I do want you.”
I don’t mean to say that Claire isn’t also a wonderful character, and Caitriona plays her brilliantly. She embodies the characteristics that many of us, as women, possess ourselves (or wish we did!): strength, intelligence, resilience, compassion, resourcefulness, sensuality, and yes, a certain degree of recklessness and a “damn the consequences” attitude. But for all of her great, and not-so-great, qualities, I would go so far as to suggest that Claire is at her most interesting when she is with Jamie (and before I get a lot of comments suggesting I’m being sexist, NO, I do not think a woman needs a man (not even Jamie Fraser) to be interesting, fulfilled or complete!). I just happen to think there is a good case to be made for Jamie being the more fascinating character. (Side note: I’m not saying that he is perfect. If he were, he wouldn’t feel so “real” to the reader. However, I really wish the whole “King of Men” moniker could just be erased. It’s silly and turns the very interesting character of Jamie Fraser into more of a caricature. Nobody wants to see that. Ron practically rolls his eyes whenever he says it, and Sam looks uncomfortable whenever someone mentions it. Jamie Fraser is supposed to be a human being (granted, an exceptional one), not a comic book super hero).
Consider this: would you be more interested in reading a story about Claire without Jamie, or one about Jamie without Claire? I know, I know, most of us would prefer them together as a couple, but indulge me. I know which I would choose. Even Diana Gabaldon finds Jamie the more interesting character: beyond the core Outlander series, Virgins is about Jamie, The Exile is about Jamie, The Scottish Prisoner is about Jamie (even though it’s in the Lord John series). Are there any additional books or novellas about Claire? No. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Diana has even said that she relates more to Jamie than to Claire. And why not? Jamie is a much more compelling and nuanced character than Claire. We know what Claire will do in almost every situation (usually something that ends up putting Jamie and/or herself in mortal danger…lol), but Jamie often surprises us. In addition, it is Jamie that develops the most over the course of the series. We see him as a young, slightly reckless warrior, a survivor of sexual assault, an outlaw, a prisoner, a merchant, a conspirator, a soldier, a laird, a printer, a smuggler, a pioneer… Most importantly, we see him grow and mature as man, a father, a grandfather and a husband to Claire.
So all of this begs the question: why are TPTB (the powers that be) changing the story and minimizing Jamie’s character in the show? In Jamie they have a beautifully rich character in his own right, they have enough great prose and dialogue in the books for 50 episodes per season and they have the perfect actor to play him. It makes no sense to shift so much focus away from the most beloved character in the books. Here are some examples of what I mean.
For the most part, I loved Season 1, and after re-reading (again) Outlander, I realized why. THEY STUCK (MOSTLY) TO THE BOOK AND USED A LOT OF DIANA’S DIALOGUE. Perhaps that’s less interesting for the screenwriters, but their job is to adapt an existing piece of work to film, not to re-write the characters. Wisely, that’s what they did in Season 1. I will take exception to two, rather major, changes to the first season. The first was in The Wedding. In the show, the focus was on Claire. In fact, in the recap after the episode, both Ron and Terry said that it was “all about the dress, Claire’s entrance, the way Jamie reacts to her,”etc., etc. But if you re-read that passage in the book, you will see that they were wrong. Diana wrote it from the completely opposite perspective. Diverging from societal norms, this wedding wasn’t all about the bride; it was about the groom:
It was a “warm” Scottish day, meaning that the mist wasn’t quite heavy enough to qualify as a drizzle, but not far off, either. Suddenly the inn door opened, and the sun came out, in the person of James. If I was a radiant bride, the groom was positively resplendent. My mouth fell open and stayed that way.
A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight–any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breathtaking.
Well over six feet tall, broad in proportion and striking of feature, he was a far cry from the grubby horse-handler I was accustomed to–and he knew it. Making a leg in courtly fashion, he swept me a bow of impeccable grace murmuring “Your servant, Ma’am,” eyes glinting with mischief.
“Oh,” I said faintly.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved that episode, and still think it was one the best hours of film that I have ever seen. I loved the way they started after the ceremony and worked backward. I loved the sex scenes, going from awkward first encounter, to the passionate, lust-filled round 2, to the beginnings of falling in love at the end. I loved the scene between Jamie and Murtagh talking about Jamie’s mother and how Claire’s “smile was as sweet” as Ellen’s. I loved the “bible smack-down” between Willie and the priest. It was romantic, funny, emotional and sexy as hell! In short, it was perfection, so I didn’t mind the change.
At the time, I also didn’t really think anything of shifting the focus from Jamie to Claire when, for example, the writers had Jamie thinking that it was the vision of Claire that was “like the sun coming out,” instead of the other way around. I appreciated that the reversal was made as Ron’s homage to his wife, Terry. In fact, I thought it was quite a sweet gesture and didn’t think it took anything away from Jamie’s character to do it. However, in retrospect, having seen all of the other changes where the focus was moved from Jamie to Claire in Season 2, I’m beginning to think that maybe it was more deliberate, and less romantic, than I originally thought. Maybe I’m just cynical.
The other significant change to Season 1, which I mentioned in my previous post, was the failure to allow time for Jamie to heal and for he and Claire to reconnect after his assault at the hands of BJR. Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe were brilliant with what they were given. But why was that entire section skipped when it was so hugely significant to the development of Jamie and Claire’s relationship? Those of you who have read the books know what I’m talking about (the length and intensity of the “exorcism,” the tentative first intimate encounter, the passion and re-connection in the hot spring, and yes, even the dark humor). There really was no excuse for it, given that they had three additional episodes in which to address it. Both Maril and Terry are huge fans of the books; I find it difficult to believe that this subject never came up in private discussions, in the writer’s room or when they were blocking out the episodes before filming. I mention it again here because it was a rare, but crucial, misstep by TPTB. Not only did it fail to give both the characters and the audience a much-needed catharsis after the events in Wentworth Prison and to Ransom a Man’s Soul, it resulted in the writers having to alter the natures of the core characters and much of the flow of Season 2. I suppose we’ll never know why they chose to eliminate those scenes from Season 1, but someday I’d really like an honest answer to that question. I would much rather know it was a miscalculation rather than an intentional decision to prop up Frank’s character and undermine Jamie’s.
As for Season 2, I’ve already made my thoughts known on the altering of Claire & Frank’s characters, the diminishing of Jamie’s and on the nearly complete, and incomprehensible, lack of sex and intimacy between Jamie and Claire (see Yeah…It Kind of IS About the Sex). I won’t revisit them here. In preparing to write this post, I re-read many different parts of the first three books, among them “the print shop scene.” As always, it brought me to tears. I so want the filmed version to do the same. I mean, seriously, I want to be like this when I see it:
As of this writing, the cast and crew have reconvened in Scotland and are ready to start filming Season 3, Voyager. So here are my pleas to Ron, Maril, and all of the directors and writers:
- Please DO NOT continue down the path you were on in Season 2. Focus on Jamie – and on the relationship between Jamie and Claire. A LOT happens in Voyager, but don’t get so lost in the “action” that you forget why millions of fans love these books. If we want to watch a high-seas adventure in the Caribbean with lots of gratuitous and unnecessary sex, we’ll watch Black Sails. There are many scenes you can skip or merge together for the sake of time. Some suggestions: 99% of Claire’s life with Frank, the serial killer in Edinburgh, Mr. Willoughby, some of the events in the ocean crossing, much of the voodoo in the Caribbean. There are plenty of things you can skim over that won’t affect the story going forward to Drums of Autumn. Please do not skip over Jamie’s time without Claire (i.e., Ardsmuir, Lallybroch, Helwater) or any of the time with him when she returns. Those scenes are far too important not to include in all their glory.
- PLEASE, do not make the mistake you made in Season 2 (and yes, I do think it was a mistake) by skimping on the love story (including the sex) that is the heart of Outlander. There is no shame in producing a top-quality love story. They are sorely lacking on television today. You have enough talented people working on this show that you can weave the romance between Jamie and Claire seamlessly into the history and adventure of the story. You did it in Season 1 and it was adored by critics and fans alike. I challenge you to do it again. Let us see more of this:
“Do ye know?” he said softly, somewhere in the black, small hours of the night. “Do ye know what it’s like to be with someone that way? To try all ye can, and seem never to have the secret of them?
“Yes,” I said, thinking of Frank. “Yes, I do know.”
“I thought perhaps ye did,” He was quiet for a moment, and then his hand touched my hair lightly, a shadowy blur in the firelight
“And then…” he whispered, “then to have it all back again, that knowing. To be free in all ye say or do, and know that it is right.”
“To say ‘I love you,’ and mean it with all your heart,” I said softly to the dark.
“Aye,” he answered, barely audible. “To say that.”
His hand rested on my hair, and without knowing quite how it happened, I found myself curled against him, my head just fitting in the hollow of his shoulder.
“For so many years,” he said, “for so long, I have been so many things, so many different men.” I felt him swallow, and he shifted slightly, the linen of his nightshirt rustling with starch.
“I was Uncle to Jenny’s children, and Brother to her and Ian. ‘Milord’ to Fergus, and ‘Sir’ to my tenants. ‘Mac Dubh’ to the men of Ardsmuir and ‘MacKenzie’ to the other servants at Helwater. ‘Malcolm the printer,’ then ‘Jamie Roy’ at the docks.” The hand stroked my hair, slowly, with a whispering sound like the wind outside. “But here in the dark, with you…I have no name.”
I lifted my face toward his, and took the warm breath of him between my own lips.
“I love you,” I said, and did not need to tell him how I meant it.
- Please stop changing the story by focusing so much on Claire (and giving so many great lines written for Jamie to Claire). Diana wrote them for Jamie for good reason. It doesn’t bolster Claire’s character to diminish Jamie’s. Claire is not a character who would give up everything for a man who was not her equal. And Jamie wouldn’t be with a woman that was angry and shrewish. If he wanted that, he would have stayed with Laoghaire. And therein lies the secret to what makes this story so popular with your key demographic, i.e., women. Jamie and Claire are not only soul-mates; they are a match of equals.
“You are my courage, as I am your conscience,” he whispered. “You are my heart-and I your compassion. We are neither of us whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach?”
“I know that,” I said, and my voice shook. “That’s why I’m so afraid. I don’t want to be half a person again. I can’t bear it.”
-Drums of Autumn
- Please, please, please stop with the Frank lovefest. I have nothing against Tobias Menzies, but ENOUGH. This story is NOT about Frank. We don’t need to see every detail of Claire’s life with Frank. Even the non-book readers can infer what those 20 years were like. Personally, I don’t want to hear from RDM & Co. ever again about how we “need to include Frank so that we can understand Claire.” No…we don’t. And we really don’t if you keep changing Frank’s nature. “Book Frank” was kind of jerk; not the nice, understanding saint you changed him into. If Frank were that wonderful, why would Claire want to go back to Jamie? Why would she have spent that entire 20 years in love with a ghost? The story needs to make sense to the non-book readers. If you truly want to understand Claire, you need to focus on JAMIE.
“All the time after ye left me, after Culloden-I was dead then, was I not?”
“I was dead, my Sassenach-and yet all that time, I loved you.”
I closed my eyes, feeling the tickle of the grass on my lips, light as the touch of sun and air.
“I loved you, too,” I whispered. “I still do.”
The grass fell away. Eyes still closed, I felt him lean toward me, and his mouth on mine, warm as sun, light as air.
“So long as my body lives, and yours-we are one flesh,” he whispered. His fingers touched my, hair and chin and neck and breast, and I breathed his breath and felt him solid under my hand. Then I lay with my head on his shoulder, the strength of him supporting me, the words deep and soft in his chest.
“And when my body shall cease, my soul will still be yours. Claire-I swear by my hope of heaven, I will not be parted from you.”
The wind stirred the leaves of the chestnut trees nearby, and the scents of late summer rose up rich around us; pine and grass and strawberries, sunwarmed stone and cool water, and the sharp musky smell of his body next to mine.
“Nothing is lost, Sassenach; only changed.”
“That’s the first law of thermodynamics,” I said, wiping my nose.
“No,” he said. “That’s faith.”
-Drums of Autumn
You have found the perfect actor to play Jamie Frasier in Sam Heughan. Diana has created one of popular literature’s most beloved characters in Jamie Fraser. Give Sam his due; let him run with it. The fans will love you, and the show will be all the better for it.