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Outlander Premieres on Starz – Guest Blogger Elizabeth Eckhart

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

This write up about the new OUTLANDER TV series was proposed and written by blogger & writer Elizabeth Eckhart and because I have reviewed the Outlander series on my blog as great books to read, we thought her analysis of the series might add to the discussion on the blog.  So I will step aside and share what Elizabeth wants to say:

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When the new series Outlander debuted August 9 on Starz, it attracted a whopping five million viewers. That’s not surprising given the long-running series’ devoted fan base, many of whom took advantage of Starz’ current online streaming (for the first episode only, anyone could watch it) and teaser videos. Diana Gabaldon’s sprawling collection of books, first published in 1991, includes eight main novels which she describes on her blog as “big, enormous books,” as well as smaller novellas and short stories set in the series’ world.

That world is a complex mix of places and times. The story’s protagonist is a World War II era nurse named Claire Randall who finds herself whisked back in time to 18th century Scotland, where she’s nearly abducted by the evil ancestor of her loving husband Frank, a history teacher and former M16 agent. Claire becomes caught up in clan politics and eventually is taken under the protection of Clan Mackenzie, where she begins to fall in love with Scotsman Jamie Fraser.

It may sound primarily like a time-traveling romance, but Gabaldon herself insists that in many ways her stories resist easy classification. You’ll hear them described as historical fiction, mystery, fantasy and even science-fiction, much like the similar literary series Game of Thrones (the TV adaptation which is also available online, through Direct TV). That last appellation may be the biggest reason that Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame, was a natural choice to executive produce the project, which he terms “magical fantasy.”

The success of the first two episodes has already guaranteed the show a second season. Outlander is being shot on location in the Scottish Highlands, and the detailed care given to period and costume settings will undoubtedly keep fans of the books happy. Fans of Game of Thrones might also recognize the castle setting, since both shows use the courtyard of Castle Doune, a fascinating though challenging place to shoot due to complicated logistics.

Devoted fans may also be comfortable with the slow pace of the show. Since the entire first season is based solely on the first novel, the creators have been able to take their time revealing complex layers of the plot and in developing characters. This is a luxury that feature filmmakers, with only two hours at their disposal, simply can’t afford. While there is some concern that the slow pace might not keep the attention of potential fans that aren’t already familiar with the novels, that’s a risk the show’s creators seem willing to take. Given the strong built-in fan base, it may be more important to stay true to the novel’s contours, something that Variety’s Laura Prudom thinks the first episode, at least, does very well.

Irish actress Caitriona Balfe plays Claire and provides the voice-over narration. That narration echoes the first person nature of the books, and keeps viewers invested in exploring this strange world right along with Claire. The voice-over may feel heavy in initial episodes but lessens as the show goes on, according to critics who have seen more of the first season. Claire’s husband Frank is played by Tobias Menzies, who doubles as his own sinister ancestor Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, while Scottish Sam Heughan takes on the role of Claire’s 18th century love interest Jamie. Balfe is receiving kudos for her turn as the strong, displaced heroine.

True to the books, the show contains some bodice ripping moments, but for the most part Outlander doesn’t linger on scenes of sex or violence. The main charm for viewers so far seems to echo the appeal of the books. This complex story world is fun to explore, and the show’s creators seem to be having a delightful time setting it up for us.

Elizabeth Eckhart on Twitter 

My neighborhood has a group to discuss the Outlander series new on Starz and they have a go to lunch group who want even more discussion time too.  Have you discovered these books and the new series?   I saw the pilot free and it was so well done.    Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your thoughts and just maybe we will get a good discussion going in the comments section?  What do you think?

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Outlander Series