Spoilers for sure! Lord John… only because he was not born the right person…



Season three of Outlander on Starz will introduce some of the book series most popular and beloved characters. Fans are excited to see John Bell play Jamie’s nephew Young Ian and Australian actor David Berry will be filling Lord John Grey’s fashionable shoes! I have to wonder if David had any real idea that he was about to play a character who was so interesting he inspired Diana Gabaldon to write a spin-off series of books .


Because Diana is all about tweaking expectations, Lord John’s character is a unique individual who challenges our notions of what it means to be a man.  Diana has always described LJG as small and hard bodied with delicate features that include lips and eyelashes that would make any woman jealous.  I can see David Berry’s features fitting the bill, but I don’t believe he is as physically small as the character is described in the books. However, if I’ve learned anything from watching the show for the last two years, it’s that physically fitting the part isn’t as important as embodying the spirit of a character. Caitriona Balfe certainly didn’t fit the exact description of Claire in the book, but it is now tough for me to picture the Claire I had in my head because Cait has done such a great job of portraying the important parts of Claire’s personality.


The scene at the trial where she won’t bear false witness and her coming to terms with the loss of Faith come to mind. Both moments represented things I much admired in Claire; her integrity, her ability to be pragmatic, and her honesty and they were portrayed to perfection.  Sam, Tobias, Grant, Graham, and many of the other actors were not exactly like the characters I had pictured in my head, but it hardly seems to matter now because for me the show has earned a separate, but interrelated identity.  I will still always have the books and that Jamie, Claire, and BJR and now, I also have the Jamie, Claire and BJR of the show.  As one of my readers put it, “I have a double helping of Outlander”.  I have found myself looking forward to seeing how things will be the same and different and whether I will like it or not.  Mostly, I’ve liked it and learned to appreciate the storytelling and the acting.

In some ways, I am sorry that they will not be able to use size as a part of John’s story. Diana used his smaller stature to bust stereotypes. He is small, but authoritative, beautiful, yet masculine, and the aggressor in most of his relationships.  He understands duty and while unashamed of his sexual preference, he is aware that if he is “found out” it would ruin the lives of those he loves and protects.  Please remember that it wasn’t that long ago that homosexuality was considered a disease.  Coming out in any time period isn’t an easy thing to do, let alone the 1700’s. Diana shows us how one gay man lived as honestly as he could while unable to show the world who is really was, heartbreaking and inspiring.


Slightly Different Reflections of the Same Truth


I loved this response of Diana’s to a reader on Twitter who expressed concern over changes from the book to the TV series.

image As Diana so eloquently stated, the show and books reflect the same truths. Storytelling is a lens through which we see it.  It’s something Diana does well. One of the reasons her novels have to come to mean so much to me is the truths I find revealed between those pages. The show is telling their version of her story of truths. They are telling us a story about what it means to be human, to persevere, make difficult choices and having to live with the consequences, to suffer loss, and to love…in all of it’s different shades of being.

So, I’ve been thinking of Lord John Grey and what truths the show and David Berry will get a chance to show us.

The Truths

Truth #1: Character has nothing to do with sexual orientation

Tom and Lorenzo, TV critics once wrote about Outlander and their feelings about the character Black Jack Randall.

…In other news, Black Jack Randall is clearly not entirely heterosexual. His face practically lit up at the sight of Jamie coming through his window and within seconds he asked him to a) take off his shirt, b)take turns raping his wife, and c) enjoy himself by watching Jack rape his wife. It’s all very sexually charged, and we suppose we can get offended by the idea of the evil raping gay character, but we’re willing to let this play out for a while. Jack is definitely in danger of becoming an unstoppable Terminator-like supervillain, though. We wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of a scaling back on the mustache-twirling.   http://tomandlorenzo.com/2015/04/outlander-the-reckoning/

Diana has gone on record saying that Black Jack is not gay.  She calls him an equal-opportunity sadist.  But, I know a lot of viewers like Tom and Lorenzo believe that he is gay.  I wrote an article about Tom and Lorenzo’s review and I remember saying I wanted to write to tell them one of the most beloved characters in the series was a gay man. I knew that the information based on my knowledge of the books wouldn’t really be appreciated or help them review the show as presented, but I so wanted to defend Ms. Gabaldon’s representation of gay men. Diana’s characters are so layered and well developed, I have often said that it is possible to talk about and analyze them as if they were real people. John Grey’s story is a compelling look at what life might have been like for a homosexual in the 1700’s when it was illegal to be gay.

In Lord John, Diana has created a man who rivals Jamie in integrity and that is saying quite a lot.  And, …he is as different from BJR as you could get!  Viewer’s of Outlander on Starz met Lord John Grey as a sixteen year old who snuck into the Jacobite’s camp and tried to slit the notorious highlander “Red Jamie’s” throat.  He was prepared to die rather than give information, but relented when he thought a woman’s (Clever Claire) honor was in jeopardy.  Jamie spared the young Lord’s life and so, the young soldier acknowledged the debt of honor with a promise to kill Jamie once the debt was met. Raised to believe that a man’s word is his bond and his actions a reflection of his worth, Lord John is a man that lives his life by a code of decency and honor.  

outlander (1).jpg


Truth #2: Love is complicated and yet, simple

Ron Moore and company will get the chance to expand on the theme of unrequited love. I say expand because they have let us see the relationship between Frank and Claire.  I have always maintained that Frank’s biggest sin is simply that he wasn’t Jamie.  Through no fault of his own, (Claire always said that she loved him and tried hard to get back to him) Frank is unable to regain what he once had with Claire.  There is nothing he can do to regain her love.  Her heart is irrevocably Jamie’s and he isn’t Jamie.

Like Frank, Lord John Grey was simply not born the right person;

"Do you know," he said again, softly, addressing his hands, "what it is to love someone, and never- never!-be able to give them peace, or joy, or happiness."

He looked up then, eyes filled with pain. "To know that you cannot give them happiness, not through any fault of yours or theirs, but only because you were not born the right person for them?"

Lord John in Voyager, Chapter 59

Lord John has had the misfortune to fall in love with a man who can never return his feelings.  Jamie has very real reasons for associating homosexuality with the abuse he suffered at the hands of BJR and could not, in my opinion and Claire’s and Bree’s , have a relationship with a man.  But, perhaps the greatest impediment for John is not his gender, but the fact that he just isn’t Claire.  Jamie’s heart is irrevocably Claire’s and John isn’t Claire.

Could you call a man who would never touch you- would recoil from the very thought of touching you- your lover? No. But at the same time, what would you call a man whose mind touched yours, whose prickly friendship was a gift, whose character, whose very existence, helped to define your own?

—-Lord John in Lord John and the Plague of Zombies

One of the most wonderful truths Diana’s Lord John teaches us is that love is a gift to be honored even if it is never returned in kind.  Lord John makes a conscious choice to love Jamie because to not love him would leave a hole in his soul.

"I hated him for as long as I could. But then I realized that loving him...that was part of me, and one of the best parts. It didn't matter that he couldn't love me, that had nothing to do with it. But if I could not forgive him, then I could not love him, and that part of me was gone. And I found eventually that I wanted it back."

Lord John in Drums of Autumn, Chapter 59 

One of the most character revealing conversations between the two men was over Jamie’s young son William. John had rightfully guessed William’s true parentage and came to Helwater to tell Jamie he would be marrying William’s Aunt Isobel. This will essentially make him the “orphaned” William’s step-father.  Jamie tells Claire that he tested LJG’s motives by offering him his body in exchange for John taking good care of William.  He assures her if Lord John had failed that test he would have cut his throat right there and then.

“Ye dinna want me, then?” 

Grey got to his feet, dusting the seat of his breeches. “I shall probably want you to the day I die,” he said matter-of-factly. “But tempted as I am—” He shook his head, brushing wet grass from his hands. 

“Do you really think that I would demand—or accept—any payment for such a service?” he asked. “Really, I should feel my honor most grossly insulted by that offer, save that I know the depth of feeling which prompted it.” 

“Aye, well,” Jamie muttered. “I didna mean to insult ye.”

Jamie & Lord John in Voyager, Chapter 59

Lord John passed the test and Jamie tells Claire,

"He loved me, he said. And if I couldn't give him that in return-and he kent I couldn't-then he'd not take counterfeit for true coin."

He shook himself, hard, like a dog coming out of the water.

"No. A man who would say such a thing is not one who'd bugger a child for the sake of his father's bonny blue eyes, I'll tell you that for certain, Sassenach."-Jamie & Lord John in Voyager, Chapter 59

I can remember reading that scene and wishing my high school kids could understand what Lord John understood. You truly don’t want someone who doesn’t want you.  Don’t settle.  Don’t take counterfeit for true coin.



The fact that they eventually become friends speaks volumes about both men.

There was not easiness between them any longer—but there was honesty. And that was a thing he had had—ever would have—with precious few men.---Lord John in The Scottish Prisoner, Chapter 18

I can’t help but believe that Lord John’s friendship became the most important of Jamie’s life.  On some level, it is not surprising that they would become friends. Had they met under different circumstances, they would have found they had a lot in common. John and Jamie are both learned men who share a love of books and philosophy. They are both soldiers who have had the responsibility of leadership. They get each other’s sense of humor. They are both fiercely loyal and protective of those they love.  And, I think as men of integrity, that they recognize the honor in the other.  John challenged Jamie’s beliefs about love and friendship and made him a more tolerant man and Jamie gave John a purpose of sorts and someone worthy to love. 

In fact, I think Claire saw John as a real competition for Jamie’s affection. In a scene in the cabin on Fraser’s Ridge, Claire is lying in bed pretending to sleep while John and Jamie play chess across the room. In true Claire fashion, she examines her feelings of animosity towards John and admits that she feels jealous of  Lord John’s relationship with Jamie. She can see what Jamie sees in Lord John and is a bit threatened by their connection over William. Leave it to Diana to make Claire’s only real competition a gay man.  John truly does understand Jamie, as only another man can.  I love this conversation between Brianna and Lord John that proves that point:

"I have never spoken to your father regarding Geneva, Ellesmere, or William himself--save to inform him of my marriage to Isobel and to assure him that I would fulfill my responsibilities as William's guardian to the best of my ability."
She set her foot on the stone, driving it into the soft sand, and stopped.
"You never said anything to him? What did he say to you?" she demanded.
"Nothing." He returned her stare.
"Why did you marry Isobel?"
He sighed, but there was no point in evasion.
"In order to take care of William."
The thick red brows nearly touched her hairline.
"So you got married, in spite of--I mean, you turned your whole life upside down, just to take care of Jamie Fraser's illegitimate son? And neither one of you ever talked about it?"
"No," he said, baffled. "Of course not."

From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 116

I believe Brianna’s response was…”men”. John loves Jamie and cares about those Jamie loves because that is what you do when you love someone.

Before you say this was unfair to John’s wife Isobel, remember this was a time of arranged marriages. Why not John?  He  cared about Isobel and William.  I could think of far worse situations and men for her to be married off to.  Can you say Ellesmere? I have always felt sorry that this wonderful man never found the love he deserved, but Diana isn’t done writing his story yet and I’m hopeful for him.

So complicated and yet, to choose to love makes everything simple.

I’m sure there are many more truths to be found in Lord John Grey’s story.  These are just two that meant a lot to me and I can’t wait to see how David Berry and the show choose to reflect them.  And, I hope Tom and Lorenzo watch to see the honorable and beloved Lord John Grey.


58 thoughts on “Spoilers for sure! Lord John… only because he was not born the right person…

  1. Beautifully said. I, for one, cannot wait to see this amazing man brought to life on screen! I’m tapping my toes as I wait for the casting of young Ian though. He is probably my favorite character of the books outside of J, C, and LJG. Coincidentally, our son was given the name Ian long before I discovered Outlander. lol


  2. Anne

    On my first read through the series, I didn’t get LJG. I think because I was emotionally invested in the main story and wanted to find out what happens next. This was many years ago. I started my second read through during the 1st mid season break, and finally read the LJG books in the proper sequence. I am now half way through MOBY. For me, I have taken the time now, to think about the characters and come to understand and appreciate their nuances and, sometimes, to love them. I needed the re read to be able to do that. The fact that it has taken the last 7 books and his own, to develop his character as we see it in MOBY will make me be more tolerant of the show and reviewers if they don’t appreciate /portray him for what he is. It takes time. This insight should be re posted when the storyline appears on screen, it will help.

  3. Dear Beth Wesson, thank you for your comments. About Lord John, about homosexuality, at a time when the rage against all divergence from heterosexual “normality” seems to be growing…all over the world, but also in America…and most depressingly, even in North Carolina (o what has made the descendents of those lovely Scots so full of hate and fear?) …
    Living in Germany for so long, as I have, makes it even harder to understand this rage…here, sexual divergence is largely openly acknowledged and socially acceptable. Why is my fatherland, “the home of the free” so angry and small-minded? So prejudiced and violent?

  4. S. A. Young

    LJG is absolutely one of my favorites. When David Berry’s casting was announced I took one look at his photo and actually shouted, “Brilliant!” at my screen. (My coworkers already think I’m half-mad. No big) That he wasn’t blonde or “fine-boned”did not matter. It’s in his eyes. I have no doubts that he’s right. (And while i dint know what Tom & Lorenzo think, my gay friends, those that have read ALL of the books, were also instantly smitten. Not a one even mentioned “he doesn’t look like Book LJG”.) Cant wait for more news from set, the eventual press tour and to finally “meet” him!

  5. Karyn Donohue

    Right on the money once again, Beth, with your character assessments! You never disappoint. In addition to anticipating the return of Starz Outlander, I look forward to your meticulous episode interpretations.

  6. Julia Kennedy

    Your column is a pleasure to read–except that the column is wider than than the space required, which cuts off about 5-6 letters at the ending of each line. Your website is the only one I have seen with that problem. It not a problem in this response page. I hope this can be fixed since it is sometimes like solving a puzzle to get your

  7. I sometimes feel like I need to just have a nice ‘Wow what a great post’ statement somewhere I can just cut/paste here for you. Such great insights about LJG – I agree about Frank too. While Mr. Berry’s stature may be ‘off’ a bit – I agree with an earlier comment – it’s his eyes that set me back. I think he will be awesome! Thanks for another fantastic post!

  8. margie9546

    Wonderful insights beautifully written. I so wish that reader/viewers would finally “get it”–that telling the story on the written page is necessarily different from telling it on the tv screen and that they are, indeed, “slightly different reflections of the same truth.” At this point, we should have faith in the casting, given it has been done exceedingly well so far.

  9. MarshaS

    Very well said again Beth!! I have commented at one time when Diana posted something that she probably is one of the only authors that could entice me to fall in love with a fictional man and a fictional gay man at that!!! I am SO looking forward to see David Berry’s take on LJG …bring on the nay sayers…he’s gonna knock ’em dead…

  10. Ciao Beth, I’m always curious and interested to read you and often I check out yout TL on twitter, in the case I miss it…
    Another great & intriguing character is coming, multifaceted, “eclectic” if we could talk in modern terms. You have the rare gift to make simple and clear what is complicated or “sensible” to explain, looking at each aspect with limpid eyes and open- mind. TY for that, LJG’s character may tests, challenges us to understand the human spirit’s complexity and intensity.
    By the way, about homosexuality, it’s interesting to see how the culture is weirdly “deterioted” or weirdly not evolved: ancient Romans found “suspicious”, strange the men who likes only women!!! 😊😊. Ciao Beth, at soon. TY to make me thinking. And TY Outlander, I love you. All of you. @LoveOrTrek

  11. Hi Beth, I love your blog, read every one, but very rarely coment. I started reading Outlander in 1991, so am definitely a long time book and D.G. fan. Having said that, I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion that it is entirely possible to enjoy the books and the tv series. Both are great examples of the very best of storytelling in print and on the screen. I also concur with your assessment of LJG”s character and the nature of his relationship with Jamie. He is a huge favorite of mine. I sure like the looks of the young actor who will be portraying LJG, and trust the casting people, for they have done a wonderful job so far. I am so glad the actors are not well known “Hollywood” people whom I have seen in other roles in movies or on tv. This way I can more easily accept them as my favorite book charactors. It helps that they are well trained actors as well.

  12. Jazzy379

    Im a big outlander book/tv show fan, in that order but for minimal reasons. The basic story is based on the love between Claire/Jamie. In book one, Outlander, the most important story part was not just the fact that Claire fell in love with Jamie but that she decided to choose him over Frank and at the same time Jamie chose to be selfless and take Claire back to the stones so she go to Frank. The writers, headed by RDM, thought to through that into a 15 min segment of Ep 111 as if it had no significance.
    In DIA there were many book stories that might have been done instead of those chosen but I just want to focus on what again, was the most anticipated. The final goodbye, again, this time Claire and Jamie was given a total of 7 mins. WOW. To minimized their final intimate time to what they showed was heart breaking. Yes, Jamie walking Claire back and putting her hand on the stone was a nice touch have a thirty second quickie and then not carving their initials into each other. They slit wrists at their wedding n no blood got on her dress. Reason why they couldn’t do it by Maril Davis.
    I’m not alone, there r many of us out there that feel this way.
    I’ll continue to watch because I love Jamie n Claire. I just hope that RDM n his writers would just focus on the most important part of each book and give it its due. Cait can’t do her Claire and Sam can’t do his Jamie wo each other.
    I love LJG, and your spot on as far as the actors not fitting the exact look of the characters. I’m sure mr. Berry will do just fine. Brianna was a little disappointing I just hoped they found a blue eyed actress or she was able to wear blue contacts to look more like Jamie but hey can’t have it all.
    Thanks for listening!

    • I’ve heard your issues from others. I just don’t find the intimacy to be less just different. We don’t make the decisions and I’ve come to understand there are more influences on their choices they we will ever know. The show isn’t my books, but I still love the story they are telling.

  13. Judy11

    Beth, you r blog is one I look forward to reading every time I see it pop up on my computer. You always have such thoughtful and thought provoking pieces. I love your thoughts on LJG and Jamie’s relationship. And yes it does take reading all the books big and small to appreciate all their history entails. Thank you for another great insight. I look forward to more from you.

  14. Kris

    I have never read books which haunt me as this series does. I empathize with each character and attempt to immerse myself in their time and place. This is a dimension of reading experience which is consuming, obsessive and delightful! YOU GET IT.

      • Kris

        That is true, however, due to my obsession, I am doing a complete “drill down” of historic facts and British and Scottish history, including sexuality. I have reformed my romantic concepts of life in the 18th century. For instance, I believe rape, death, alcoholism & hunger must have been fairly ubiquitous. Respect for women was as unusual as a bath. Quite a price to pay for Jamie.

  15. Your statement about Frank simply not being Jamie spurred a quick memory flash. {“I have always maintained that Frank’s biggest sin is simply that he wasn’t Jamie. Through no fault of his own, (Claire always said that she loved him and tried hard to get back to him) Frank is unable to regain what he once had with Claire. There is nothing he can do to regain her love. Her heart is irrevocably Jamie’s and he isn’t Jamie.”} I would have to go back research the book, but in the series, I remember Claire’s narrative during the scene at the stones where she decides to stay with Jamie, stated that she knew Jamie needed her. Sometimes, all other considerations being equal, that realization of being needed can be a strong pull.

  16. GGW

    Beth, such a good post! It took me awhile to “get” LJG. I neither “liked” nor “disliked” his character, he was just one more in the panoply of DG’s realm. Then I read The Scottish Prisoner and all of that changed. He was no longer a character and was just as vibrantly alive in my mind as Jamie or Claire. It was the perfect lead up to MOBY where John plays such a vital role. I’m just about to work my way through the LJG series now and look forward to filling in the bits and pieces! I’m excited to see what David Berry will do with the character this season and am not fussed about his appearance in the least. I never quite pictured LJG the way Diana described him anyhow!

  17. Hi Beth,
    You Make my day when I see you have added your Blog to my Morning e mail ! I have the same problem with the typed set portion of your comments. The whole right side was cut off. I still got the jist, or think I did anyway. I did read the off shoot novellas regarding LJG and was rooting for him so strongly in the Books that I “had to know more” about him. I found his sense of Honor and devotion very much like Jamie…except…Jamie was not gay, that being the only difference. One can understand how men of like character will always be Good Friends, and no more, neither pushing themselves on the other. It comes down to RESPECT doesn’t it? It is the second emotion to Love, mayhap even be another facet of true love. Thank you yet again for spot on thinking and having the wonderful skills to set it to your Blog for us !!

  18. arramattic

    so well seen, thankyou. I think a lot of us (in our Youth) fall for someone who is not interested in us, and we did try & be close to the loved ones around that person. I suppose by default Lord John has tried to capture that what he would never have had – a full family, with wonderful family ties. I personally am hoping they have chose John Berry as his acting skills will do justice to Lord John.

  19. Claire @ bletheringbylinley

    Thanks so much for this post. I have to admit that LJG took quite a while to grow on me – I think when I first met him in Voyager I had an instant reaction of “Black Jack II” which put me off him, but in subsequent books I’ve started to get why so many love him! It’s inevitable that there will be a bit of outcry from fans whenever anyone is cast, but the show has proven to do a great job with casting so I’ve no doubt LJG will be no exception!

  20. I had the same problem someone else did, but only with the book quotes. They were cut off halfway through.

    As always a fantastic job. You always say what you mean so clearly; you know what you think but you’re also willing to hear others out… Such a rare combination! I check my emails constantly waiting for your posts and then immediately read them. I don’t do that for anyone!
    About Frank-yes, most of his problem is because he wasn’t Jaime. But there are several layers to that. Like another commenter said-Jamie needed her in a way Frank didn’t. Jamie also understands her in a way Frank doesn’t. It all comes down to Frank not being Jamie, but some explanations why 🙂
    I agree with everything you said about character and love. Who you are as a person has nothing to do with orientation and everything to do with how you act and how you choose to affect the people around you. Also love-the easiest and hardest thing you can ever do. Not much to add to that!
    Thanks again! And welcome back!

  21. Just discovered your Blog today and wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading it. I have always been a huge reader but only discovered Galdon’s books two years ago. Your take on the books,and your reasoning for your hopes for the book related inclusions in the STARZ series is so incredibly perceptive. I would be willing to bet that you have read all the books many times, plus the Lord John Series. I think you write magnificently and would love to know more about YOU, Keep up the wonderful, insightful writing,

    And a question: In your opinion, why do you think Willowby betrayed Jamie??

      • I wanted to let you know that I didn’t post one of your comments. I welcome dissenting opinions as you can see by reading the comments, but please be careful when you disagree that you don’t tell people they are crazy, etc. I try very hard to keep this a safe place to express opinions.

    • good question. I think Jamie’s thoughts on the subject were good. He recognizes that Willowby is angry. He believes that Willowby believes that he is the better than the folks he is forced to associate with. It sort of a love hate thing. He knows he needs Jamie and should be grateful, but he’s pissed about it! LOL1

  22. Frances Yancey

    I have posted comments on Facebook that needed enlargement in a different forum. you have expanded my thoughts perfectly with your insights into Lord John Grey.
    Diana created a man of honour and integrity who had to hid an essential part of himself in order to avoid death and betrayal of his honour.
    When John is in bed with measles and Claire says that she was just born that way, John’s reply is an arrow. He too was born the way he isn’t and that arrow pierces your heart and the truth.
    Lord John is a very popular character and I hope that reflects a growing understanding that yearning for love isn’t just a right of heterosexuals.

  23. Rocio

    Beth, your articles are simply amazing. I want to ask your permission to translate to spanish this post and the one about JAMMF PSTD regarding his relationship with LJG, to share it with a group of hispanic fans. Thank you!

  24. Alison Stewart

    Are you still writing and posting your Outlander blog Beth? I notice nothing has been added since early 2020.

Leave a Reply to OSS Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s