The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

*Warning: this post contains spoilers.*

I finished The Scottish Prisoner last night and it’s definitely my favorite in the Lord John series. I’m going to forego a lengthy summary of the book and instead focus on the biggest impressions it had on me.

In a nutshell: it’s 1760 and Lord John is obligated to complete a task asked of him by an army comrade on his deathbed. LJ involves his brother, Hal, who then decides to involve (or rather, use) Jamie (still being held prisoner at Helwater); thus setting up the reunion of LJ and Jamie and their subsequent journey to Ireland in which they must work together to catch the bad guy and mend their own tattered relationship along the way.

While this book is actually quite sad and nothing swoon-worthy happens (which usually does when Jamie Fraser is involved), I ultimately found it to be perfectly paced, simultaneously heartwarming and heart wrenching, and above all, a treasure trove of answers to the myriad of questions surrounding Jamie’s time at Helwater.

Peat bog in Ireland

On the surface, it may seem like a fortuitous dalliance or a random snapshot into the past, but to those of us who are fully invested in the characters, it is a very important revelation of what got those characters where they are today (or, er, in 1781…) and I would say that this book is the most important – regarding character development – of all the Lord John books. Scottish Prisoner is required reading if you want to be in the Outlander fan club!

Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey are two of my favorite characters (ever). I actually love these men. DG knew exactly what she was doing by devoting an entire novel to them…I daresay she couldn’t go wrong. Jamie and LJ are like golden retrievers: tried and true, an all-around classic. While there may be a few cliques or stereotypes surrounding them, you can’t go wrong with this breed because you’ll always have a loyal, overall good dog (who is pretty to look at) at the end of the day.

I was dying to know what happened after that infamous scene in Brotherhood of the Blade and the niggling thought of how the heck did they ever get past that? was ALWAYS floating around in the back of my mind. Therefore, I am so grateful to finally have an explanation, even though I am still amazed that Jamie did get past it. (Most. Awkward. Situation. Ever.)

This book gave me even more respect for Jamie. The expression “be the bigger man” kept popping into my head because Jamie was always doing just that. He had so much sadness weighing on him and the rawness of his longing for Claire, even after 14 years, was truly gut-wrenching. The fact that he was able to keep his head up and carry on despite the degradation to his name and character (even going so far as to help those who unjustly looked down upon him), further proved that he is a true gentleman.

One scene that I found particularly moving was when Lord John and Lord Dunsany went for a leisurely ride, towards the end of the book. Dunsany describes how the other grooms don’t make things easy for Jamie and that he keeps to himself. Things have never been easy for Jamie, but he stands strong and perseveres. But it was his relationship with William that I found most heartbreaking. He’s been removed from his family, lost his wife and child (without even laying eyes on her), lost his title and rightful authority, and on top of all this, he is forced to watch his only son (the only thing he has left in his life) from a distance and always through a veil of secrecy. And yet he cherishes the small moments and forgoes any chance of freedom to continue that shard of a relationship.

I came away with mixed emotions regarding Lord John’s position in relation to Jamie. While Jamie has the power to make him weak in the knees, LJ is still his master and (by the end of this book) holds authority over his only son as well. In the final pages, when LJ finally realizes that Jamie is in fact, William’s father, I almost got the impression that he happily saw it as another way of lording over the man. But I’m not positive of that, because I can see it many ways: it gives him an excuse to see Jamie (which he was always looking for), and even further, a lifelong connection to him. Not to mention the fact that if he were to give William the best upbringing and education possible (which we actually know to be the case), then Jamie would forever be in debt to LJ for doing what he could not. On the other hand, LJ loves Jamie and cares for him deeply, and would see in William an opportunity to show Jamie how much he loves him, since he can’t actually (physically)show him, which he would very much like to do (don’t we all). As you can see, I’ve not made up my mind on the matter just yet, but Lord John is a very complicated man, which is of course, why I love him ;)

Ruins on Inchaleraun Island, Ireland

Another storyline that I found very enlightening was that of Isobel Dunsany. I have always wondered about her marriage to Lord John, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book sheds a little light on the subject. After carrying on in a decidedly snotty and childlike manner, she experienced a very cruel and unfortunate lesson on the importance of choosing an honorable man. Luckily, it was Jamie to the rescue, but I have a feeling that Lord John’s role in comforting her and his vow to keep her secret (especially considering that this followed relatively soon after their poignant scene in Brotherhood) probably resulted in her seeing LJ from a new perspective.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and deep down feel like it was “for the fans,” if that makes any sense. It’s kind of crazy to think that I’m saying that about a book that doesn’t have Claire in it (!), but…so many answers! I love answers! Even if you haven’t read the other Lord John books, you really must read this one.

Virtual Jamie Fraser

*Disclaimer: you will not find this remotely funny unless you are a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

My husband recently received a PS3 and several sports themed games to go along with it. We are in psuedo-isolation for several months while he heals post transplant, and being stuck in a small space with a man playing bocce ball on a video screen…let’s just say this is my personal idea of hell. After hearing my complaints and taking pity on me, our dear friends Jason and Jessica decided to get him a game that I possibly wouldn’t loathe as much. Jason decided on the role-playing game, Skyrim. He also attempted to sell me on this game by taunting me with the fact that “He can create his character to look like Jamie Fraser! You wouldn’t mind watching Jamie Fraser, right?” He didn’t need to say any more, and of course, I took the bait.

Richie agreed to make his character look like a Scottish Highlander and he was doing a fair job of remembering Jamie’s more obvious physical features, but he soon grew tiresome of my heckling from across the room and didn’t put up a fight when I took possession of the controller. The detail in this game is astonishing (you choose everything down to the length of the nose of your choice), but I do believe there is a built-in block to prevent you from making yourself too good-looking. I was throughly entertained during the process, however, which in turn thoroughly entertained my husband (and Jason and Jessica). And yes, I named him “Jamie Fraser.”

After all the work I put into it though, I was rather dismayed to discover that you don’t actually see your character while playing the game…so Jason’s original plan sort of backfired, but I’ll take this over bocce ball any day.

Outlander Jewelry: The Author’s Attic

Well, it’s been nothing but bad news bears around here lately. (That lucky bamboo that I received for my birthday hasn’t kicked in yet… ) Hubs was in a car wreck this morning and thankfully he is okay (albeit bruised and sore), but unfortunately the car didn’t fare so well. He has been wanting a new one lately however, so perhaps something good will come out of it all.
 
I will hopefully get back in the groove of blogging very soon, I ordered some new books from Amazon this weekend and I am SO EXCITED…plus I have an Outlander craft idea. Yep, you read that right, an Outlander craft idea. Intrigued? I hope I can find some time this weekend to work on it.
 
Speaking of Outlander inspired art, I discovered this lovely website, The Author’s Attic,  some time ago and have been meaning to post about it ever since. It’s jewelry and charms inspired by the works of some of my favorite authors: Diana Gabaldon, Jane Austen, Anya Seton, and Charlotte Bronte. I haven’t ordered anything, but I love the concept and it seems reasonably priced. You’ll want to check it out if you’re an Outlander fangirl. I’m partial to Brianna’s Bracelet.

*I heart Roger*

 

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.

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!

Rebel by Bernard Cornwell

Rebel is the first book in Bernard Cornwell’s “Starbuck Chronicles,” and introduces us to Nathaniel Starbuck, a Yale seminary school drop-out from Boston who finds himself stranded in Richmond, VA the day after the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861. Tensions between the North and South are very high, and Starbuck, with his Boston accent, is detained in the street by an angry mob and accused of being a Northern spy. It doesn’t help that he also happens to be the son of the infamous Northern abolitionist, Reverand Elial Starbuck – a man who is vehemently detested in the South. In a stroke of good fortune, Nate is rescued from the tar and feathers by Washington Faulconer, a wealthy Virginian and father to Adam Faulconer, Nate’s best friend from Yale. Faulconer goads Starbuck  into admitting the embarrassing circumstances which brought him to Richmond, i.e., that he fell in love at first sight with an actress, Mademoiselle Dominique Demarest of New Orleans, who was performing in a travelling show called “The Only True and Authorized Stage Version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Complete with Real Bloodhounds.” She persuaded him to drop out of Yale and travel with the troupe, eventually asking him to commit theft and run away with her to Richmond…at which point she immediately dropped him for her true partner in crime (who was waiting to take the money).

Washington Faulconer is self-absorbed, obsessed with becoming a famous General, and very preoccupied with the oncoming war (and how he can use it to his advantage); but he takes pity on Nate, and since he is a friend of his beloved son, welcomes him into his home and offers him a position in the newly formed Faulconer Legion. Starbuck has never seen himself as a soldier, and to fight with the Confederacy means that he would be fighting against his family and friends; but his distaste for his father’s radical behavior, and the fact that he now sees himself as a rebel (in the literal sense of the word), as well as the desire to please Faulconer and thank him for the gesture of good will, cause him to step up to the challenge. The first battle of his life will also be the first major battle in the Civil War: the Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run, if you’re a Yankee).

I really enjoyed this book. It’s historically accurate with regards to the military details and the battle scenes are very descriptive and amazingly vivid. Cornwell brings to life so many of the historical names that are associated with the Civil War: Beauregard, Johnston, and Stonewall Jackson to name a few. The accuracy of the novel appeals strongly to me, but perhaps more appealing is the rich diversity of characters throughout the book. There’s Thaddeus Bird (also known as “Pecker” because of his jerky bird-like movements), who is the village schoolmaster (and hater of all children) and brother- in-law to Mr. Faulconer, who finds himself appointed a Major in the Legion because his sister wished it; Thomas Truslow is a hard-scrabble mountain man who does not want to get involved in the fight, but chooses to volunteer after he is taken aback by his instant likening to Starbuck; Sally Truslow is Thomas’s illiterate, uncouth, vixen of a daughter who uses her feminine wiles to get her way; and Ethan Ridley, the young rake who plans to marry Washington Faulconer’s daughter as a means to gain access to the family bank account.

I love the character of Starbuck – he’s an underdog, and I’m a real sucker for underdogs. He’s innocent and naive and truly torn between his oppressive religious upbringing and the newly discovered desires to experience women and war. He does a lot of dithering, but I found it to be very endearing, and I love his penchant for falling head over heels in love. He eventually finds his footing, although I think he will truly blossom as the series progresses.

Rebel is really a great read, especially if you have an interest in the Civil War. There is a lot of adventure and tons of action. There’s a love story on the horizon, but it is not prominent in this book. Diana Gabaldon listed Bernard Cornwell on her Methadone List in The Outlandish Companion, and I agree that his writing will appeal to the Outlander fan who particularly enjoys the battle and adventure aspects of DG’s books. (As a side note: Cornwell’s other series, ” The Sharpe Books,” was made into a PBS miniseries and I have seen several people drop the name of the lead actor – Sean Bean – as a potential Jamie Fraser. I think he’s probably too old at this point, but he’s worth checking out for mental imagery.)