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
(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.
...and why I don't hate them.
Tomorrow I will be lucky enough to go to a book signing at the National Press Club with Diana Gabaldon (super excited). It occurred to me when I opened her latest, Written In My Own Heart's Blood on my Kindle this morning that there will be A LOT of spoilers for me tomorrow. The book has been out for a week and I have barely cracked it open. I know from many tweets and Facebook posts that many of the people I'm meeting up with tomorrow have already finished it and will very likely be unable to contain their excitement. I thought about this for approximately one second and then shrugged and read on.
Unlike some folks out in the reader/viewer world I do not hyperventilate at the thought of knowing what's going to happen, nor do I stick my fingers in my ears and shout LALALALALA...when my friends/family/coworkers start talking about something I have yet to watch or read. Much is made around the water cooler and online about spoilers and avoiding spoilers. People get up in arms or downright cranky if they think they've encountered even a hint of a spoiler and seem to place the responsibility of keeping their worlds spoiler free on everyone around them.
The trouble with that is, that it implies that the book or film or TV show is nothing more than its plot and that knowing any points of that plot (no matter how obscure) ahead of time ruins the whole experience. Quality of the writing? Not important. Strength of the characters? Inconsequential. Performance of actors in a part? Could be done in clay-mation or with mannequins. Direction, set-design, costumes? Who cares? This slavish and sometimes neurotic avoidance of spoilers suggests that HOW a story is told doesn't matter, only the story matters.
If that's true why ever bother rereading anything? Why go to movies if you've read the book? Why watch a show if you already know what's going to happen? Or why watch a remake of an original movie? Who cares that Jane Austen's writing is elegant and beautiful? What does it matter than Aaron Sorkin's writes snappy dialogue makes us all feel smarter, or that Elmore Leonard creates characters that you just want to follow around to be near them?
Not so. There is so much more to a story than it's plot points. There is context and voice. There are characters and how they react to events. There is frequently a sea of emotion and any number of resulting actions or events that come from a single plot point. Knowing one plot point, or even a few shouldn't ruin the effect of the whole story. Stories and the work of the story tellers in whatever medium are worth so much more than that.
I've probably read Pride and Prejudice a dozen times, and I still get chills when I Darcy proposes to Elizabeth again, whether it's delivered by the Darcy in my imagination or Colin Firth (to Elizabeth Bennet or Bridget Jones) or Matthew Macfadyen or anyone else. I still cheer at Elizabeth's spunk when she refuses him the first time, but I've watched every adaptation I came across. And they've ALL shown me something new. I read all the Hunger Games books, but I'll still go see the movies, because I want to see how they translate. And you'd better believe that I'll be glued to my TV come August to watch Outlander even though I know exactly what's going to happen. I've reread the whole series several times over, not because I forgot what happened, but because the author does such an incredible job of telling the story.
I get it. I like to be surprised sometimes too. The Red Wedding blew me away. I had no idea what the secret to The Crying Game was. Those were great moments of surprise. But, once the shock wears off, I'm left with to marvel at the quality of the performances, or the direction or the editing. I don't NEED the element of surprise to appreciate the beauty of the work.
With that said, I'm not going to tell you what's next for Dermot and Sarah. But I might post a few lines now and then, and they MIGHT give away some very minor plot points. You've been warned.