A Tribute to Gabaldon

My best friend Kelly lost her parents late last year, her mother three weeks after her father.  As you can imagine, the experience was harrowing, exhausting, and numbing.  Even though I knew she’d read Diana Gabaldon’s seminal series Outlander covermultiple times, she told me OUTLANDER got her through those trying weeks.  I understand why she weeps when she tells me the story.

As rabid fans of Diana Gabaldon know, premium network STARZ is bringing the best-selling series to television. There’s been a lot of conversation and controversy around casting characters, but in the end, Claire (Beauchamp) Randall is played by Irish actor Catrione, while Scottish actor Sam Heughan was cast as the adorably sexy Jamie Fraser; both are new to American audiences.

We analysts of literature often talk about The Canon – the series of literature that we believe will stand the test of time as significant works.  Often genre fiction, including romance literature, is not a part of the literary canon for reasons too long and narrow-minded to discuss here. 

Literary Canon

 Primarily the authors of The Literary Canon are not women because for centuries the world of letters belonged to men; women’s business – that of hearth and home – weren’t considered epic enough to appeal to all of humanity.  In other words, like women, their writings were trivial and unimportant and underestimated.

Thank goodness we know better today, and as women’s roles in society change, so does The Canon.  However, I’ve always thought that the test of a significant literary work – genre or not – lay in the durability of the piece, the ability to have meaning and significance to readers throughout the centuries.

OUTLANDER Key Art (2014)Romance literature, like pulp fiction, doesn’t aim to have epic scope and durability.  It means to entertain, sometimes briefly, sometimes for a longer period of time.  In the twenty-first century, as people have more frenetic lives, brevity is important.  Short novels, novellas, and short stories rule.  Sadly, we readers often don’t have time to linger over a book, to ponder its meaning, to savor its language.

 However, there are writers of romance who will survive that test of time I referenced earlier.  I think Diana Gabaldon is one of them.  Here’s why.

 1.         Her story of love lost and found is epic.  All of us long for the soul-meeting experience that Claire and Jamie have.  Other elements of the story – hard choices; a stranger in a strange land; facing unspeakable evil or loss; and forgiveness – are also elevated to an epic level, and without ever losing the simple truths of the story.

 Gabaldon2.              Gabaldon is simple without being simplistic, sentimental without sentimentality.  What I mean is the story tugs at heart strings, but is never sappy; the characters are noble, but flawed; the themes are universal and unique at the same time.

 3.              Her storytelling embodies all the elements of time-tested narration:  impeccable and authentically detailed research; epic values, conflicts, and resolutions; language that is both lovely, sophisticated, and simple in paralleling the story’s themes and emotion.

 4.              Gabaldon will join the ranks of The Canon even while other time-travel romances, paranormal adventures, and romantic suspense books will not.  And that’s okay.  They’re entertaining and serve an immediate purpose, but most will not stand the test of time.  Most readers will not be reading them 100 years from now, but Gabaldon will be read and analyzed and studied in college courses for decades to come.

If you haven’t yet read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, give it a try.  Gabaldon writes long but the destination is worth the journey.  Take a sojourn with her as you watch the HBO series.

What about you, readers?  Do you like your stories short and sweet or long and leisurely?  Are you a Gabaldon fan?  Why or why not?  Do you think, as I do, that she’s the best of the best romance writers today?

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  • Jane says:

    Hello Jo,
    I haven’t read the Outlander series, but I might catch the TV adaptation. I read that the author was dismissive of romance.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Hi, Jane! Congrats on getting the chook. He’s been behaving himself lately, which is a remarkable change!

      Not so with Gabaldon. Since the heart of her series is the romance between Jamie and Claire, she could hardly be dismissive of romance. And it truly is one of the epic love stories, another GONE WITH THE WIND in the making.

      • Jane says:

        She says she doesn’t write romance and I think many felt she was dismissive because she had the books taken out of the Romance section and had them shelved in the Fiction section.

        • Jo Robertson says:

          Interesting. It certainly straddles the lines between romance, historical, and paranormal. The series isn’t just one thing, but for me, if a love story is at the heart of the work, it’s a romance!

  • Helen says:

    Hi Jo

    I am one that has not read this series and in truth probably won’t (although I have heard how good it is) but I have so many books to read already the starting a new to me series when I am way behind in so many of the ones I have started is not a good idea for me 🙂

    We were actually discussing romance cannons on a loop the other day and there have been some great books listed. I enjoy my stories short and long sometimes I need short and other times I am ready to fall into something long and big and I couldn’t sy if she was the best maybe when I retire I might start them them and if the TV show comes here to Oz I might give it a go

    Have Fun

    • Jo Robertson says:

      LOL, Helen, I feel the pain of the TBR pile. I read 4 books at a time, usually, and it seems my list will never end!

      I think the public will really enjoy the TV series. I’m looking forward to it and don’t want to be disappointed!

  • Amy Conley says:

    OMG I am a HUGE OUTLANDER fan. It is the one and onlt “ronance” novel I’ve tried to get my hubby to read. He WIL be watching the series with me though. Aug 9th in STARZ. Not sure what time it begins. And thank goodness for. DVR, I can record and te-watch, dissect, and compare with the book.

    I turned my sil on to this series, and when we found out STARZ was FINALLY going to do it, I wad excited and ecstatic while she wasn’t so much. As the time grows closer the more excited she is becoming. I have my fears about the television series, but my excitement is growing and I CAN’T WAIT!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I know what you mean, Amy. I’m afraid the series won’t live up to my expectations. I’m already wondering at what point the series will end in this first season. At least I think it’s the first season. I just finished re-reading “Outlander” and am a bit into Dragonfly in Amber.

      Good to “see” another big Outlander fan!

  • Mary Preston says:

    I love the OUTLANDER series. It’s re-reading material at its best.

    When the story is incredible a book can never be too long.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Right! Length doesn’t matter if the story is compelling. Yay for another Outlander fan.

      It’s really a great book to read and re-read. I don’t re-read many books, but this one I do.

  • Shannon says:

    I have to say I’ve never read the series. I was one who read the first 20 or 30 pages and gave up. I still have the book on my shelf in paperback. Sometimes, I am just not ready to invest in a book because live intrudes, and I lose the thread.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Yes, Shannon, sometimes you just have to be ready to read a certain book or series. I remember reading my first JD Robb (whom I adore); it wasn’t the first one in the series, but I just couldn’t get into it. A few years later I picked up the series from the beginning and was hooked!

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    I have never read her books. I am not a fan at all of that time period. My reading habits have also changed with time and while I used to love historical romance, now I can barely get through it. Probably due to so many changes in my own life. My entire immediate family is gone, I’ve been battling depression associated with grief and just turned 60. When I read, it is purely for entertainment, an escape, if you will, so I don’t want anything long and drawn out. I enjoy a good thriller but it has to have some sort of satisfying conclusion, and I hate cliffhangers.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I’m so sorry, Debbie. Sometimes life just smacks you hard and things are too difficult. I agree that a good thriller, not too long, but fast-paced is a good way to get your mind off everyday troubles.

  • Becke says:


    I love, love, loved her Outlander series. For me, I didn’t feel that each book in the series was a serious cliffhanger. The hook was I didn’t want to leave the characters.

    Like all stories, I recognized a few areas that I would change. However, the bottom line was Gabaldon draws you in and holds you tight.

    One point about the “Canon.” I find as I age, I no longer have the ability to keep all stories true in my head. If I can hold on to a story, as with Outlander, it has stood the test of MEMORY!

  • Jo, I always learn something from you posts. As a nursing student in college, even though I’m an avid reader, I only took the pre-requisite English writing courses, no literature. So discussion of “THE CANNON” was never part of my education. But now I know one exists and that it’s extremely sexist. 🙂

    Loved OUTLANDER, but I did not read the other books in the series. (Pssst, don’t tell Sandy Blair, my CP who is a devotee like you!) Something about 3 small children a night job…yada, yada, yada, By the time I got back to serious reading, as in reading book after book, there was this whole series of big thick books for the Outlander series and it felt daunting.

    Am so looking forward to the TV series this summer. I have Starzz just for it and the DaVinci’s Demon’s series. 🙂

    My question is this…do you think they’ll make the entire OUTLANDER series into a long running TV program, or are they just focusing on the original book 1?

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks, Suz. It sounds like your journey to Outlander was similar to mine — read the first book, then stopped when the second one (Dragonfly) jumped ahead to Claire’s daughter. I think one time around with the 1960’s was enough for me. But as life changes, so do I, so I’ve begun again and am enjoying the series much more thoroughly this time around.

      Our feelings about books are so tied to what we need personally at a certain juncture in our lives, aren’t they?

      I don’t follow the FB, Twitter and other online groups about the series, so I don’t really know. I’m quite sure they could not put the entire series into one season, though. It’s much like Game of Thrones in that vein.

      I have an idea where I think the first season SHOULD end, though, but won’t share b/c of those just starting the series. Let’s say it’s not the end of the first book.

  • Deb says:

    Jo, the OUTLANDER book didn’t interest me when I read about it the first time, and the reviews still don’t interest me, even after a friend went into raptures about the series.

    There were a couple of things that turned me off. The main one being that Claire is married and doesn’t stay true to her vows even though she is hurtled back into time with no hopes of going back to her time. Just like THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, I could not consider it a love story between characters when one is married to another person.
    The reviews, good and poor, also say the sex is quite graphic.
    Jamie beats Claire and justifies it for no real reason. Not that beatings have justifications.
    I won’t be reading it. It still doesn’t interest me. But, that is just my opinion.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks for sharing, Deb. Very good reasons. I wonder if that’s why it’s said that Gabaldon didn’t want the series in the romance section? In a “true” romance is a HEA necessary, or a happy for now or a happy in this dimension?

  • Jo –

    I owe a true debt to OUTLANDER as it introduced me to romance. I read through the Drums of Autumn but none of the novels since – mainly because I’m writing and not reading the way I once did. I have the top cover photo, the one with the clock, framed above my desk, and autographed hardbacks of Outlander and Voyager as part of my prized possessions. Love, love, love OUTLANDER.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      That’s quite an interesting introduction to romance, Donna! I just donated the very same book (cover) to my library. It almost broke my heart, but we’re a no-print books family now.

  • catslady says:

    A while back I bought Outlander but then I saw there were more books coming so I waited and unfortunately I am still waiting. I didn’t realize it was going to be a long series and thought it would be maybe 3 books. I don’t know what to do now – should I start and read them all at once but then have to wait for the next one or maybe read one here and there. I have always loved long stories but now it’s a little daunting since there are a lot of them!! And I do know just from what I’ve heard that I’m going to love them. I also don’t want to see the movie before I read them or is it just the first book? Help lol.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    What a dilemma, Catslady! If you’re a fast reader you could probably read the first book before the STARZ premier in August. Then I’d just leisurely read them. Gabaldon just released one, so it’ll be a while before the next one.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    BTW, readers, on her book tour Gabaldon made a stop in my stomping grounds — the Sacramento, CA — area. I wasn’t able to get tickets, darn it, but I heard she’s an amazing speaker.

  • Jo, that’s interesting analysis. I agree that a story needs to be big, and I think, must have broad appeal, to endure very long past its publication. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and Robot novels qualify, as do Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird and Tolkien’s amazing LOTR.

    I think romance tends not to make that leap, as a rule, because each book is so focused on its lead couple. The scope is narrow rather than epic. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as that’s what readers are looking for.

    I tend to read long more than short. I’ve just gotten current on Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, which has broader-than-usual scope and an intricate world that plays directly into the romantic conflicts.

    I haven’t read Outlander. Back when there were only three or four books in the series, I had a number of friends who were mad for them. I picked up Outlander, opened the book at random, and found the hero having what we might understatedly call an unfortunate experience. I shut the book, put it down, and never looked at it again. Every once in a while, I toy with picking it up again, but I’ve never gotten to the point of doing so.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      You always have such interesting insights into literature and writing, Nancy. Thanks so much for sharing.

      I think we read for a variety of reasons, and escapism is only one of them. Sometimes I just love a good solid too-good-to-be-true romance and others I like a book I can reflect on and think about throughout my week.

      • Thanks, Jo. It’s nice to be asked to look at a book from a different perspective. Having said all that about scope, though, I just realized Georgette Heyer has been popular for decades despite being focused on only one couple per book. Ditto, Jane Austen (whose work I also have not read).

        Hmmm. You’ve given me food for thought. I’m going to be pondering my bookshelves for the next few days.

        • Jo Robertson says:

          I’m not as familiar with Georgette Heyer (she’s on my TBR list) but Austen’s work is often more social commentary, satire, wit than romance. Although of course the romance stories are at the heart of them.