‘Outlander’ Author Diana Gabaldon Weighs In On the Show Not Exactly Being Historically Accurate
Outlander is an epic drama filled with a mixture of history and fantasy. The time-traveling saga begins in post-World War II England before jumping back to 18th century Scotland and France.
It jumps forward again to 1960s Boston before returning to pre-Revolutionary War times in North Carolina. But how much of the story is historically accurate? According to author Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is a blend of fact and fiction.
The ‘Outlander’ author is famous for her research
Gabaldon was a research professor at Arizona State University when she began her writing career, and she’s become famous for her extensive research for her Outlander novels. She told Parade that the historical details in the book are “as accurate as history is.”
“What people wrote down wasn’t always either complete or accurate, but they did write it down,” Gabaldon explains. “When I have to deviate from the historical record—rare, but it happens–or find that I’ve made a mistake or overlooked something, I’ll note that.”
Gabaldon noted that her books have Author’s Notes in the back. There are also two Outlandish Companion books where fans can find additional material and commentary.
The TV show is ‘a lot more…flexible’
Gabaldon puts meticulous work into her books, but she admits that the STARZ drama is “a lot more…flexible.” The author said that all of the show’s designers, builders, and props people are “dedicated researchers and crafters.” Their work is “beautiful, detailed, and painstaking to the nth degree.”
“The writers [are] good but not always accurate,” Gabaldon confessed. “Some of them are inclined to fall in love with a ‘visual’ and can’t resist doing it, no matter how improbable or inaccurate.”
She went on to say that other things are “accurate in every detail, but occasionally improbable.” For example, the Big House on Fraser’s Ridge is “stunning beautiful” and “accurate in every detail.” It’s also “more lavish than [North Carolina Governor] Tryon’s Palace.”
‘Outlander’ has a ‘strong fantasy element’
Gabaldon also points out that sometimes TV shows have to interpret history for the small screen. But, they will keep the gist of it true to life. Outlander does have a researcher, a historian, consultants, and a support staff to help make the show as “historically accurate as possible.”
“The story does have a strong fantasy element, and the fans are, for the most part, happy to enjoy that,” Gabaldon noted. “Historical accuracy is really not why most people watch historical shows, after all; I think most are looking for a transporting or immersive experience, and Outlander definitely provides that!”
The clans of Scotland are accurate
One of the most accurate parts of Outlander is the clans of Scotland, a complex system of loyalty. Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) is part of Clan Fraser and Clan MacKenzie, and Gabaldon says the clan system was “very tribal.”
It was composed of extensive family units, and as it grew larger, the clans became political entities,” Gabaldon told National Geographic. “And you didn’t have to be born to a clan, you could come in and swear allegiance to your clan chief.”
Jamie Fraser wasn’t a real person, but there are aspects of him based in reality. There are also characters on the show who are real historical figures.
They include George Washington, France’s King Louis XV, and Bonnie Prince Charles. The Battle of Culloden was also very real, and it is somewhat accurate in the books and TV show. However, it is also very “simplified.”
Diana Gabaldon wanted a witch trial in ‘Outlander’
One thing in the Outlander books that was inaccurate on purpose was Claire Fraser’s witch trial. Gabaldon says that she wanted to have a witch trial. But when doing her research, she discovered that the last witch trial in Scotland took place in 1722. The problem was that Claire’s trial took place in 1743.
“So I was telling my husband that I’d really like a witch trial, but it doesn’t fit. He looked at me and said, ‘You start right off with a book in which you expect people to believe that Stonehenge is a time machine, and you’re worried that your witches are 20 years too late?'” Gabaldon recalled. “So I did stretch that point.”
The author says that’s the only time where she can remember deliberately moving something in history that she knew “was not quite there.”
Seasons 1 through 5 of Outlander are available on the STARZ app.