Outlander revisited

I recently finished my first “re-read” (via audiobook) of Outlander. I typically re-read my favorite books and there are undoubtedly some that withstand the test of time better than others, so for that reason,  I was a bit reticent going into Outlander again. I probably love this series more than anything I’ve read to date, and I didn’t know what I would do if it had somehow lost it’s magic.

I went into the initial read blindly; I had read no reviews or summaries and thus had no subconscious bias based on other people’s opinions. I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to find myself completely waylaid. Typically, I’m a pretty reserved person, but Outlander brought out the hyperactive, excitable, flailing-arms, high-pitched squealing fangirl in me like no other. I was obsessed with this book and thought of nothing else for months after the initial read. I cursed the unfairness of a life that forced me to leave my house and go to work while I was right smack in the middle of major Jamie and Claire drama! How cruel that my boss did not understand the gravity of my situation!? On the job, I was jittery and sleep-deprived and desperate for an open ear to listen to me ramble on and on about all the incredible things that had just happened. (Keep in mind, I was completely ignorant of the online fanbase at this point in the game.) Just recently, I cleaned out my old-emails and came across several that had been written during that time period. Bless my poor friends who had to endure my madness…

(click to enlarge)

Also during that time period, I had to help my brother and sister-in-law paint their new house. I had my nose buried in the book while waiting for the paint to be mixed at the store; and once we actually got to work, I painted faster than I’ve ever painted before! I was flying from room to room, unscrewing and removing light switch and outlet plates at lightening speed and futilely attempting to motivate the others with rapid hand claps and shouts of “Chop-chop, people! Let’s get this done!!” Afterwards, I declined a complimentary dinner and sped home so that I could get back to 1700’s Scotland.

As crazy as I was, I loved every minute of that euphoria. It still amazes me that a book can evoke so much emotion and make me so darned happy. While on the surface, it appeared to be making me regress in both intellectual ability and emotional age (what with all the girlie squeals and the extreme new-found boy crush); in reality, it was making me smarter. I learned so much history and increased my vocabulary with this book, and it spawned an interest in a country that I probably never would have even thought about otherwise. Of course, that feeling can almost never be re-captured after the first time, no matter how resilient said story may be. Therefore, I didn’t expect to revive that first time high and only hoped for at least another spirited experience. As you may have predicted, I was much relieved to find that Outlander still has what it takes to make me a very happy girl. Suffice it to say, it will still plaster a huge, goofy grin on my face :)

I was able to listen better and pay more attention to details this time around since my brain wasn’t hijacked by newbie mania. What struck me the most during my second go round was the emphasis on how young Jamie was. I knew all along that he was 23 years old of course, but I suppose I didn’t pick up on the multiple references to how young he appears, or the fact that Claire is sometimes caught off guard by his youthfulness.

I took a lot more notice of Frank this time. I had initially found him very distant and cold, but now have a different impression. I saw more clearly that he was quite loving with Claire and simply very dedicated (with a tendency towards complete immersion) to his research. I must say that I am notorious for switching “teams” upon second reads: I switched from team Edward to team Jacob and I switched from team Bill to team Eric (although, I watched “True Blood” for the first time in between those re-reads and I have to admit that Mr. Skarsgard had something to do with that about-face…). While I did see Frank in a more agreeable light, it definitely wasn’t enough to sway me from team Jamie. It did however, force me to much more critically evaluate Claire’s decision to abandon Frank. I’ve always found Claire to be a bit selfish, but I now see her decision as more foolhardy and callous. (It worked out in the end of course, so I can’t say that I blame her for it…)

I didn’t shed a tear during the Wentworth scene with Jamie and Black Jack Randall (compared to my first read when I WEPT LIKE A BABY). I understand Claire’s “solution” to Jamie’s depression at the abbey much better this time as well. The first time around, I was so emotionally drained and my mind so muddled that after the opium abbey brawl, I found myself blinking dazedly and thinking “wait….what the hell just happened?” but I was too excited to jump into Dragonfly in Amber to go back for clarification.

After finishing An Echo in the Bone, I consistently told people that the first book was my least favorite and that this is the rare series that gets better and better with each additional book. While I still believe the latter part of that statement to be true, I can not believe that I ever uttered the words “least favorite” and “Outlander” in the same sentence! It is so not my least favorite, I really can’t choose the “best” one because they are each so wonderful in their own way. Each book builds upon the last and weaves each thread tighter and those thousands of pages together are what makes the characters so richly realistic.

I’m starting to gush…so brace yourselves…but as I’ve said before, I feel like I know these people, actually I feel like I’ve known them my whole life. I’m constantly comparing this series to a real-life relationship: you enter into a whirlwind courtship, you’re madly in love and can see or think of nothing else, and then you settle into it, get comfy and feel like you’ve know that person (*cough* or character) forever. Seriously though, all of you hard-core fans out there, can you remember the time before you met Jamie and Claire? ;)

Anyhoo, I’ll wrap this up by saying that Outlander is a classic, it will never get old or lose it’s magic and I should’ve never doubted that (however tiny that doubt may have been). It’s the unique book that simultaneously stimulates both my giddy inner fangirl and my studious inner historian. You’d think that after a year of reading this series and writing multiple blog posts (well, basically a whole blog) about the same characters, that my excitement would have quelled at least a bit, right? Well, I’m still in love and still a loyal devotee and I think it speaks to the quality of the writing. Next up: the audio version of DIA.

Advertisements

An Outlandish diversion: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

You can learn a lot from the Outlander series. Being the huge nerd that I am, I keep a pocket notebook with me while I’m reading and jot down little bits of information or words that I can look up later. During my initial read of Outlander last year, I took particular notice of the brief description in Chapter 8 of Colum MacKenzie’s physical ailment:

“Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome. I had never seen a case before, but I had heard it described. Named for its most famous sufferer (who did not yet exist, I reminded myself), it was a degenerative disease of bone and connective tissue. Victims often appeared normal, if sickly, until their early teens, when the long bones of the legs, under the stress of bearing a body upright, began to crumble and collapse upon themselves.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

I did a little research and discovered that the most famous sufferer, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was quite the interesting character and a very talented artist. Born in 1864 to an aristocratic French family, Henri’s upbringing was privileged, albeit wrought with a multitude of health conditions attributed to the fact that his parents, the Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adèle de Toulouse-Lautrec, were first cousins. Since he was physically unable to participate in the common games and activities of other children his age, he focused on his artistic talents and later became a widely respected Post-Impressionist painter.

He moved to the Montmartre section of Paris and became immersed in the bohemian art scene that included such famous artists as Degas, Cézanne, Seurat, Renoir and Van Gogh (whom he would later exhibit with). He was a friend of Oscar Wilde and subsequently painted a portrait of him, as well as Vincent Van Gogh. He was a fixture amongst the bawdy Paris nightlife and began a series of paintings featuring prostitutes of Montmartre. Around this time, the Moulin Rouge opened and Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to paint a series of posters to promote the cabaret.

One of his most famous paintings features Louise Weber, who went by the stage name “La Goulue” and was arguably the most famous Cancan dancer – and a personal favorite of Henri – at the Moulin Rouge.

"La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge" (1892)

 Many of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings were looked down upon as a result of their seedy and often risqué subject matter. Personally, I love his vibrant  artwork and view it as an interesting and often unglamorous glimpse into the realities of life in Paris during a time of incredible artistic creativity. Speaking of unglamorous and realistic, check out this one…

"Rue des Moulins: The Medical Inspection"

 Here are a couple of my favorites, including this self potrait in a crowd…

"At the Moulin Rouge"

"The clownesse Cha-U-Kao at the Moulin Rouge" (1895)

…and “In Bed”, (a print of) which will hopefully hang in my guest room one of these days…

"In Bed" (1893)

Henri was a very prolific painter, creating over 700 paintings and thousands of drawings during his abbreviated lifespan. To help him cope with constant mockery regarding his appearance, he took to drinking and was an alcoholic for most of his life. He had a customized cane that could be filled with alcohol so that he would never be without a drink. He was briefly institutionalized before his death at the age of 36. If you enjoy his artwork, you can see more of it here.

It’s quite a leap from the Scottish Castle Leoch in 1743 to bohemian Paris in the late 1800’s, but a most satisfying and visually appealing one, wouldn’t you agree?

Casting Jamie Fraser in the Outlander Movie

The Outlander Movie. Will this mythical creature that we’ve been hearing about for so long ever actually come to fruition? Or will it forever remain a phantom rumor mill floating about the interwebs, spawning YouTube fan videos until the end of time? From what I’ve gathered, Ann Peacock (screenwriter for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Nights in Rodanthe) is currently writing the screenplay and nothing else is set in stone. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, and that may be a good thing. I just don’t believe it is possible to convert this 800-some page novel into a quality 2 hour movie. I would much rather see it made into an HBO or Showtime series, with an entire season devoted to each book. That way, there would be plenty of time for character development and room for all those niggly little details that people like myself are surely to look for.

Yep, I’m one of those obnoxious people who craves a literal book-to-movie translation. I realize that the logistics of such a feat are nearly impossible, but I can’t help it; I want to hear the actors quoting directly from the book and I look for costumes and locations to be spot-on. Of course, that rarely happens and I usually end up driving my husband or fellow viewers crazy with constant jeers of “What?! That did NOT happen in the book!!” or “Arrrgg?! NO! He doesn’t do that in the book!”(You should hear me when we watch True Blood. And Twilight drove me absolutely batty.)

I realize that a movie is an interpretation of a book, and that most people don’t want to see the exact same thing on-screen as they saw in the book, because “where’s the fun in that?” as my husband would say. I can understand such logic and despite my complaints, nine times out of ten, I’m usually able to get past my prejudices and still enjoy the movie or TV show (True Blood, for example).

If I’m honest with myself, however short of my expectations the movie may fall (assuming it gets made), I will be powerless to the draw of seeing the embodiment of my favorite characters on the big screen. I will probably do a lot of criticizing and complaining, but I will not have the willpower to restrain myself from seeing it. (I saw Twilight three times in the theater…I claimed I didn’t like it, but clearly there was some discrepancy between my words and my actions…). Resistance will be futile. And doubtless, there will be girlie squeals. 

Now, onto casting. (Keep in mind that I do this all in good fun.) You all know that I love Alexander Skarsgard as Jamie Fraser, but he’s really too old to play the young Jamie from book 1. My mental images of the characters have actually grown and changed as the books have progressed, so I now find it a little odd to think about Jamie as a 23-year-old, since he’s currently 50-something in my mind. Also, of course, no actual person in existence looks like Jamie Fraser. No one could possibly live up to such a namesake! I think The Lit Connection summed up this conundrum perfectly when she said “If I ever set eyes on Jamie Fraser in real life, I think I’ll go blind…much like someone will go blind staring at the sun.”

Okay, that having been said, I have a possible casting idea for 23-year-old Jamie a la Outlander: Ben Barnes.

I must give my friend Carla credit for this idea; and when she brought it to my attention several months ago, I didn’t see it. Granted, I thought he was very attractive, but I just couldn’t see him as Jamie. She recommended that I watch the movie Dorian Gray, in which he plays the lead role, since it was the movie that first gave her the idea that he could play the part. I finally got around to watching Dorian Gray a few weeks ago, and I’ve got to say, it turned me around too.

Here is Ben’s credentials: He played Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia, so he knows how to wield a sword and ride a horse. He’s British, speaks moderate French, and has mastered the Scots accent. Physically, he’s got the slanted “cat eyes” that are so characteristic of Mr. Fraser and he looks good with long hair. One of the sex scenes in Dorian Gray leads me to believe that he could easily pull off a kilt.

Now, he obviously doesn’t have the correct coloration, but I’ve seen poorly photoshopped pics of him with blond hair and blue eyes – and it works – so I think a darker shade of red would look great on him. (Although I do think it a shame to change his natural eye color because those dark, smoldering eyes are so verra nice as is…) He is long and lean, but would definitely need to hit the gym to add some muscle since he’s quite thin. Remember, Diana G has said that Jamie is built like a basketball player, not a football player.

I have only seen the first Narnia and don’t recall Mr. Barnes, (I only remember my bitter disappointment that James McAvoy was playing the goat-man) but he’s inspired me to watch the entire series soon. In Dorian Gray, however, Ben Barnes carries the film and is flat-out gorgeous in every scene. He’s also in a movie called Easy Virtue (which I haven’t seen yet, but is on my Netflix queue as well). He’s a relative newcomer and I would argue that he’s not well-known, so that adds to my appeal, since I think it would be a shame to use big name actors in the Outlander movie (they just seem to get in the way, don’t you think?).

Jamie's always running his hands through his hair, making it stand on end...yes?

Oh, and here’s some trivia that is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand: he was 1 of 4 finalists for the role of Edward Cullen! I found that very interesting, and I think he would make a wonderful vampire (and I daresay he would be a much better actor than our beloved Rob Pattinson).

Anyhoo, I know Ben Barnes is a wild card and a total shot in the dark, but I do think he could play our 20-something Jamie (with a little prep) in an adaptation of Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber. Have I convinced you likewise? What do you think? I’m very interested to hear your opinions! Hey, if nothing else, I’ve given you some pretty pictures to look at, right? ;) And thanks again, Carla!

More Alexander Skarsgard as Jamie Fraser!

Hello, my lovely bosom blogging buddies! I realize that I’ve been neglecting you a bit lately, but it’s been a trying week. I’ve got several Jamie Fraser posts simmering at the moment, but to tide us over until they are done, let’s enjoy this delightful picture that I discovered in my inbox this morning.  Meghan, you are not alone in your love for Alexander Skarsgard as Jamie Fraser, and many thanks for the photo!

Punchnep and a little poetry

On this day in 1759, Scotland’s most famed National Bard, Robert Burns, was born. In honor of his 252nd birthday, I decided to make some neeps and tatties. (I’ll admit, I didn’t know it was auld Robbie’s b-day until I checked in on MOP this morning, but I’ll take any chance I can get to eat “neeps” and “tatties.”) I found a recipe in my new Celtic cookbook for Punchnep, which is one of the few vegetarian-friendly Scottish dishes, and it is super easy to make…

Dice, boil, and mash 1 pound of potatoes (a.k.a. “tatties”)

Dice, boil, and mash 1 pound turnips (a.k.a. “neeps”)

Mix them together and add butter and milk (and a boiled and mashed apple, if you are adventurous), then season to taste with salt and pepper.  I also cooked up the turnip greens.

And you’ve just made Punchnep!! (Please ignore the non-Scottish grilled cheese…I was hungry.)

I don’t read much poetry; I typically get my poetic fix via music. I thought tonight would be a fitting time to share with you the lyrics of a song that always make me think of Jamie and Claire.

“The Greatest Sum” by the Avett Brothers

This and who I used to be
Don’t matter much at all to me.
To pin you down, to plant your feet’s
A far cry from my destiny.

Not even the clouds,
Not even the past,
Not even the hands of God
could hold me back from you.

Dark and lonely is the ride,
the devil always by my side.
Though no match for what lies between
the thought of you,
your trust for me.

Not even the sun,
A bullet from a gun,
No, nothing that this world could bring or
Anything someone could do
Could hold me back from you.

No count of gold placed in my hand,
The largest find,
The greatest sum.
Though some would say
It’d ease our pain,
We know that it can’t be done.

Not even the sun,
Not even the clouds.
Not even the past,
No, nothing that this world can bring or anything someone can do,
Could hold me back from you. 

Spreading the love of Outlander

I have a couple of stories that I need to share here, because only my fellow Outlander fanatics will truly appreciate them. The first story is from my husband. Last week, he went to the doctor and while returning his paperwork and clipboard to the front desk, he noticed that the receptionist was reading a book by Diana Gabaldon.

Husband: Oh, I see you’re reading one of the Outlander books?

Receptionist: Yeah! Have you read them?

Husband: No, but my wife is obsessed with them, so I kinda feel like I’ve read them.

Receptionist: They are so great.

Husband: My wife carved a pumpkin that was a big hit with all the Outlander fans she talks to online – she has a blog- actually, her blog and pumpkin recently made it onto Diana Gabaldon’s website. You should check it out.

*At this point, he is called back to see the doctor. After his check-up, he speaks with a different lady behind the front desk and is making his way out of the office, when he hears this…*

Receptionist: Oh! Sir! SIR! WAIT!

Husband: *walks back to the front desk*

Receptionist: OH. MY. GOD.

*In my husband’s words, she was “attempting to suppress a high-pitched squeal, while slightly flailing her arms and trying to maintain a professional decorum.”*

Receptionist:  I saw the pumpkin! Please tell your wife I said thank you, thank you for that pumpkin! Oooohhhh! That just made my day!

Husband: *smiling* Sure thing.

Aww, my hubs is going around promoting the Outlander series! As a side note, I asked him which book she was reading and he said “I don’t know, it was this ugly neon green color.” HA!

Next story:

My mom was at the beauty shop, getting her hair done, when the topic of conversation switched to vampires and then Outlander. (Just to set the stage: picture a Southern beauty salon with a hairdresser named Diane, who calls everyone “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Baby,” or the like, and doesn’t get in a hurry for anything. Diane’s son was working as a graphic designer on the 4th and 5th Twilight movies that were being filmed in Louisiana.)

Mom: My daughter loved Twilight, but she likes the Sookie Stackhouse series better.

Diane: I haven’t heard of that one. What’s it about?

Mom: Vampires. The show True Blood is based on those books, so I’m assuming they are a bit darker and more adult than the Twilight books.

*Let me just say that I forced my mom to read Twilight during the height of my obsession and when prodded for her opinion on it, she said “Well, honestly I wish they would just go ahead and get it on with each other! This back and forth is driving me crazy!”*

Mom: Now she’s in love with a new series though, it’s called Outlander. She bought it…

*At this point, an older lady looks up from a book and interrupts my mom…*

Older lady: Oooooohhhhhhhhhh! I’ve read the Outlander books! They. Are. Amazing!

Mom: Ha! You sound just like my daughter! Have you read them all?

Older lady: (who has now relocated to fully join the conversation) Oh yeah. They are the best books I’ve ever read. I am DYING waiting for book 8 to come out! It’s coming out in March though, so I’m just biding my time until then.

My mom called me later that night to relay the story and to tell me that book 8 is coming out in March. I informed her that it hasn’t even been written yet and it will be years before book 8 comes out. Then she says to me “Well, that lady seemed to be a pretty big fan…I’d bet she knows what she’s talking about.” I had to act very offended that my mom was questioning my level of fandom and my knowledge of when the next book is coming out.

And finally, I was at Barnes and Noble this past weekend, just browsing, when I overheard a woman at the information desk asking about Outlander. Of course, my ears perked up instantly and I walked to the end of the aisle to get a glimpse. The clerk checked in her computer and informed her that it was in the fiction section, and they began walking in that direction. I actually really wanted to go over to this girl and gush about how amazing the book is and tell her about Jamie Fraser and how she will never be the same, etc, etc, but when I rounded the corner and saw her pick up the book…the way that she was tenderly cupping it (clearly already coveting it), with a big, goofy grin on her face, I realized that she already had insider info on this series. It made me smile.

I’ve seen Diana G. describe her books as “word-of-mouth books” since they are so hard to describe or categorize and these stories reminded me of that notion. I actually found the series all by myself, I was reading the USA Today Top 150 best sellers list and saw one tiny little line that said An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon and described it as “a Scottish husband and his time-travelling wife in the 1700’s, latest in a series” (or something along those lines) and for whatever reason, that little sentence spoke to me! I went to the used book store and found books 2,3, and 4 and bought Outlander new (albeit on sale). And the rest, as they say, is history!

Do you have any funny Outlander word-of-mouth stories? I’d love to hear about them!

Diana Gabaldon’s new website!

Diana Gabaldon’s new website is now up and it is absolutely beautiful! I practically had a heart attack when I saw it…because my Pumpkin Homage (and my blog!) is mentioned on the “Fan Art” page!! I literally screamed at the top of my lungs, then proceeded to call my Dad, and then text everyone I know. I am so incredibly humbled and happy :) Go check it out!

I was just as excited as the day I actually got to meet Diana! (But of course, I had to suppress my fangirl screams while at the panel!)