Filming for season three of Outlander is underway and everyone is speculating on how the Outlander team will handle their favorite scenes. I know everyone is crazy excited for the print shop scene, Claire and Jamie’s first night together, Fergus and Marsaili’s wedding. I’m sure more than a few of you are looking forward to “turtle soup”. Those scenes are all fantastic. But the one downright salivating to see is one that some readers might even be dreading.Read More
I only watch television a couple of nights out of the week. I detest reality shows, and find very little to attract me to network dramas or comedies. In fact the only two network shows that I like got cancelled last week, so I see even less in my future. Nope, cable is where the real TV game is, and right now, my television week mostly consists of Outlander, Game of Thrones. I might slip in an episode of Daredevil or Turn during the week, but that’s only as writing time allows. This weekend provided a very interesting juxtaposition.Read More
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.Read More
One of the things that has come up in some forums after The Wedding episode is the question of whether Dougal MacKenzie is made to seem more of a villain in the show than he was in the books. I don't think so. I know what you're thinking, I'm Dougal's chief apologist and to a certain extent, you're right. I love Dougal, because he's a challenge. Who doesn't love a guy who is described like this?Read More
It's the sound of all of those 'poutlanders' left speechless by this week's Outlander episode, The Garrison Commander. I'm talking about those folks who watch with books in hand decrying every difference between the book and the show. I'm not sure whether it was the watch through your fingers goriness of the flogging scene or the outstanding performances of all involved, or maybe those picking apart every previous episode have just given up, but there seems to be a distinct lack of complaints this week about things that are different from the book.Read More
(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.
We were broke, ramen noodles, mac 'n cheese buh-roke. Okay, we were keeping up with the bills for the time being, but my job wasn’t paying yet. Eric was still looking for a job, and our measly savings was dwindling.
It was March of 2001 and the dot com bubble had burst dropping both my husband and I on the unemployment line. We thought for about a month that he had lined something up that would let me stay at home so I could write, but that contract had fallen through. So, I found myself going back to the company that I had worked for 2 years before doing roughly the same job, and sitting through a training class that previously I might have been teaching. Our trainer, who I had worked with for years announced a quiz, with the added incentive of a $10 gift certificate to the local mall for the person with the highest score. I admit that I had no qualms about using all my prior knowledge to win that gift certificate.
That’s how I ended up in the book store with my $10. It had been a while since I’d had the money to spend on a book, and I’d run through just about every one we had in the house. I wandered the aisles biting my lip feeling a bit like a kid trying to get the most for my dollar in the penny candy aisle. Maybe it’s my Scottish roots, or my Granny’s example of thrift, but I wanted to make the most of my sudden if tiny entertainment budget, which is how Outlander caught my eye.
It was the thickest book on the shelf promising the most pages per dollar and therefore the most entertainment for my ten bucks. Even better it was only $6.95. Throw in the plaid on the cover and I was sold. I also noticed that Dragonfly in Amber was around the same length and price. It would put me over my $10 budget, but I figured I could go without protein in my mac ‘n cheese for a couple of nights. After a few minutes shifting numbers in my head to see if I could afford the few extra dollars on a book, I bought them both.
I was in need of escape and boy did I get it (for nearly 2000 pages), but I also got so much more. I got Claire Fraser, a woman of such strength and tenacity that you just can’t help but admire her. She’s smart, sassy, and brave. She is thrown into situations far harder than the one I was in on multiple occasions and handles them all like a pro. And when the worst happens, she doesn’t mope around of over-analyze how she got to a certain point. She pushes through and finds a way to focus on what’s most important. I have on many occasions since when things got tough for one reason or another found myself asking, “What would Claire Fraser do?”
Then I started learning about Diana Gabaldon, and found even more inspiration. Like me, she wanted to write books when she was a child. She had more than one career before writing Outlander. She managed to create these incredible characters and tell their stories and be a mother. She made me think it was possible for me to be a writer. She inspired me to pull out the fifty or so pages of The River Maiden that I had already written and get back to it.
It’s been a few years since that fateful day in the book store. My copy of Outlander has since fallen to pieces and naturally been replaced. The book store closed down. I built a career as a corporate trainer, had two kids and realized that I was in fact married to my very own Jamie. Now, I’m in a similar situation. Going back to work after being a stay at home mom for a few years, and wondering how I’m going to carve out time to build a writing career while managing two kids and a day job. But I still find myself saying, “What would Claire do?”. And when the writing gets tough or I feel like I’ll never reach my goal, I pull out my copy of The Fiery Cross and look at the inscription that Diana wrote there at a book signing years ago. It says “Keep writing!”, and I do.
What can I say to someone on a day when the entire world is gushing about her and wishing her a happy birthday?
All I can say is, thank you and thank you and thank you. You’ve given us all so much, taught us so much and proven that strong women attract the best men. I know I’m just one of millions, but if you’re at all like me every time a reader tells me my stories mean something is precious. Your stories mean so much. I wish you all the best in the coming year, and can’t wait to read what you have for us next.
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.