Understanding the use of gems for time travel on Outlander

Gems are needed for time travel on show but not in the Outlander books

During Outlander Season 3, Episode 5, Brianna gives Claire a gem for time traveling, saying that the gem is needed. This isn’t something stated as necessary for time travel in the books. However, technically, Bree doesn’t say they’re definitely needed on the TV show.

As Claire gets ready to return to Jamie, Bree points out that Gillian/Geillis believed gems were necessary. Claire deduces that this is possible. Both times she traveled, she had gems. The idea that a gem is required (and one per person) continues throughout the series, with Claire even telling Wendigo Donner this during the Outlander Season 5 finale.

Gems are never stated as necessary in the books, but they are useful. In the novels, the gems help to guide.

Could Brianna and Claire be mistaken?

It’s possible in the series that everyone is just mistaken that gems are required. Bree makes it clear that the theory comes from Gillian’s work. She also believed that a sacrifice was needed to travel, which turns out not to be the case. Is it possible that a gem isn’t needed after all?

We have to remember that Bree is the one who gifts her mother a gem for the next trip through the stones. It’s not something Claire has considered. She just believes that Gillian’s research in this is right because both times she’s traveled before she had gems, in her watch and the ring Jamie gave her.

While they (and we because of it) have taken it to mean that gems are needed, we don’t really know this to be true. Nobody, except presumably Wendigo Donner, has tried to go through the stones without a gem. And we don’t know Donner’s full story as to whether it was the lack of gem or something else that stopped him from traveling.

It’s not easy going through the stones. We’ve seen Bree, Roger, and Jemmy not travel through time, with the stones spitting them back out in the 18th century where they are “home.”

Why would the TV show change the Outlander rules?

If gems are required in the show, why would the TV show opt to change this? Part of it will be simplicity in the rules. Books get away with going into more detail. They get away with sharing more theories or testing out some of the rules. There’s also more time for describing the rules and the thought processes to those rules.

TV shows don’t have this time. They don’t have the ability to tell readers every little thing a character is thinking. Keeping the rules as simple as possible is just so much easier.

But won’t readers know the rules? Well, yes, but not all Outlander TV show viewers are readers. Some people find the show first, especially now that some seasons are on Netflix in various parts of the world. Not everyone wants to or can read the large books, so the writers of the show need to make sure things make sense for the non-book fans. This means explaining the basic rules of time travel.

In this case, gems are needed. Well, people believe gems are needed. Maybe they’re not, but it’s not something they’re going to test with the current beliefs they have.

Making changes like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s worth remembering that the writers for the show are trained in writing scripts. They’re trained in getting as much information together in shorter spaces of time. They know what is needed for the majority of non-book readers to explain enough to make sense.

Did you get confused about why a gem is required for time travel in the show but not the books? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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