3-9 July 2015 #765


It is hard not to be swept away into the mid-18th century, with its intrigues, dashing kilted Scots, scheming Jacobites, and other mysteriously intentioned characters.
Sophia Pande

When I first read about the Outlander series I was sceptical to say the least. Based on the seven beloved novels (plus a few novellas in-between) written by Diana Gabaldon, a scientist turned historical fiction writer (Gabaldon has a Ph.D. in Behavioural Ecology), the highly anticipated television series was already a smash hit by the time I had caught on.

So why was I hesitant? Well, here’s a summary: the plot is based on a World War II nurse, Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) who travels to Scotland just after the war with her historian husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies), who is due to begin his tenure as a professor at Oxford after serving in the war.

Sounds steady enough, right? Imagine my surprise when good old intrepid, outspoken Claire manages to get herself transported back in time to 1743 A.D. through an ancient circle of stones in Craigh na Dun (think a mini Stonehenge) when she goes off walking on her own in the Scottish highlands while her husband is caught up in some fusty old historical records.

As Claire struggles to process her very drastic change in circumstances, she gets by due to her wits and her knowledge of modern medicine which makes her a valuable asset in a rural, very feudal Scotland that would otherwise have rendered a lone English woman helpless.

By the time she gets well and truly caught up (pretty much embroiled really) in the politics of the MacKenzie clan, and the arms of Jamie Fraser (the terribly dashing Sam Heughan) I was pretty much wrapped up in this odd concoction of historical fiction, fierce fighting, magic, and romance. A part of me did feel just a bit sorry for poor old Frank, who is looking frantically for Claire in the 20th Century.

If this all sounds just a bit too much, I can’t really blame you. However, the writing (both in the novel and the TV series) is excellent, made so with intensive research and a precise blend of adventure and practicality with minute attention to period, that it is hard not to be swept away into the mid-18th century, with its intrigues, dashing kilted Scots, scheming Jacobites, and other mysteriously intentioned characters.

Claire and Jamie too are also one of the most romantic couples in recent literature, well matched in wit, doomed to perhaps be separated by uncontrollable circumstances. Perhaps this is why the series has been so long lived on paper, after all, how better to keep people hooked than to create two feisty, highly attractive, brainy young lovers who might be kept apart by an essentially existential conflict?

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