Here is the official podcast with Toni Graphia and Luke Schelhaas (his first podcast!)
We open with Jamie and Claire still on the riverboat. Jamie sits alone looking pensive as Claire approaches him. He feels responsible for their current plight, despondent over Lesley’s fate, a shallow grave on the riverbank. Jamie must bear the guilt of knowing he allowed Stephen Bonnet to escape the noose. Claire tries to ease his guilt.
The captain announces they have arrived at River Run… a magnificent estate looms as Jamie reflects how, once a man of means, he is now penniless. Claire tells him it’s not the first time, he had nothing when they married. Jocasta is family whom they, luckily, can turn to in their time of need.
Jamie, Claire and Young Ian disembark from the riverboat and they are greeted by Jocasta, accompanied by an imposing man. She welcomes Jamie warmly, holding out both hands to him. Jamie is tearful with a catch in his voice, as we realise Jocasta looks like Ellen, Jamie’s mother. They speak of Jamie’s mother. Jamie introduces Claire and Jocasta asks Claire to call her Auntie… We can tell Jocasta’s eyes aren’t focused, and her blindness is revealed when Young Ian presents her with a bouquet of “weeds” and her manservant needs to step in to alert her to the gift.
She tells them she has been blind for many years and makes light of her situation saying her hearing is acute and she has the ability to gauge truth from lies! She turns, stepping between Claire and Jamie, walking them up the path to River Run, promising to show them River Run style hospitality. Jocasta asks Ulysses, by name, to lead the way to the parlour, as the camera cuts to an aerial view of an imposing white mansion with small buildings off to the rear. People mill about…
Inside the parlour at River Run Jamie is explaining to Jocasta about their misadventures with Stephen Bonnet. Jocasta welcomes them to stay for as long as they need. With a canniness worthy of any MacKenzie Jocasta quickly recognises Jamie as a man of strength, with a head for business (thank you for spreading the word Jared!). Jocasta plans to hold a gathering to celebrate their arrival at River Run. We quickly see that Claire is not the only one we can watch thinking!
A door squeaks open and everyone is assailed by a foul stench! Young Ian and Rollo have had a run in with a skunk. A creature hitherto unknown to Young Ian, but never forgotten I’m sure! Fortunately Jocasta knows just the person with the knowledge to rid Rollo of the malodorous affliction… Ulysses is sent to find John Quincy Myers, but only after he shows Jamie and Claire to their bedroom.
While going upstairs to their bedchamber Jamie remarks to Claire on Jocasta’s likeness to his mother. Inside their bedchamber Ulysses ensures their needs are met, and Claire earns a look of disapproval from him and the housemaids look decidedly uncomfortable when she asks them to call her Claire. An instant compromise is made and Claire says “Mistress Claire”. Once alone with Jamie, Claire looks out the window and Jamie notes she hasn’t had much to say. Distressed, Claire looks at the slaves in the field… one day it will be different Jamie declares.
Rollo and Ian are met by mountain man, John Quincy Myers, who with the aid of small boy, bathe Rollo in a vinegar bath proceeds to remove the foul odour. Ian is fascinated by Myers rampant beard and stories of the Indians. They banter about beards! Ian notes the similarity between Highlanders and Indians.
We see an overview of a peaceful river and the camera scans the field with the slaves working the land overseen by an unfriendly looking man.
Ulysses, and Jamie hand in hand with Jocasta, followed by Claire walk onto the porch of River Run. The conversation turns to the output of the plantation… in addition to tobacco, indigo, cotton and pine. With the forests providing 200 barrels of turpentine monthly, however the main source of revenue is the sawmill. Answering Jamie’s question Jocasta says River Run has 152 slaves. She proudly states she has kept families together and not only treats them with benevolence, but some she considers to be friends. Claire cannot hold back, arms crossed, she asks if they feel the same way, since they have no choice. While Jocasta cannot see Claire she has no doubt from the tone of Claire’s voice that she disapproves and makes an attempt to justify owning slaves. Claire excuses herself to meet Phaedre in the garden to replenish her herbs before she says something she may regret.
Moments later Ulysses announces that Lieutenant Wolff is waiting in the parlour for them. The Lieutenant randomly offers a suggestion on planting wheat along the river, presumably thinking he’s doing Jocasta a favour. However, Jamie who knows a bit about dirt says a wheat crop would be doomed to failure due to the moisture. Rice would be better! The Lieutenant excuses himself saying he will return to discuss contracts later. Jocasta tells Jamie the Lieutenant will not be accustomed to be spoken to in that manner, and she gives a hint of the issues she has faced being a woman alone, running River Run, foreshadowing events to come.
Having earlier promised a celebratory welcome to River Run, we find Jocasta sitting as Claire is being fitted for a gown, Phaedre pinning the garment to be altered. Jocasta wonders about the colour of Claire’s hair, saying she sounds “fair”. Claire looks slightly nonplussed, but says nothing except to say her hair is dark brown. Phaedre describes Claire to Jocasta in glowing terms. In a wee bit of banter with Phaedre, Jocasta mentions some men might be reluctant to be interested in a woman so tall. It is obvious that the plantation owner and her slave have a good relationship.
Jocasta is fishing for compliments on River Run… Claire is not forthcoming with praise and Claire’s tone of voice tells Jocasta her disapproval. Claire is honest and tells Jocasta she does not agree with keeping people as property. Jocasta asks Claire is she is a Quaker… thinking quickly she says not, but she does share their beliefs. Jocasta tells Claire they Jenny was right about her… that she is a peculiar lass! Jocasta observes that Claire is “a lively one”, so no wonder Jamie was drawn to her. Jocasta recognises someone with “the fire of a MacKenzie”. Jocasta, perhaps somewhat begrudgingly, acknowledges Claire.
A party is held, with the cream of Cross Creek society, to meet Jamie and Claire. There is talk of politics and taxes, and Ian looks indignant when his views on the Indians are dismissed as naivety.
Jocasta prepares to make an announcement to the gathering… ting, ting, ting on her glass summons their attention. Celebratory glasses of win are being distributed and the guests press closer to her. Lieutenant Wolff notes the “good vintage” has been brought out, heralding good news indeed! Jocasta promptly names Jamie as heir to River Run, and that he is henceforth to be its master. This pronouncement takes James totally by surprise. The somewhat surprised crowd politely applauds, and some reluctantly toast the announcement as Jamie and Claire try their best to look happy.
Later in their bedchamber, Jamie and Claire, are upset and distressed by Jocasta’s calculated announcement. Claire declares she cannot own slaves, Jamie agrees.
Next day, we find Jocasta, Farquard Campbell and Jamie discussing Jocasta’s announcement. Jamie says he wishes to free the plantations slaves and pay them a fair wage. Farquard Campbell, invited by Jocasta to share his wisdom, proceeds to detail that is almost impossible to achieve, both financially and legally. Not only are there legal and financial hurdles, such actions would threaten a way of life. Mr Campbell says lives would be at risk, not least Jamie’s, there have been others with thoughts like Jamie’s, however, they disappeared… an indirect threat.
Jamie leaves the room, and heads out to see Claire who is replenishing her medical box, sharing what he has just learned. There is another way… to reconsider Governor Tryon’s offer, to live on their own terms. Claire points out the obvious pitfall, the coming war. Before they can continue their conversation Jocasta, accompanied by Mr Campbell and Ulysses come to asks Jamie to be her representative “in a matter of bloodshed”. Overseer Byrnes has been attacked by one of the slaves, the man’s ear has been cut off. Claire says her services will be needed, she may be able to reattach the ear. Jocasta asked Phaedre to bring Jamie a pistol, this is promptly forthcoming. Led by Mr Campbell, Jamie and Claire head off in the wagon.
Upon arrival in a glade of trees Mr Campbell introduces Jamie to MacNeill as Mistress Cameron’s representative. Claire announces she is a healer and asks to be taken to the injured man. MacNeill tells Campbell that Rufus is responsible. Campbell says that Jamie will be aiding him overseeing Rufus’s execution. Naturally Claire and Jamie are appalled. They are informed the law of bloodshed demands it, any slave guilty of assault of a white man woman or child shall be put to death. We are faced with the sight of a man being hauled up a tree, a hook embedded in his abdomen. White workers hold back the other slaves as the man cries out in pain.
Claire doesn’t see a slave, she sees a human being in need as she and Jamie rush to help him. Jamie orders the man be let down at once, his orders are immediately contradicted by Overseer Byrnes who, stock wrapped around his head, orders the men to keep raising Rufus wielding an axe towards Jamie. Jamie steps up, pistols raised, ordering them to let Rufus down. The men reluctantly lower Rufus, as ordered, despite Byrnes’s complaint.
Rufus now lays on the ground, the horror of his injury is apparent. Byrnes has broken the law, taking it upon himself to execute Rufus and Campbell tells him so. Claire tells Jamie they must take Rufus back to the house to treat him.
Back at the house Rufus is placed upon the dining table and Claire goes into full emergency mode, directing the house slaves to clear the table, find Ian to bring Claire’s medical box. Claire and Jamie try to comfort Rufus while rushed preparations are made. Ian finds the laudanum, as requested by Claire, to help ease Rufus’s pain. Mary, one of the house slaves, looks ready to faint as Claire undertakes the grisly task of removing the hook. Jamie asks Phaedre to take her away.
Jocasta is shocked to find Claire trying to heal Rufus. While agreeing that Byrnes will have to pay for his savagery, Rufus will still, by law, be hung.
Lieutenant Wolff and Farquard Campbell arrive to speak with Jocasta and Jamie. Jocasta coolly declares she will see them in the parlour. As Claire continues to work on Rufus, with Ian’s assistance, Wolff and Campbell, backed by a Redcoat soldier. Lieutenant Wolff lays out he law of the land, pointing out Jamie’s error of judgement and threatening to imprison Claire as well as Jamie. Jocasta asks for the opportunity to put the matter right.
Claire’s has done all she can for her patient, he stirs and gasps in pain. Claire gives him water. Rufus asks where he is, the main house, he knows he should not be there and asks Claire why she has healed him. Claire reassures him in her own inimitable style! Rufus has not heard a woman speak that way before… Claire asks if there is anyone he wants to see and Rufus tells of being taken from his home in Africa, of his sister. Ian looks on distressed, if anyone can understand being forcefully kidnapped from their home, he can. Rufus drifts back into unconsciousness, and Claire asks Ian to arrange for Rufus to be taken to her bedroom so he can be more comfortable.
Claire leaves the dining room, taking a large bowl of waste from the surgery with her. She finds Ulysses waiting in the hallway having been asked by Jocasta to keep on eye on things. He warns Claire that things will be much worse for Rufus when the overseers come. It would have been better for everyone had Rufus died on the hook. We see glimpses of Wolff and his men standing outside. Jamie goes to Claire, sitting at Rufus’s side, and tells her they have until midnight to turn Rufus over to be executed. Jamie explains to Claire the untenable situation, there is no way out for Rufus, even allowing him to escape would bring harm to other slaves. The horror of the situation finally dawns on Claire, she and Jamie face a tragic dilemma. No crime goes unpunished.
Loud voices are heard outside, Claire and Jamie go to the window and see a mob of angry overseers, with fiery torches, weapons and a noose rushing towards River Run. Claire knows they will tear her patient apart. Jamie leaves the room to find Jocasta and Ulysses in the hallway, it is nearly midnight and Jocasta tells Jamie they will burn down River Run if justice isn’t served. We hear banging on the front door… and raised voices demanding the slave is turned over to them. Something is thrown through a window, the mob is becoming uncontrollable.
Bravely Jocasta goes down to face them and Jamie returns to Claire in the bedroom. Jamie says he knows Claire has taken an oath to do no harm, but perhaps she can help Rufus as she helped Colum. Claire is agonised. Jamie asks isn’t it better to save the man’s soul rather than have it torn from his body? Claire hears Rufus call her name and she goes to him and tells him she is going to make him a tea to help him sleep.
Meanwhile Jocasta is placating the angry mob, promising Jamie will deliver Rufus to them. Claire mixes a concoction, and puts a cup to Rufus’s lips. He drinks. She gently places his hands across his body and asks about his sister… Rufus reminisces about his sister as he slowly drifts into unconsciousness and takes his final breath. The clock strikes midnight and the mob becomes even more unruly. Jamie crosses himself and says a prayer for Rufus as tears stream down Claire’s face. We hear Jamie’s prayer over images of him carrying Rufus’s body out to the mob. Men place a noose around Rufus’s neck dragging him off to be strung up. Everyone in River Run looks upon the scene, horrified, each with their own fears.
Jamie and Claire are certainly “outlanders” in this episode. Strangers in a strange land with rules they need to learn and find ways to live with…
Say what you will about this episode, it was difficult to summarise, and with unpalatable subject matter it will not become a favourite. However it does set out, very plainly, the ugly truth of life at River Run. It contained so much nuance of expression which can’t be translated into words. The storyline and must have been difficult to write, to maintain the essence of the book while “compressing” events given the limited time allowed in the TV adaptation. I have read about it being watched, muted, and the viewer still being able to enjoy the story through facial expressions alone, definitely a sign of great acting!
I’ve seen several comments from people pining for the glory of Scotland, asking why couldn’t the story stay there. We all loved the mud and blood of Scotland and the Highland Clan way of life, the Highlanders and those kilts! So why did the storyline have to change? Simply put, after the Highland clans lost in the Battle of Culloden that way of life ceased to exist. Diana, as always, says it best…
“But why didn’t the story stay in Scotland?!?” is a cry I’m used to hearing. “I loved Scotland! All the fighting and the tartans and the swords…”
Well, yeah. Who doesn’t?
The thing is…that Scotland ceased to exist on April 16th, 1746. When Roger and Claire tell people that “the Highland clans were crushed”—they meant it. That’s what actually happened, not novelistic license on my part.
When the Stuart Cause came to ruin at Culloden, it was followed by what would come to be known in a later century as ethnic cleansing. The British Government decided to put an end to this Scottish nuisance, and set about it in determined fashion. Kill or transport the men, burn the houses and crops, leave the women and children to die of cold or starvation. And it worked, to a large degree; the Highlands ceased to be a military or political threat.
But Scots are, in the main, hard to kill. And a Scot remains a Scot, no matter where he is. And so our story follows the tide of history—to America, where Scottish emigrants (voluntary or otherwise) looked for a place to set down roots pulled out of the Highland soil. At the time of the American Revolution, one citizen in three in the colonies was Scottish. And a competent historian could probably make a good case for the roots of the American Revolution having sprung in part from the bloody soil of Culloden.
As for fighting, swords, medical calamity, startling people and personal turmoil, though…all those things came along for the ride.
I hope you will, too!
Le meas agus,
As originally posted in Goodreads.
Sometimes there is no option but to act, walking away is impossible when there is an oath upon you. Matt Roberts and Maril Davis give us their insights.
Matt Roberts and Maril Davis give insight into this episode, where the beauty of the landscape hides ugly truths.
Here is my recap of Outlander Season 4 Episode 1 – America The Beautiful
I write recaps, not critical reviews, and I try to find insights which link back to previous episodes and which may foreshadow future events.
2000 BC, people clad in skins and furs build cairns around a standing stone monolith, add fire and dancing around the stone circle we are flung back in time reminded of the ancient traditions associated with stone circles. Fast forward and we see Native Indians repeating their celebration of the myth, mystery and superstitions of the stones. The circle of life is never far away.
With some voice over from Claire we are taken forward in time once more, to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1767 and a hanging.
The noose is directly in our sight, completely unavoidable. Just like being hung is unavoidable for poor Gavin Hayes who we see being visited by Jamie who suggests a plan to rescue him. Hayes knows this would only bring the people he loves into further jeopardy, and he is willing to accept his fate.
Jamie’s humanity has not gone unnoticed. Another prisoner eyes him speculatively and asks for a drink of the rum Jamie brought for Gavin. Unhesitatingly, Jamie shares the bottle with the man. Keen of eye and ear Bonnet immediately imposes on Jamie. As much as I find absolute horror in hanging at least Hayes wasn’t condemned for a petty crime.
The prisoners are led to their fate. The gallows await. Hayes is first. All he wants at this moment is to see Jamie’s face. Jamie rushes forward to give his friend some degree of comfort, his smiling face. The worst happens, Hayes is hung. It’s not a pretty sight. Lesley is distraught at what has happened to his close friend. He cries out, rushing forward as arms reach out to stop him. During the stramash Bonnet, opportunity taker that he is, escapes.
Jamie asks Fergus and Lesley to claim Gavin’s body. Jamie, Claire and Marsali leave to find Ian. Ian is found, but he is not alone! It seems Ian has been gambling. Jamie does not approve! But Ian has been lucky winning some cash and a huge dog, introduced to us as Rollo (taken from “a roll of the dice”).
They all meet up at a tavern. Fergus reports that the Minister will not allow Gavin to be buried in consecrated ground without substantial payment. Jamie knows Gavin was afeared of bad spirits and decides they will bury him in the graveyard themselves.
Lesley begins to sing a caithris for his friend Gavin Hayes. All join in…
Marsali is looking tired and pale and wishes to rest.
They head off to bury Hayes in the churchyard. Lesley staying with Claire at the wagon and Jamie and Ian digging Gavin’s grave.
Jamie is alarmed when Ian freaks out… the pit of the grave recalling haunting memories Geillis stepping out of her bloodbath, of sexual assault and attempted murder. He feels guilt as a festering pain inside… How could he have felt pleasure? How you can do it without wishing to and all the while it feels pleasing. Jamie tells Ian “your cock hasna a conscience, but you have”. Mirroring Jamie’s own trauma in Season If there is anyone who understands Ian’s situation it is Jamie.
As they are about to unload the wagon Lesley reminisces about Gavin Hayes… “life wi’out him doesn’t seem right”. Foreshadowing his own demise.
Rollo growls, there is a stramash in the wagon… Bonnet is hiding there. He begs Jamie to convey him to safety. He imposes upon Jamie’s humanity. After Hayes is buried Jamie and Claire head out in the wagon with Bonnet hidden in the tray. After the escape of the condemned prisoner sentries abound. Redcoats stop them, stab the “body” – Bonnet… and they go on their way. Bonnet’s leg is slightly wounded… Claire tends him. He sees her wedding bands. You can see his mind ticking over. Nothing escapes him. He truly is a scoundrel.
He tells Claire he is not afraid of the noose… and a story of being plagued by thoughts of drowning… one day we will know if that really bothers him. He’s clever. Finding a way to get Claire to empathise with him. Bonnet sets off to find his associates on the river. He states “And I won’t bother you again. You have my word.”
Jamie and Claire, at last, find themselves alone. A night in the woods! Yay! What can happen… oh wow! Jamie’s chest!
First law of thermodynamics! I want to be alive with you! Both birth and death makes us want to live our lives to the fullest, to be more alive. Both Jamie and Claire feel desire rise in them, needing an affirmation of life. They find it in each other. We rejoice!
Next morning we see Jamie and Claire ready themselves for the day, pausing to take in the magnificent views. They talk of the American Dream… what of the native Americans… Jamie has empathy and realises the parallel of the Highlanders being dispossessed.
They return to town, a dinner party awaits at one on the grandest homes in Wilmington, following an invitation by a Mr Lillington . They prepare for the dinner, dressed in their finest clothes. Jamie’s obviously salvaged from a chest which survived the shipwreck of the Artemis, and Claire dressed in clothes which she seems a little unsure about, maybe given to her by Mrs Olivier in Georgia. Jamie gives Claire a necklet with a large ruby set in gold. He had arranged for one of the gems retrieved from the box found on the Silkies Isle, (and subsequently stolen by Geillis) to be set by a local jeweller. Their aim is to sell the gem to another dinner guest, Baron Penzler to raise funds to secure their future.
The dinner goes well, the Baron unable to resist the ruby or Claire, nor can the other men ignore her charms. Another guest, the sister of man about town Phillip Wylie, Judith Wylie is obviously jealous of Claire and cuttingly comments on her hairstyle.
Jamie is called to a private audience with Governor Tryon (played by Sam Heughan’s old friend Tim Downie, check out their commercials for Tennants lager if you haven’t seen them already – saddle the unicorns!)
Both Lillington and the Governor make it clear they understand Jamie’s association with River Run and Jocasta Cameron.
Jamie is invited to have a private meeting with Governor Tryon. The Governor speaks of land grants and opportunity for industrious folk with skills to work the land. The Governor makes it clear that rules about payment can be broken. Jamie has (due to necessity) untaken an oath of loyalty to the Crown. The offer is intriguing, but requires more consideration. There may be hope of a fresh start in the New World, perhaps…
Back in their room post dinner Jamie says they now have enough money for their passage back to Scotland (where is now safe to return, Lord John Grey having stepped in to get the warrant against Jamie withdrawn) and to get a new printing press and set Claire up as Healer. They have a lot to think about. Claire appraises Jamie of facts of the future of the Colony. Jamie considers the options. Knowing this country will become Brianna’s home in the future weighs heavily on his mind. Despite the knowledge of troubles to come, the concept that he can contribute to making the New World a better place for Brianna sways him. They make a decision.
Next morning at the tavern, Jamie announces that he and Claire have decided to stay in America. Ian think is is a fine idea!However, Jamie is still firm that Ian must return to Scotland for Jenny’s sake.
Lesley, Fergus and Marsali can make their own decisions about their futures and Jamie distributes funds from the sale of the ruby to them, and there is extra to pay as alimony to Marsali’s mother (we dont really want to say her name do we?).
Lesley want to stay at Jamie’s side. Fergus and Marsali have news of their own. Marsali is pregnant (despite efforts by Claire to give her advice on preventing pregnancy!), and they also wish to stay, in Wilmington, where Marsali intends to find work as a seamstress, and Fergus will seek employment.
Young Ian’s return to Scotland on the Campagnia is planned for a few weeks, in the meantime he will accompany Jamie, Claire and Lesley to River Run.
The trip by riverboat awaits… their worldly goods are loaded aboard and there is conversation about the future, meeting Jocasta (she’s a MacKenzie!) who Jamie has not seen since he was a wee lad. Claire is distressed at the sight of a elderly man she presumes is a slave constantly standing to propel the riverboat. The Captain Freeman tells them that Eutroclus is now a free man, having been instrumental in saving his life, and is earning a fair wage for his work. I believe this scene is to demonstrate to Claire that slaves can be freed.
The trip proceeds apparently uneventful. Jamie brings Claire a box, a small chest. Claire is thrilled, almost overcome, to find the medical chest filled with bottles and instruments. Jamie is delighted to be able to give Claire a gift, since his ability to give her things such as jewels has been very limited. It’s of no matter to Claire, his ring is all she needs. Claire has left Jamie’s mother’s pearls with Brianna. They are happy, their mutual love undoubted.
Night falls and the riverboat is moored to the bank. All is calm as the travellers sleep. It is Rollo who first senses danger. Stephen Bonnet with his pirate compatriots are attacking them. In violent confrontations Jamie, Lesley, Ian and Claire are attacked. Jamie is taken outside, outnumbered and robbed. In a heartless stroke Bonnet slices Lesley’s throat open when he turns to help Claire.
Bonnet turns to Claire seeking her rings, stopping her from helping Lesley. She twists off both rings and tries to swallow them. He violently grabs her, holding her by the throat.
Bonnet puts his fingers in her mouth trying to get at them (for me I had a big flashback to Randall putting his fingers in Jenny’s mouth at Lallybroch). Bonnet manages to get Jamie’s ring out of her mouth as she chokes trying to swallow Frank’s ring. After the pirates leave Claire manages to cough up the gold ring.
They have been attacked, pummelled, robbed and worse, Lesley has been murdered. So, from a position of having money and resources for their future they find themselves penniless.
It’s a reasonable question. None of us (I hope!) don’t want to see Jamie suffer, so why is the book, Outlander, written that way? Here is Diana’s response to this very question.
JAMIE AND THE RULE OF THREE
“ One of my male readers, a book reviewer, recently sent me a message on Twitter, saying that he’d just finished reading OUTLANDER and enjoyed it a lot “until the prison chapters.” I tweeted back that I’d be kind of worried about him if he’d _enjoyed_ the Wentworth Prison part, to which he said, “but why put our hero through such pain and suffering? :)”, adding in the next, “I know I’m late to the #Outlander party & you’ve probably already addressed this; but that was intense emotional, physical pain.”
My first impulse was to reply, “Well, _yeah_…”—but it was a serious question, and deserved a real answer, which took some thought.
The simple answer is just that that’s what I saw happening. That’s not really a satisfactory answer for a reader, though. I “see” things happening, because the subconscious part of my mind is digging things out of the compost and shipping them up into my visual cortex. The waybill with the tracking number comes along much later—and only if I look for it.
(Let me make a brief distinction here about the components of writing. There’s What Happens, and there’s How You Get It On The Page. “How” is the craft part of writing: How do I convey a sense of action, of tension, of tenderness, of curiosity, of awe? How do I make people turn the page? (An important consideration, if you tend to write books with a lot of pages…) How do I explain?
Now, the craft part—the actual putting of words on the page—that’s pretty conscious; it has to be. You’re making a million (not exaggerating) decisions on every page. Whose viewpoint is this? Where are we? What time of day is it? Who’s speaking here? What do they sound like? Does what this person said make sense? That chair over there—should it be a chair? Ought it perhaps to be a low stool? Or a nursing chair? Someone just kicked it…ought it to break when it hits the wall? Did the person who kicked it hurt his foot? What did he say ¬then? The chair/stool made a dent in the wall, shall I mention that? No, it will interfere with the person who’s laughing at him…are they convulsed with mirth? No, too much, are they going pink in the face with the effort not to laugh? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, to quote the King of Siam.
But what happens is often not conscious at all. I saw a man, obviously exasperated beyond bearing, kick a stool with great force. What exasperated him? Who is the person laughing at him? Are they doing so derisively, or are they supportive of him, but can’t help being amused by his frustration? Those are all “What Happened?” sorts of questions, and are largely being answered as I write, again by the non-verbal subconscious.)
There always is a reason why things happen or are necessary in a story, whether I know what those things are while I’m writing or not. So—returning to my reader’s question– what were the reasons for the terrible things that happened to Jamie in Wentworth Prison?
In part, it’s because OUTLANDER is a High Stakes story. Almost everybody understands that you have to have something at stake for a story to be good. And way too many thrillers and sf/f novels assume that nothing less than the Fate of the Known Universe will do, these authors mistaking scale for intensity. No matter what the background may be, a story that focuses on the impact of events on one or two individual lives will be–generally speaking–much more engaging and emotionally intense than one where everyone is just rushing around trying to save a planet or get their hands on the fortunium bomb that could Destroy Everything!!
So OUTLANDER is a high stakes story–on an individual level–throughout. It’s a love story, sure, and it’s all about what people will do for the sake of love. Claire, for instance, chooses to abandon the life she knew (and was about to reclaim post-War), the safety of the 20th century (and she of all people would value that safety, having come through such a war), and the husband she’d loved. She chooses hardship, danger, and emotional pain, in order to be with Jamie.
But love for these two is always reciprocal. It’s not about one partner making a sacrifice for the other’s sake. Throughout the story, they keep rescuing each other. And the stakes are high. Jamie marries Claire originally in order to save her from Black Jack Randall. Would that be a striking thing to do, if Jack Randall was not, in fact, a serious threat? He is a serious threat; we learn that from Jamie’s backstory. The man’s a genuine sadistic psychopath, who has essentially destroyed Jamie’s family and seriously injured him, both physically and emotionally. And here’s Jamie swearing to give Claire everything he has; the protection of his name and his clan–and the protection of his body–in order to save _her_ from this man.
He then does save her, physically and immediately, from Randall, when Randall captures her and assaults her at Fort William–even though by doing so, he puts not only himself, but everyone with him, in serious danger, _and_ does so at some emotional as well as physical cost. “I was tied to that post, tied like an animal, and whipped ’til my blood ran…Had I not been lucky as the devil this afternoon, that’s the least that would have happened to me. ….[But] when ye screamed, I went to you, wi’ nothing but an empty gun and my two hands.” The stakes are higher; the threat to Jamie (and Claire) from Captain Randall is increased.
One, two, three. The Rule of Three. It’s one of the important underlying patterns of story-telling; one event can be striking. The next (related) event creates resonance. But the third brings it home—WHAM. (That is, btw, why classic fairy tales always involve three brothers, three sisters, three fairies, etc.—and why the most classic form of joke always starts, “A priest, a minister and a rabbi…” The climax of the story, the punchline of the joke, always comes on the third iteration.) The third encounter with Black Jack Randall is the climax, the point where the stakes are highest. Jamie’s been captured and seriously hurt, Claire’s come to save him, but Randall turns up and takes her captive, threatening her life.
OK. This _has_ to be a credible threat. Ergo, we have to have seen (and heard about) the real damage Randall has done to Jamie thus far; we have to be in no doubt whatever that he’d do real damage to Claire. We can’t just say, “Oh, he’s _such_ a nasty person, you wouldn’t believe…” We _have_ to believe, and therefore appreciate, the enormity of what Jamie is doing when he trades what’s left of his life for Claire’s.
And because we do believe that, we share both Jamie’s despair and Claire’s desperation.
Throughout the book, we’ve seen that love has a real cost. Jamie and Claire have built a relationship through honest struggle, a relationship that’s _worth_ what it’s cost them. This is the final challenge, and Jamie’s willing to pay what will apparently be the ultimate cost.
Why would I throw that away? To have him escape rape and torture (he–and we—_know_ what’s coming) by the skin of his teeth would be to undercut his sacrifice, to make it of little moment. (It would be like someone turning up in Gethsemane and telling Christ, “Hey, buddy, you don’t really have to do this. Come with me, I got a secret way outta here…”)
So love has a cost, and it’s a real one. But they do rescue each other, and Claire saves not only his life, but his soul. (Yes, it is redemption and resurrection, and yes, there’s Christ imagery all through the story.) His soul wouldn’t have been in danger, had he not been really and truly nearly destroyed by his sacrifice.
i.e., had Claire shown up with reinforcements in the nick of time and saved him before he’d been put through such pain and suffering….well, then it would have been a nice, heart-warming story in which Hero and Heroine conquer evil and ride off into the sunset together. But it wouldn’t have half the power of a story in which Jamie and Claire truly conquer _real_ evil, and thus show what real love is. Real love has real costs–and they’re worth it.
I’ve always said all my books have a shape, and OUTLANDER’s internal geometry consists of three slightly overlapping triangles. The apex of each triangle is one of the three emotional climaxes of the book: 1) when Claire makes her wrenching choice at the stones, 2) when she saves Jamie from Wentworth, and 3) when she saves his soul at the Abbey. It would still be a good story, if I’d had only 1 and 2–but (see above), the Rule of Three. A story that goes one, two, _three_ has a lot more impact than just a one-two punch.
(To answer your final question, I think not, unless you’re under twelve. Not being snarky; I just mean that as we become adults, we learn to face the darker side of ourselves, as well as others, and it’s the dealing with such things that enlightens us and makes us know such things as truth and love.).)”