Outlander Structure: Suggested Changes

The first Outlander books and therefore the television series have curious non-linear structures.

Book 1, Outlander/ Cross Stitch has Claire Randall on her second honeymoon with Frank Randall, who passes back in time and becomes trapped within a group of Jacobite Highlanders.

Try as she might, she can't get back, and when the opportunity at last comes, her relationship with Jamie has advanced so much that she does not want to go back. He learns she is from the future. Although narrated in the first person, the narrative lacks psychological insight using her displacement, and instead goes from event to event, and describes the sex in some detail.

The first book ends with Jamie subjected to his tormentor, sociopath Captain Black Jack Randall, of the same Randall line. But the story continues into book 2, in terms of the Jacobite rebellion in France and back to Scotland and, indeed, the eventual fate of Black Jack Randall.

Book 2, Dragonfly in Amber, puzzles people. They think they've missed a book, because it has 1968 at either end, that frames being in France but in 1425 and then coming to Scotland to fight - having failed at underhand actions to end the conflict in the knowledge that Culloden is a disaster to come. If book 1 and 2 are taken together as one story, the framing seems oddly placed.

But the content of the second book does not run up to 1968, which would be expected from the bookending. It runs only to 1948, in the sense of when Claire is sent back, pregnant, to the future, to avoid Culloden, in the full expectation that Jamie will die there in battle.

The television series starts in 1948, not 1968, and ends in 1968, with the French planning and Scottish conflict in between, including 1746 (for 1948) within the 1968 episode. In essence, the going back to the future from 1746 in episode 13 continues in the future 1948 in the first half of episode 1 in that series, and that first half of episode 1 continues in series 3 episode 1.

Why 1968? In the book, it is an honour exchange for when Geillis Duncan goes back in time. In the television series it is when Roger and Brianna find out that Claire spent time in the past, and Claire discovers that Culloden was not a personal disaster for Jamie, overturning her assumption.

So it takes book 3, Voyager, to run to the narrative equivalent of 1968, and much of book 3 is set in 1968. For this is when Claire goes back to 1766. In the television series, series 2 episode 13 for 1968 is positioned between 3:03 and 3:04. She goes back in 3:05 and Jamie receives her in 3:06. The consequence of the structure is that book 3 fails to handle, sufficiently, the twenty missing years: the focus on 1968 means that 1948 onwards is covered in a few italicised flashbacks. The structure of book 2, therefore, mitigates against giving a longer view of Frank Randall, with whom Claire lives for twenty years. It's as if he does not matter.

However, book 3 itself is like two books. Once Claire goes back, she discovers smuggler and printer Jamie, and about his past life. It then pivots on the loss of Young Ian and Fraser treasure off to the West Indies. A whole set of coincidental events and reappearing characters happen in a chase to and across the West Indies, the result of which the main characters are dumped by a storm to start again in the American colonies for book 4. This difference is intensified in the television series 3, because the West Indies adventure goes at a fast pace and is ultra-reliant on coincidences and regurgitated characters.

Book 4, Drums of Autumn, is not only the story of establishing in the dangerous territory of the colonies, but the transfer back in time of daughter Brianna and historian Roger, and the encounters with another villain who appears in the colonies and in Scotland. I'd have split this 'evil one' into two characters, and not had his sexual violence as a side plot device. Its central plot relies on a misunderstanding of Roger's surnames, involving an added young, dim, witness to confusion. It is known in the trade as an idiot plot, because a simple conversation to mutual benefit of the characters results in the collapse of the plot. The television series does not even bother with a confusion of names, and thus relies upon the maintenance of ignorance, even when the character that was a malaria-overwhelmed child has become an attentive adult. The television plot lacks any credibility, and the revelations of Frank in flashback undermine the historical searches of the series 2:13 and 3:04.

Far better if the novel and television series had tackled cultural difference. Just as the whole series (plural) gets the presence of Catholicism wrong, so the fourth book and series fails to gather how a fantasy Scotland was imported from the start. There were fantasies of clans and they had enthusiasm for slave-owning. Jamie under the influence of Claire would have been exceptional in opposing slavery, and Brianna in the TV series, despite a black flatmate, stays silent.

Book 5, The Fiery Cross, has events but seems to be plot free and introduces new characters for later books in the same geographical area. The television series 5 is likely to depart significantly from this long book. I hope to read some chunks of the book when the TV series airs or comes to DVD.

In other words, it takes into three books to resolve the story of Outlander book 1, and book 3 is, in effect, two books. Book 4 is a unity of a book, where the gathering of clans at its end is the setting for book 5.

After the first book we get combinations of first person narrating Claire and third person (God's eye view) narration. The latter should cancel out the need for the former. That Claire is the narrator of much of book 2 means that much of the Jamie-French elites action is missed or becomes second hand. Yet elsewhere the third person is simply employed, including sometimes when Claire is present.

So, what do I think? The following is not going to happen: I am not the author. Nevetheless, there can be some sorting out of the structure and narration.

First person narration implies restriction, so it should be maintained. However, I would have had two narrators: Claire and Brianna. Brianna could then show her own psychological condition, especially in book 4.

Book 1 ought to be left as it is, and the same for the television series. Book 2 is coherent, but I would have removed the bookends. They tell us nothing that cannot be told later. They don't frame: they confuse. The bookends material I'd have added into book 3. I would have scrapped all the West Indian material completely in book 3. Instead I would have had more on Frank and bringing up Brianna. I would have replaced the West Indies with attempts to be a laird post-Culloden. This makes for a very different and a more socio-economic book 3. Book 4 is coherent. I don't want to comment on further books, as I have only read snippets of book 5.

Book 1 would have had more on Claire in her second honeymoon and her loss into past time come almost as a shock. Of course all that about Catholicism has to be replaced given two hundred years of Reformation.

Book 2 might have maintained first person narrative as a discipline, but throughout, otherwise scrap it and let's see Jamie deal with the high authorities in France. The narration raises the question: is this a story about Claire, time-traveller and adventurer, or about Jamie, the 'King of Men'?

Book 3 would cover 1948 to 1968 in some detail. Was Frank this self-satisfying, racist, mysoginist, possessive individual whose only good side was raising a daughter? The television series is much more generous to Frank, who feels he didn't get a fair deal from Claire. But when Claire went back in time, I'd have had her go back to a Jamie who was trying to be a minor laird post-prison and indenture, being more capitalist about it as the lairds were, first removing people off to the colonies and later trying to prevent people going to the colonies. The Scottish clan system might have died, but it died by morphing into something else - capitalist landowning. Eventually royalty brought back cultural symbols.

Book 3 would have been more dramatic regarding the marriage of Laoghare. I'd have had Claire return to the future as a result, for Brianna to accompany her back, perhaps even with Roger for protection and fascination. Obviously this would have affected book 4, but the obituary notice is for book 4 perhaps slighly artificial.

It is easier to edit television, of course. Production values fell for season 4 - oh, those green screens - but mainly the characters ought to have been allowed to show their fascination with the new place and time. Television series 4 Roger and Brianna come across as somewhat stupid.

Book 3 could then have highlighted the failure to change smaller land holdings into profit, and therefore an orderly move to the American colonies could have followed. I would have broken up Stephen Bonnet into two characters and cut out the rape. The television series had opportunities for creativity: instead of teasing the audience with a shower scene, Roger could have gone back to the future without any denial of his desire for Brianna. Lizzie and Jamie could have shown their cultural restriction, and that been a basis for rejecting Roger (actually, a bit conservative himself) and causing Roger some grief.


Adrian Worsfold