In Defense of William Ransom

In Defense of William Ransom

WARNING: Written in My Own Heart's Blood spoilers abound. Seriously, if you haven't all of MOBY, DO NOT READ ON.

If you hang out long enough in Outlander fan groups you will hear a wide range of feelings about "secondary characters". I put that in quotes because I think calling the child of one of the main characters secondary diminishes his role in the story. Make no mistake William Ransom is important and not just to Jamie Fraser or John Grey. William is especially important in Written in My Own Hearts Blood

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King o' Men (Spoilers)

(Warning: If you haven't read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series up to The Fiery Cross you might not want to read further.)

By now, those of us awaiting the Outlander TV show, have heard that producer Ron D. Moore and show's crew have taken to calling Jamie Fraser the "King of Men". However, I don't think many fans of the books or show get the reference. Admittedly, I don't know anyone working on the show, so this could just be a guess. However, I do know a bit of Robert Burns, and am fairly certain that the "King of Men" title is a reference to a line from his song. "A Man's a Man For A' That"
 

 If not, it at least reminds me of the song and with very good reason. It's a favorite of mine, and what with working on the sequel to The River Maiden, I've been thinking a lot lately about kingship and what it really means.

The song itself is an indictment of the aristocracy and its pretensions toward grandeur and an endorsement of a meritocracy. Here's the text at robertburns.org including lovely links explaining the less obvious of the Scots words) But it's much more fun to watch this lovely video of some Scottish luminaries reciting it (slightly abridged). 

One of the things that I love about the Outlander books is it's humanization of both the invented characters and those characters from history. Diana Gabaldon is a genious at creating characters that resonate with us because of their unavoidable humanity even for those characters who history may have built up to be larger than life.

In these books, dukes lust after stable lads, princes get bitten by monkeys and climb on roof tops, and kings feel free to risk poisoning people to settle arguments. At best, I'd say the highest levels of aristocracy as they are portrayed in the books come off just as human as the rest of us. In some cases, Charles Stewart comes to mind, their surety of their own exalted position becomes their biggest weakness. This brings us back to our song and it's lines:

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

Luckily, we readers get to see those characters like Louis, Charles and Sandringham through the "independent minds" of Jamie and Claire. Being of independent mind they are able to show us the flaws in these characters. Claire especially reminds us that history books only provide two dimensions to these figures at best, It's up to the fiction writers to make these characters more than mere facts on a timeline, and I think the way that Gabaldon does this follows along the same sentiment as Burns's song. By that I mean that those who trumpet their own greatness or seek it out are less likely to actually BE great. 

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Which brings us back to Himself. Jamie doesn't seek those the trappings of power or wealth or even leadership. They are thrust upon him by circumstance when his older brother dies, and then when he's in Ardsmuir. He doesn't lead people because he wants power or position. He finds himself leading because he's a person that people trust. It's his honesty and his forthrightness that make people trust Jamie and want to follow him. It also helps that he's very observant and makes some pretty wise decisions. Even when he lies and he does, it's always to the benefit of those people he feels are relying on him whether that is his family, the people of Lallybroch, or the Ridge. 

Eventually, Jamie does seek a leadership role when building the community at Fraser's Ridge, but even then he's not looking to build his own fiefdom. He wants to prove himself a "man of worth", by which he means a man of value to his community. He wants to reunite those men who he feels are/were his responsibility at Ardsmuir. He's also worried that he won't be up to the task. Hence the dream about his frantic efforts to crown a new King of Ireland at the beginning of The Fiery Cross

"I was in charge o' the horse," Jamie informed me. "And everything went wrong. The man was too short, and I had to find something for him tho stand on. I found a rock, but I couldna lift it. Then a stool, but the leg came off in my hand. Then I tried to pile up bricks to make a platform, but they crumbled to sand..."

The dream is a prime example of Jamie's worthiness. He doesn't even put himself as the king subconsciously. Instead he puts himself in the role of the person responsible for making sure everything works smoothly and reveals his fear of failure. His earnest insecurity coupled with his desire to be valuable to his community shows that he has precisely the "pith o' sense and pride o' worth" that Burns was writing about. 

Jamie displays these traits not just when he's Laird of Lallybroch or the landlord of the Ridge. He shows that kind of leadership even when he's penniless and in prison. It doesn't matter if he's dressed for the French court or in rags. He's a worthy leader wherever he goes. 

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

 

2 sides of the same coin (Outlander Spoiler Alert!)

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. 

JamieDougal.jpg

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. 

"A Man of Worth"

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I won't spend this post gushing about how great these books are. (But you should really read them if you haven't yet.) There has been big news of late about this series though. Starz and former Battlestar Galactica producer Ron Moore are working on a TV series based on these books. I'm super excited about that prospect. I can't wait to see these delicious characters on my TV screen. However like any good fan girl, I have my concerns. This is mostly because I've not been too impressed with the Starz shows that I have watched. (Camelot comes to mind.) But with the addition of John Dahl who has directed episodes of shows I love like Justified and Breaking Bad to direct the first couple of episodes, I have hope. I'm also fascinated by watching the process unfold. It's interesting to see how a book series with such a loyal fan base makes that journey from on the page and in our heads to the screen and the role that Gabaldon is playing in that journey.

When the character of the series hero Jamie Fraser was given to an actor who is relatively unknown in theheughan US, Sam Heughan, the reactions ranged from joy that we had a face to put on the character to outright revolt that he wasn't Chris Hemsworth or Gerard Butler or some other hot and/or Scottish actor that certain fans had been picturing in their heads.

Initially, I was satisfied that Gabaldon saw his screen tests and said, "He is Jamie." If the woman who created the character is satisfied, then so am I. He is after all her creation. She ought to know. Then as I watched some of this unfold, I'm getting more and more excited about this choice.

There is a lot of pressure that goes along with getting a part like this. There is the rabid fan-base, that is only going to get larger when the show hits people's screens. And there is the 20 years that people have had to fall in love with this character and build him up in there own minds. And then there is the character himself.

Jamie Fraser is a complicated guy. He's politically savvy and charismatic but also fiercely protective of his family by blood or by choice. He's industrious (spoiler alert) from helping to manage the family farm, printing business and smuggling business in Scotland to leading a colonial outpost in Western NC, to being a colonel in the Revolutionary army. Jamie is a natural leader, a man who helps build and hold together communities just about wherever he goes.  As he says in the books he longs to be a "man of worth". He doesn't mean monetary worth, he means a man of value to his community and extended family. That leads Jamie to get into some interesting situations, but he is steadfast in maintaining that attitude.

Now, I'm not saying that Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser in real life, but I will say that he seems to be approaching his impending stardom with a similar attitude. An actor in his position could easily celebrate getting the role and then put his head down and do the work without getting involved in public conversations with fans. I for one wouldn't complain about that. I want this show to be successful and I want him to be successful in the role and whichever path he needs to take to be successful he should do that.

However, Heughan has gone above and beyond in embracing the existing Outlander fan base. He engages with them and with Gabaldon almost daily on twitter. He updates people on his preparations and the aspects of the show that he is able to talk about (without giving spoilers of course).  He shares pics on Instagram probably knowing full well that he's providing fantasy fodder for any number of ladies and probably some gents too.

That alone would be great stuff for fans hungry for news about the series, but like his character Heughan seems to be taking it a step further. Prior to this role he raised money for Leukeamia & Lymphoma Research, but doing things like running the NYC Marathon. Now some of the aforementioned Outlander fans calling themselves Heughan's Heughligans, have been inspired by Heughan to raise awareness and money for his chosen charity, and he has embraced their efforts.

In a world that seems to eat stories of misbehaving celebrities like candy. It's nice to see a rising star who is making an effort in the other direction. While it's too early make judgements about Heughan's performance, I think impulse he seems to share with Jamie Fraser to be a "man of worth" shows more about his ability to get inside this character than good looks, red hair or a Scottish accent.

If you would like to help the Heughligans raise money you can go to the Just Giving site.

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If you're a Sam Heughan/Outlander fan, you can also order some Heughan's Heughligans gear on their Zazzle store.