I promise my love for Outlander isn’t totally because I share a first name with the main character.
Okay, it’s a contributing factor. To be fair, previous pop culture Claires I’ve known of have included a plane crash survivor (Lost), a perfectionist from a sitcom (Modern Family), and the harried operations manager at Jurassic World (I’ll let you guess what movie she’s from). But a time-traveling Claire—from the 1940s, no less—is the one I love most of all.
Allow me to introduce you to Claire Randall Fraser. She’s an English nurse from 1945 who accidentally time travels and gets stuck in Scotland, 1743, in the early days of the Jacobite rebellion. Trapped in the past with no way to get back to her present (or her husband, Frank) Claire learns to adjust to her new life and falls in love with Jamie Fraser, a handsome warrior who loves three things above all else: Scottish independence, whisky, and eventually, Claire.
As a great fan of time-travel stories and period dramas, it’s no surprise I fell in love with Outlander. Equally epic and melodramatic, beautiful and brutal, it captured me in a way that a fandom has not captured my heart since my long-ago high school days of Doctor Who and Downton Abbey: all-consuming.
What intrigues me about Outlander is how it occupies two worlds, not just in narrative, but in theme. In the story, Claire wants to get back to the 1940s, but must learn to adapt to the new century she’s stuck in. Thematically, Outlander dabbles in magic and melodrama, but doesn’t shy away from the reality of violence and cruelty of humankind. (Its villains are among the most sadistic I have encountered in fiction. I will warn you it’s not a story for the faint of heart.)
But, like any young woman who loves to reread Jane Austen and revisit favorite romantic films, it’s the love story that anchors my love for Outlander. Claire is smart, kind, committed, and passionate. She’s eager to learn and applies her vast experience in medicine and botany to her life in the 1740s, where she is renowned as a healer. She is keen to use her knowledge of history to make a positive impact on the past. Jamie is a dreamy combination of soft and protective—he’s a fierce warrior on the battlefield and can be intimidating when stubborn, but melts at the sight of his beloved cat Adso, is a devout Christian whose faith informs his life, and like any good romantic hero would, cherishes Claire above all people. (That he says Claire’s name often is a personal highlight for me. Hey, I never said I was impartial on this subject!)
The series’ author, Diana Gabaldon, has said that she doesn’t classify Outlander as a romance, because romance novels often end at the wedding, and Outlander examines the days and decades that follow “I do.” What is compelling to me is how Jamie and Claire’s relationship evolves with time: they’re stubborn and impulsive, but their ultimate aim is always to cherish and protect the other. The quarrels between them feel real and often end in an opportunity to know the soul of their spouse better. Jamie and Claire’s relationship can be tempestuous, but any selfishness they harbor usually softens into a mutual understanding of selflessness. They remain no less in love in their fifties than they do in their twenties, and neither has a wandering eye.
Outlander proposes ethical questions—can a married person remarry if their spouse won’t technically be born for another century? If you definitively know what the future holds, can you (and should you) change history? And if you do, what ripple effects lie in your choices? Often, time travel stories I’ve come across toy with the fun inherent in the genre (a new place! A new time!) but don’t always explore what ethical issues arise when a character remains in a time that’s different from their own.
I have never known another series quite like it, because it’s difficult to pin down. What other series has epic romance, war, time travel (and related ethical dilemmas), comedy, history, fantastical elements, and more than you ever wanted to know about eighteenth-century medicinal practices, news-printing, and whisky-making? I’ve read the books, I’ve loved the television show, I’ve sung the theme song in the shower and Googled “Outlander tour of Scotland” more times than I care to admit. But most of all, I love how Outlander is thoroughly incomparable to anything else I’ve ever read or seen. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Claire Di Maio is a recent college graduate with a large collection of books and a small horde of Downton Abbey paraphernalia. She is hopeless at solving math problems, but is alarmingly good at identifying the voices of celebrity spokespeople in commercials, which she hopes will prove useful one day. In the meantime, she loves to write, quote Gilmore Girls, and cook enough risotto to feed a small country.