WARNING! If you have not read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series THROUGH Dragonfly In Amber, you should stop reading NOW. There be spoilers ahead.
When two book nerd live together for seventeen years and occasionally manage to read the same books, it tends to lead to some interesting conversations. Thus Eric and I found ourselves this morning arguing over the nature of one Dougal MacKenzie. Eric seems to think that Dougal is little more than Colum's muscle and the unwitting pawn of the Geillis Duncan's Jacobite plotting. I would contend otherwise.
My fellow Heughligans and twitter followers probably already know of my love for Dougal, but I dont' think I've ever laid it out in more than 140 characters. I get mixed reactions on my Dougal appreciation. They range from, "I love Dougal, Jamie does nothing for me." to "What about Jamie? He's so dreamy."
Don't mistake me, I love Jamie too. I love all the characters, because they're real, even (gasp) Laoghaire. Come on, we've ALL known girls like Laoghaire. I don't see this as a one or the other proposition. I think that's because I really see Dougal and Jamie as two sides of the same coin.
For visual learners out there, I created this side by side comparison to show you what I mean.
There is a tendency to think of these two as adversaries, but I just don't see them that way. They exhibit a lot the same traits. We just talk about them differently. Where people think of Dougal as devious and sly, we see the same behavior in Jamie and call it canny and resourceful.
For example, all of Jamie's spying in DIA is an attempt to prevent or at least prepare for a war and protect his people, that canny lad. On the other hand, when Dougal proposes to Claire in the cave in Outlander, she's appalled because he's willing to give up on Jamie and attempt to secure Lallybroch for the MacKenzies. Sure it seems wrong because Dougal's wife is barely in her grave and Jamie isn't dead yet not to mention Geillis is carrying his child, but he's trying to secure the border of his clan's lands and protect his people. Isn't that the same thing as Jamie's spying?
We hear several times throughout Outlander that the clan wants Colum as their leader because Dougal is too "hot-headed". However, I don't see a lot of hot-headed behavior from Dougal. In fact, with a couple of exceptions Dougal seems pretty calculating to me. Those exceptions of course are his affair with Geillis, which occurs out of our view and the kiss he steals from Claire in the hallway which could possibly be blamed on the drink.
Jamie on the other hand does plenty of hot-headed things from his explosion in the pub when Dougal exposes his scars to his ill-advised argument with Jenny on returning to Lallybroch to his dogged pursuit of a duel with Jack Randall in Paris over the objections of Claire and just about everybody else. I'm not mentioning other things that occur later in the series, because I want to limit the spoilers to the first two books but I could definitely go on.
There's a very good reason why despite Dougal's reputation for hot-headedness, the impulsive behavior that we see comes from Jamie and not Dougal. It's because Jamie is a younger version of Dougal. Diana Gabaldon can correct me if I'm wrong, but it's no accident that they both "cackhanded" or that they are both known as great fighters. Dougal is what Jamie might become without the future knowledge and softening influence of Claire. Yes I know that Dougal's illicit squeeze has future knowledge of her own, but let's face it she's a bit mad and definitely a manipulator in her own right.
However, Jamie proves to us over and over again that apple doesn't fall far from Machiavellian MacKenzie tree. Dougal even fostered Jamie in his teens. He is after all the closest thing Jamie has now to a father, which is why on that fateful moment in DIA where Jamie kills Dougal it's all the more horrifying. It's like Luke Skywalker walking into that cave in The Empire Strikes Back and "killing" Darth Vader only to find his own face behind the mask. The message to Luke being that he could fall to The Dark Side too.
Likewise, Jamie has to chose not to be that sly, devious guy even though the MacKenzies, Frasers and all of his society expect him to. In Outlander, Jamie takes Claire back to Craigh na Dun, and she is forced to make the choice between her twentieth century life and love or Jamie. That moment when Dougal discovers them discussing poisoning Charles Stuart, Jamie is forced to make the choice between his old life and his family and Claire. Of course, Claire didn't have to kill anyone to make her choice, but such is life in the eighteenth century. DG even reminds us of the close kinship between Dougal and Jamie in that very scene. "Dougal's head lay on Jamie's shoulder, Jamie's arms locked around his foster father."
I don't mean to reduce Dougal MacKenzie to the role of a mere foil for Jamie. Dougal is has his own journey through these books and his machinations are essential to the plot. Without Dougal, Claire wouldn't have been treated as nicely as she was when she was found by the MacKenzie men half-dressed by eighteenth century standards. Without Dougal there would have been no wedding, and Claire wouldn't have learned that Jamie was in Wentworth in time to save him. And without Dougal, there be no Roger Wakefield (MacKenzie) or wee Hamish. He even gets the thing he wants most by the time we get to that fateful scene, but he also pays the price for it and we're left wondering if all Dougal's maneuvering was really worth it.
So, yeah. I've got mad love for Dougal and Jamie too. And I'm really excited to see them both on screen. From what I've watched of them, Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan can do wonderful things with subtext, and these two characters have LOADS of subtext. I can't wait.