Jamie and Sam the literary connection

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I love my readers!  So many of you take the time to engage in what are truly interesting conversations about the books and show.  I especially like it when someone from the film industry adds their unique prospective.  Recently, I got a response to my article on Hollywood and women. http://wp.me/p4mtBT-1af Jacki Lippman, one of those rare women who Is actually getting to make a film, shared her thoughts on the issue and went on to say that although she loves Claire she believed that Jamie was one of the  best fictional male characters out there.  In fact, she’s been studying him and the reaction book readers and now series watchers have to him.  The following is an article she wrote about when the fans helped Sam Heughan (Jamie) win The Radio Times “TV Champion”.  I loved her thoughts about how this character and Sam’s portrayal of him has resulted in such fan devotion.  I agree. One great literary character + One great actor + One great performance = a pretty amazing fan base.  The clan is busy voting again and who knows what they’ll accomplish this time.  Thank you to Jacki for letting me share her great words. Congrats to Diana, Sam and the whole Outlander team!  You’ve truly created something that inspires!

 

A wee bit of Scotland in the Highlands of Pennsylvania 

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“And, there will be sword dancing, and a parade of the clans, and caber tossing, a Scottish breed dog show, bagpipes and singing, and coos… there will be coos! … and Shetland ponies, and Scottish food.  I wonder if there will be whiskey tasting? You would think there would be.  I want to buy a necklace with a thistle on it and I’d love it if you would buy a utility kilt, but I know you won’t…but they are very sexy….”

This was part of the non-stop stream of chatter my poor husband endured during a two and half-hour drive to the Ligonier Highland Games in the Laurel Highlands in Pennsylvania.

There are a couple of reasons this trip was special to me.

First, it is an extension of my love of Outlander.  I am now fascinated with Scottish culture and eager to learn more.

“There will be tents set up for the clans where you can learn about your genealogy! I know the McDonalds and Hays and Stewart clans will be there.”

“I’ll be looking for the MacDaddy tent”, quips my man who is without an once of Scottish blood. I actually thought it was pretty funny given he is SO not. And,  I was relieved to see he was being light-hearted.

I was admittedly a bit worried that I was dragging him to this event.  I didn’t want him to be bored or miserable, so I was eager for him to have a good time and that might have resulted in the babbling.  I would really like to think he understands my enthusiasm and wants to share in my excitement. However,  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t get my interest in all things Scottish.  In fact, I’m sure at some point he thought about the fact that he could have been home in his chair watching college football, but instead, here he was…in a car…driving two and a half hours…listening to me babble….so I could go see men in kilts.  Despite my ADAMANT denials that my interest in Scotland had nothing to do with kilts, I’m pretty sure that is exactly what he believes.

He told me he was going with me because he wants me to be happy. I realize in the big scope of sacrifices a person could make for the person they love attending a Highland games probably isn’t at the top of the list, but it gets him bonus points in my book!  When we pulled into the parking lot we could hear bagpipes in the distance.  I must have given away my excitement because he squeezed my hand and with a little crooked smile on his face kissed my forehead.

It was great!  Everywhere I looked I saw something that reminded me of the books.  This was one of my favorite pictures of the day.

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The bagpipes! I’m in love!

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The caber toss was a blast! I still haven’t figured out how they lift them or run with them!

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We toured the clan tents and looked at the vendor’s wares. Front and center of one of the vendor tents was a display of Outlander calendars and shortbread. While we were there, I saw several women pick up the calendar and excitedly discuss the images.  I wanted to say “hey” and strike up a conversation, but found myself too shy. Which is hardly ever the case!  My husband bought me my thistle necklace and he actually looked at a kilt! There may be hope yet!

Of course, one of the most exciting things I did that day was meet Gillbride MacMillian, our Outlander bard! I didn’t know he was going to be there until I was perusing the schedule of events!

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As as soon as I found out I tweeted Gillebride, who then tweeted me back and told me to make sure I stopped and said hi!  With my husband’s encouragement and nudging, I did.

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He was very nice and very serious about his duties! Silly, but I found myself proud of him and his efforts to preserve his language. And that singing voice….mesmerizing!  Other than Diana, he is the first person I’ve met associated with the show.  It certainly was the icing on the cake of a lovely day.

As we walked out of the park, we passed several reserved picnic shelters and we wondered if many of these families took this opportunity to hold family reunions.  Afterall, I shared with my husband, this festival is 57 years old.  He nodded and reflected on how great it was to see families celebrating their history and culture.  I got a little teary as I thought of Culloden and wondered if it had any direct influence on the immigration of these families to America.  Witnessing the parade of clans had been moving.  Folks were wearing clan tartan and carrying banners.  A wonderful mixture of the older and younger generations walking together, holding their heads high, and some even shouting battlecries.  I laughingly asked my husband if he had seen the folks sporting matching tee shirts proclaiming they belonged to Pee Paws clan. I’m betting Pee Paw was pretty proud of his brood.  Overall, I was left with a sense of their pride and their joy of celebrating each other.  I’m totally a sassenach, English and Dutch, but today I felt a little bit Scot.

The second reason this trip was special to me was because I walked. Last year around this time of year I was struggling with my health.  I have multiple chronic health issues and they had become so dibiltating that I had to take a leave from work. I could barely walk and not without pain.  My world and quality of life had shrank. Short of having someone push me in a wheelchair, I could never have attended something like this. A year, a few surgeries, and many therapy and doctor appointments later, I was walking hand in hand with my Dan.

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A truly blessed Scottish day.

Creative deprivation vs instant gratification…Outlander and Social Media

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It’ s been a unsual week in Outlander world. Within the space of a few hours, I saw the fandom reach new heights of the sublime (wonderful efforts for charity) and the ridiculous (groping). And…a costume debacle…again… Be patient with me while you read this because I promise that I do have a point, but it might take a minute to get there.

Some very excited fans in Prague shared their photos of Outlander being filmed in their part of the world.  It became impossible not to open my Twitter and Facebook feeds and not see Sam, Caitriona, and Duncan in costume.

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If I could have avoided it, I would have. Short of not turning on my devices, I really don’t think I could have avoided seeing them. The pics were everywhere.

As I’ve written before, this whole experience of getting to know more about how TV series are written, directed, filmed and how sets and costumes are designed has been very enlightening.  I truly had no idea how much effort and artistry goes into a production.  These people ARE artists.  They create with the idea that what they each contribute is telling us a story.  Their efforts are part of the whole and bigger picture. So, when images are posted out of the context of that bigger whole it is frustrating and disappointing for the artists that worked so hard.  I get it.

This certainly wasn’t the first time that pictures have been posted “leaking” sets and costumes. And, to tell the truth, I have sort of separated these “offenses” into different categories that can be defined by motivation.  I am much more willing to forgive excited fans that love Outlander and are just sharing that day they got to see the stars than those who are standing far off with high-powered lenses and the idea that there is money to be made from their pictures. I get the fans’ excitement and don’t believe there was any malicious intent.  I wish they hadn’t shared, but I don’t believe they were trying to ruin anything.  They were just excited. I get it.

Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for the series, has tried to explain why these leaks are disappointing to her.  Several times.  Her last effort was a blog post that told her side of this issue and offered great insight for those who cared to understand. https://wordpress.com/read/post/feed/23309844/806011889

I believe this article will probably be her last attempt to explain because she is waving the white flag.  Social media is a stormy ocean and she is just one person trying to hold back the tide. She cried “Uncle” (and actually defined “Uncle” for those folks who might be unfamiliar with this American colloquialism which I found pretty amusing and made me determined to look up the origins of the words’ use). She is tired of fighting. I get it.

What I don’t get is the reaction to her attempts to explain why these premature peeks are disappointing. So many truly didn’t understand or WANT to understand. I started seeing some posts that suggested that somehow the fans were owed these peeks. In fact, the sense of entitlement I was reading was staggering. The fans weren’t being courted enough! It is their money and subscriptions that make this all possible! People got angry and mean. “Oh! No! I saw a costume everything is ruined!”  “Be careful.  Someone might tattle to Terry about you and she’ll send her minions”  Snarky and mean-spirited and… entitled.

At first, I didn’t think I would write about this because like Terry, I’ve come to realize the world has changed.  Social media is a powerful force and the battle cannot be won.

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But,…(you knew there was a but didn’t you and I did warn you this might take a minute) bits and pieces of conversations over SM the past week were still floating around in my head last night and my mind was busy making connections and meaning.  Terry posted an article about the current popularity of mindfulness as a tool in business.  I re-tweeted a quote from Diana Gabaldon about art.  And…the Wizard of OZ… These seemingly loosely connected topics ganged together in my thoughts and formed an idea…a theory.

I believe that our exposure to the high-speed of information and connecting to “social” media has indeed changed the world and us.  My husband and I have this argument all the time.  He tends to demonize technology while I tend to see it in a more favorable light.  I could make a pretty long list of the benefits and enrichment the use of technology has brought into my life.  Today, however, I find myself more on the “technology is the devil” side of things.  I think our use of technology has created a culture of expectation for instant gratification and a sense of entitlement.  The glut of information available to us at the touch of a button has now become part of the fabric of our lives.  I read research that found if we have to wait more than 10 seconds for something to load we give up…10 seconds. We are over stimulated and need more…more quickly and we EXPECT to have our desires satisfied…now. This morning I find myself longing for the good old days when we had to…wait for it…wait. <g>

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“All good things come to those who wait”

When I read people proclaiming their right to see costumes before the show aired because “Droughtlander” was soooo long and fans were sure to lose interest if they weren’t fed images, I thought of museums.  More specifically, my granddaughters and museums.  My daughter decided that the best way to have healthy and happy children was to encourage them to limit their access to TV and technology. I liked to call my daughter’s decision “creative deprivation”.  The girls went outside and  played with toys that required their imagination (including the prop/costume box at Grammy’s house! They created and performed some wonderful plays and puppet shows)   As a result, they were not overstimulated and it was a real joy to take them places like museums.

I’m not big on buying things for the grandkids (like I could really pick out anything they would like anyway) however, I will spend my time and money giving them experiences. One particular trip to the German Separatists village in Zoar, Ohio stands out in my mind. Zoar was one of the most successful communes in the country.  By pulling their efforts and sharing their possessions they were able to survive and thrive pre and post Civil War. Most of the village is still intact and can be toured. I took my three under 10 year-old grandchildren to the old general store at Zoar where we bought our tickets, received a paper with a scavenger hunt for specific historic items, and joined four adults for a guided tour. The children’s genuine interest was obvious and I remember how proud I was when the adults in our party commented on how refreshing it was to see such well-behaved children who were asking questions and excited to be learning. We ended our tour by going to the village bakery and eating cookies made from a 200-year-old recipe. I found myself convinced that my granddaughters could appreciate this experience because they had space around their moments of stimulation. A simple cookie or vanilla ice cream cone was enough to make them happy.  They didn’t need or expect more.

I found some research to back my theory that “creative deprivation” is a good thing and that we may be losing the ability to wait.

In the article, Instant Gratification and Its Dark Side By Ronald Alsop, the author points out that our online activity may be robbing us of the benefits of waiting.

The need for round-the-clock connection not only makes people more impatient, it also robs them of time for quiet reflection or deeper, more critical thinking. They tend to want constant stimulation, have less impulse control and get distracted more easily. Diagnoses of attention deficit disorder for children and teenagers have soared; even older adults are increasingly getting prescriptions for ADD medications. Some teachers report that they rarely assign complete books any longer, but choose short stories or excerpts instead because of shorter attention spans. http://www.bucknell.edu/communications/bucknell-magazine/instant-gratification-and-its-dark-side.html

In an article from the Boston Globe entitled, Instant Gratification is Making Us Perpetually Impatient by Christopher Muther, the author quotes research that supports the idea that we are missing out because we need more and we need it now.

…Researchers found the rapid pace of technology can lead to more nimble thinking, but that “trends are leading to a future in which most people are shallow consumers of information.”

“A lot of things that are really valuable take time,” Worthy said. “But immediate gratification is the default response. It’s difficult to overcome those urges and be patient and wait for things to come over time.”

https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2013/02/01/the-growing-culture-impatience-where-instant-gratification-makes-crave-more-instant-gratification/q8tWDNGeJB2mm45fQxtTQP/story.html

Professor of English Harold Schweizer wrote a book titled On Waiting. Schweizer writes that waiting gives people time for thinking, inspiration and regeneration.

a poem, painting or difficult concept “attains value because we have waited for it, waited on it.” But without the investment of time, he says, “objects and experiences tend to remain without value.”

When we have to wait for things they tend to have more value.  Like….oh, I don’t know…waiting for costumes to be revealed when a show airs…

I can hear you all saying what does this have to do with the Wizard of Oz? Wait for it…<g>… Terry made a reference to the movie in an attempt to explain why waiting to see costumes, sets, etc. was a good thing.  She was quick to say she certainly wasn’t comparing Outlander to Oz, but I got what she WAS saying. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember seeing it on a color TV for the first time. It was an experience that took my breath away, the colors, the costumes, the world, and the…story. I believe that experience was all the better for NOT seeing images in advance.  It was worth the wait. She wants us to have the same experience when we see Jamie and Claire in Paris.  Upon reflection, I know because I have seen the costume pics, I will never know what it would be like to have seen them for the first time in the context of the story as a whole. However, my past experience with Outlander on Starz’ ability to tell a story well makes me hopeful.  I truly believe that I will still be so immersed in the story they are telling that even if I do recognize a costume, it will merely be a blip on my conscience radar. We’ll see…

Okay…I think I’ve made my point.  The world has changed, we can’t stop it, sometimes good things come from technology, but sometimes not so much, I wish I hadn’t seen those images and Outlander is worth the wait!

Hedgehogs, Outlander and me…

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This second installment of “Droughtlander” or as some of us long suffering fans call it “Withoutlander” has taught me a bit about how to deal with seriously delayed gratification.  I know that Spring 2016 is a long way off and I’m learning that it is okay to not check my Twitter and Facebook feeds everyday.  I know. It seems almost sacrilegious, but at this point in time, my fandom feels less like a religion and more like a hobby.  Which…would be the more normal level of involvement…I think.  I have discovered that if there is anything new happening folks will still be talking about it tomorrow so, I’m allowing myself to spend time on other pursuits like my family and job. I’m actually enjoying the world that isn’t delivered to me through some sort of hand-held device.  Contrary to my previous belief, there is a pretty good amount of things to do that don’t involve Outlander!  Who knew!

My family appears to be relieved that I have emerged from what they saw as walking zombie status.  I’m having conversations that don’t have the words; Sam, Cait, Jamie, Claire, Diana, Ron or Outlander.  However, when I WAS perusing Facebook yesterday, I saw a post that caused me to reflect on some of the permanent changes Outlander has brought to my life.  I have been known to say that Outlander has become my point of reference…all questions can be answered by an example from Outlander.  Thanks to DG there are some interesting metaphors and allusions to Outlander in my life.   I know that certain phrases, everyday objects, and animals have now become inexorably entwined with the story.  Here is the post that piqued my most recent reflection on Outlander’s influence in my life:

Well….I’m sure she received an adequate answer, I didn’t read the comments, but I answered this question in my own mind.  It was part of a scene Diana wrote of particularly playful sex between our beloved Jamie and Claire.  They were laughing in bed together and it signaled a change in their relationship. IMO, the intimacy was taken to a new level.  The scene was sexy and endearing.  It is one of my favorites and as a result, hedgehogs are now one of my favorite animals.  Before the wedding episode, I sent a litter of plushy hoglets out to fanmily across the country and Canada (hi @islandchickny ).  I was that sure the hedgehog line would make the cut in the Outlander on Starz writer’s room!  I got my quills in an uproar when I realized One Fine Day had become Both Sides Now!

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I got over their faux pas and the omission hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for these cute little animals or the naughty little allusion they are to Outlander.  I have a few hedgehogs around the house and the family has noticed. In fact, the Granddaughters have bought me a few for my collection!

Like my new key ring

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And my ALL TIME FAVORITE COFFEE MUG (I am the happiest coffee drinker you have ever seen)

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The granddaughters of course have never read Outlander or the scene where Jamie decides to be a beast so,…they think Grammy likes hedgehogs cuz she’s old and old people collect figurines and stuff. Awkward.

And it would appear I’m not the only one who feels this way!  Twitter feed and Facebook are full of hedgehog related posts. In fact, I will be making these cookies

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…and buying this t-shirt…

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I’m seriously considering starting a campaign to make the hedgehog the official mascot of the Outlander fandom. I even found a great human sized hedgehog costume SOME lucky fan could wear at book signings, premiers, one of Terry Dresbach’s parties, etc…

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#whatkindofbeastwouldyoulikemetobe #verycarefully

Hedgehogs aren’t the only things Oulander has imbued with special meaning.  Consider the lowly ear of corn.

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Seriously! I can just see myself eating some corn on the cob, thinking of Dougal and then giggle snorting kernels out my nose!

These certainly aren’t the only two examples of Outlander’s influence (fish on a hook will never be the same for me) and I could go on, but I’ll leave you with this last image

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P.S. When Roger is cast don’t be surprised when the word Vroom seems suddenly popular…just saying…

Why hammers and nails are important…. a look at Outlander’s production design

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Note: As you probably know I’ve been out of commission, but I felt like writing today, so I finished this piece I started awhile back!

So, I was on my iPad scanning for Outlander season two news. I’ve been anxiously awaiting a look at Terry Dresbach’s costume designs for Season two. Outlander in Paris was going to be so different from Outlander in Scotland and as lovely as the costumes were for Season one, we just knew the Paris court was going to be more wonderful than we could imagine! Even Terry thought she had “outdone” herself! So, when I saw a link on Twitter to our first pics of Claire in Paris, I quickly clicked!  I was a little startled to see this!

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My first response was ” what the? ” and the second “why?”.  The green screen behind the dress did nothing to flatter Caitriona Balfe or the dress she was wearing.  The situation was soon rectified and we were treated to a lovely picture of Claire in an appropriately French room.

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However, as it often happens in this fandom, the green screen pic started a flurry of rumors and conjecture.  Was Paris going to be CGI?! Why else would they have Claire on a green screen? Terry tried to get ahead of what she KNEW would happen by tweeting that all sets were created by Jon Gary Steele, production designer.

Too late…at least for my curiosity’s sake…I wanted to know more about that green screen.

I knew that green screens are widely used and with the advent of more and more sophisticated technology it is often difficult to even know when a green screen is being used.  It seemed to me the use of green screens provided some definite advantages for film productions.  The screen allows the production to move to locales without actually packing up the whole kit and kaboodle and going there!  It seems more cost effective. So, I wondered why it seemed important to Terry that fans knew the sets were created by Gary Steele? What advantages did hammer and nail sets offer a production versus ‘virtual” sets?

My research about production design started by drawing from my own early experiences watching theater. Overall, my experiences were very positive.  I saw a great version of Fiddler on the Roof performed on a thrust stage at Kent State and some great small productions in Pittsburgh and Cleveland where I was so close to the actors I could have touched them.  As I said, mostly positive experiences, except for…one… I was invited to see an Italian opera and…well…let me explain.

It was my very first opera and I was very excited! I knew I wouldn’t understand the language, but my friends assured me I would understand what was going on.  I’m sure that might have been the case, but for one thing.  For whatever reason, the production designer created  a malt shop for the opera and the performers were “teens” in poodle skirts and pompadours.  Believe me when I say this choice did nothing to advance or enhance the narrative.  I spent the entire production confused and baffled. I was really afraid the quizzical wrinkle between my brows wasn’t going to go away because I had REALLY tried to figure out why we were in that malt shop! Obviously, it made an impression on me, but not for the right reasons. What I learned that night was that production design can greatly impact the story being told.

I needed to know more about how production design affects the narrative being told so, I began reading. I very quickly realized that production designers have to have one of more difficult and yet, potentially satisfying jobs in film. These “jack of all trades” folks better be able to use both sides of their brains! Production designers are part architect, artist, McGyver, super collaborator, mathematician, expert on visual psychology and have the ability to see both the forest and the trees! These are the people who control the visual feel of a film. They can be the folks who talk the producers into malt shops and poodle skirts or…not.

Thank God.

Now, feeling a bit better informed about production designers, I set about to find the advantages and disadvantages of using a green screen vs hammer and nail sets.  During my reading, a theme began to emerge; actors and acting.

Acting is a craft. What determines the difference between a good performance and a so-so performance is the actor’s  ability to make us suspend our disbelief. We need to feel as if these are real people in a real place. There are things that help an actor with his/her craft like being able to play off of other actors (my fav Outlander scene is the fight at the river), costumes, being in a particular locale and performing on realistic sets.  These things can help actors create and stay in character and help them create realistic performances.  Green screens…it appears…aren’t very helpful in this endeavor. I read article after article about how difficult it was to act in a film that involved green screens. The following excerpt addresses the reality of performing on a green screen.

“Forget the scene partners. Forget steeping yourself in the atmosphere of the set. Instead, try rehearsing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet opposite a tennis ball, because in today’s digital Hollywood, actors not only need to know how to relate to other actors, they need to know how to deliver an emotionally convincing performance against thin air, a void that months later will be filled in by a computer.”   HOW TO ACT IF YOUR CO-STAR IS A GREEN SCREEN  May 6, 2001, Micheal Mallory. Special to the L.A. Times

One of my favorite pictures of Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe is the day they first saw the set of the Great Hall.

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To me their faces say it all. Their reaction to the set confirms what it means for an actor to be acting on “hammer and nail” sets versus a green screen. They had to be excited to see the quality of Gary’s sets and feel what this would mean to their performances. They were going to be able to look around and feel themselves to be in 1743 Scotland. I remember Lotte Verbeek saying in one of the early promos that it only took her moments to get into character because the sets were so realistic. She said she would forget it was a set.

It isn’t hard to see why the reality of playing a scene in a set like this

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or this

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is more helpful to an actor than performing on a green screen.  I found this excerpt from an article about what it was like to act on a green screen very enlightening.

“Moving through doorways shaped like trapezoids without penetrating the scenery was a challenge,”…. “It was a bit frustrating to get the hang of paying so much attention to tape marks [and] hanging strings to represent your boundaries and still focus on being honest and truthful about your life as the character.” IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN By Ben Rock | Posted April 7, 2011

Ron Moore, executive producer for Outlander, said in an early promo that they were going to try and convince the audience that this really happened to Claire. His choice to film in Scotland and remain as historically accurate as they could was crucial to immersing us in that belief. Gary’s production designs then brought it all to fruition. He helped create the alien world of 1743 with hammer and nails and plaster and…vision.

I know there are times when green screens can be very useful in telling a story visually, Colum’s and Ian’s legs come to mind. However, I can’t help but believe that Sam and Tobias’ performance in that dungeon cell were enhanced by being in the dark stark space Gary created for that scene. It felt real.  The sets Mr. Steele created for Outlander must  be a gift to the actors.

Because the actors were able to move through real space, we viewers were able to take inventory with Claire in her surgery, help prepare a feast in Mz. Fitz’s open hearth, dance on stage with Claire or wait our turn to pledge fealty to Colum in the Hall. Gary’s version of 1743 Scotland was breathtakingly believable and I can’t wait to dance with Claire in Versailles and nurse along side Buton.  Green screens have their place, but i’m grateful that it has a small place in Outlander.

P.S. I have I told you how much I love this puppet show!

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Here’s to the costumes…what a fan learned from Outlander

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My maiden voyage into fandom has been filled with treasure troves of friendship, self-discovery and unique opportunities to learn the lay of the land that is film-making. In short, Outlander on Starz has been a singular experience. One of the reasons this experience has been so positive is my  interaction with the author and the folks making my favorite book come to life on the screen. I never dreamed I would have such access and the reality of their willingness to talk with and share with fans has resulted in a life-enriching experience.

Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for the show, has been one of the more open and accessible folks.  She very quickly realized that fans were genuinely interested in what she does and how she does it. She has been open to questions and even started a blog to help satisfy our curiosity about her creative process TerryDresbach.com. I have laughingly said she is like the Wizard of Oz and has let us see behind the “creative curtain”.  She has let us into her world of research, sketches, swatches, and interpretation. It has been fascinating.

Like many fans, I’ve been oh-ing and awe-ing over her creations. I’ve listened to her explain her creative choices and how she has blended historical accuracy with the needs and the realities of making a film. I’ve learned a lot, but per usual for me, there was an “aha moment” that caused me to look a little deeper. It was this.

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I’ve heard Terry say that costume design is about telling a story and I guess at some level I understood that, but this was the moment I think I truly understood what she was saying. HER COSTUMES HELP TELL THE STORY. Yeah…we understood that…I can hear you saying, but for me it took this minimal costuming to clarify what I learned.

“What is it that costume designers truly do for a production?” was the question I clarified for myself when I heard Terry explain this scene. Her choice to let these characters be clothed in pale linen and their own skin allowed the viewer to focus on what the actors were saying.  We were not distracted by the “costumes”. However, I’ve come to see that her design was about more than that; there was a connection to the Abby and the practicality of nursing Jamie’s wounds and innocence and intimacy and vulnerability and unity with the set design and….probably a lot more.  The thought that went into those simple garments staggers.

Here, in this scene, I understood the genius that is her costume designing.

I’ve come to understand that it isn’t about parading beautiful clothes across the screen, but about helping the viewer become immersed in the character and story. She makes her costuming a seamless part of the storytelling. Sometimes, she chooses to make something stand out on purpose and sometimes, like the abbey scene, the costumes make the scene standout by making the costumes not stand out.

I wanted to know more, so I did a little lite research. I read an interesting excerpt from the book Filmcraft: Costume Design  by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the 2015 Edith Head Award for the Advancement and Education of the Art of Costume Design recipient.  Ms. Landis says that the role of a costume designer is to design the people in the show.  She says that film costuming serves two purposes,

” …the first is to support the narrative by creating authentic characters (people); and the second is composition, to provide balance within the frame using color, texture, and silhouette.”

The abby scene illustrates this point perfectly.  Terry’s choice in color and simplicity helps, “support the narrative and create a unified fictional space”.

Now, I’m thinking…where else did I see this color and simplicity? When I realized where, it literally brought tears to my eyes…the Wedding.

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Once again, her design tells the story of intimacy, innocence, and vulnerability.  There is nothing in the design to get in the way of the words and yet it enhances what is happening on the screen.

Her designs are helping to create authentic people within the parameters of a historical period and with an idea to each character’s personality and place in the story. A case in point is Black Jack Randall and Frank Randall.  I remember Ron Moore, the executive producer who just happens to be Terry’s husband and the person who thankfully talked her into designing for this show, describing his watching Tobias Menzies trying on his costumes.  He said he quickly went and got Terry to see Tobias, “doing it again”. What he meant by this was the transformation that seemed to occur when Tobias put on his costumes. He stood differently,…his body language was different.  The costumes helped him create and become his character.  Terry “designed” Black Jack Randall and Frank.

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I’m starting to notice other little touches and nods to character, color and texture in her designs. I was admiring the elaborate and beautiful wedding dress when I realized Terry was telling the story of two weddings! Both in silver! And, both were telling something about Claire’s role in two different time periods.  In 1945, Claire is wed in a beautiful silver suit with simple lines that is as modern and confident as she is herself.

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In contrast, in her 1743 dress she is completely the opposite.  Once again dressed in silver to be wed, she is anything but modern, simple or confident.

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She looks like a fairy-tale, but the elaborate gown only accentuates that she is a stranger in a strange land. I can’t help but speculate about what else this deliberate design choice was saying about Claire and the story. Is it that the more fairy-tale like dress foreshadowed the fantasy quality of Jamie and Claire’s relationship? Is the rushed and simple wedding significant of Frank and Claire’s doomed relationship, etc…

Once again, costumes help tell the story and design the “people”. A costume designer’s job is to help realize the screenplay, but, I’ve learned that isn’t an easy thing to do and my respect for Terry and the job she tackles has grown!

…A designer’s work is inextricable from the theatrical context and collaborative interrelationships in which they work—the dialogue, the actor, the cinematography, the weather, the season, the time of day, the choreography of movement and a dozen other dilemmas all present challenges… Deborah Nadoolman Landis © 2012

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Terry doesn’t do this all on her own. Her designs are brought to beautiful fruition by a very talented team. I’m sure her love and appreciation of them is great. The quality of workmanship is obvious and their dedication to their craft very much appreciated by this fan! They make me proud!

So, here’s to the costumes, their designers and makers because of you Outlander is beautiful and the characters and story have a soul.

Weekend with a three year old…a Grandma’s perspective … No Outlander to be found in this one!

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It was Fathers day weekend and we were at my son’s home celebrating. While my husband and son were bonding on the golf course, I got to spend time with my littlest two granddaughters. The one year-old is almost blonde (her hair is coming in nicely) and has big blue eyes and dimples. I love dimples.  She is toddling everywhere and repeating everything.  She counts to five and loves to be read to. She is a happy pleasant child and a real joy to be around.

And, then…there is the three year-old…I think when they came up with the word contrary they had her in mind.

She isn’t easy. She wants what she wants, but what she wants seems to change by the minute. She is stubborn and defiant.  I say she fibs. Her parents say she flat out lies.  She knows the rules and isn’t afraid to bend them to suit her needs. She can open anything and if it’s quiet you better go find her.  She’s a cute and tiny little thing with a pixie haircut who knows how to roll her eyes, sigh dramatically or place her hands on her hips in anger. In short,…she’s delightful.  Maybe it’s because I’m the Grandma, but I think she is a riot and I  have to struggle not to laugh at the child while she exasperates everyone around her.  I don’t  laugh because I KNOW that would be bad and would just encourage the child to misbehave, but Lord knows it’s tough to hold back that smile when she lies about eating her breakfast in order to make herself eligible for a treat.  Her parents think God made her extra cute on purpose.  You know like how some bugs look like sticks, etc.  It helps her survive.

The tales that child tells!  If imagination and the ability to carry a theme are any indication, I think I might have a budding writer on my hands.  I heard tales of birthday parties, wind storms, bugs, and how her best friend lost her IPod.  She was concerned about my gender and was very pleased to hear I was a girl too!  I heard a very interesting rendition of Mary had a Little Lamb and heard the same chorus from the movie Frozen, conservatively estimating, about 100 times. We played card games with no rules and somehow someone still won or lost and I was expected to act appropriately joyful or dismayed.  She asked if she could go swimming and before we knew it the child was naked and in the water. She put a toad on my chest and told me it had lost its momma and I was now the  toad’s new momma, “cuz hims is just a baby”. She caught fish on her Minnie Mouse fishing pole using hotdogs for bait and may or may not have broken a TV set.  It’s broken, but no one saw what happened. My money is on the girl.

Despite being warned that she has the attention span of a gnat, I decided to take her to see Inside Out at the movie theater.  She put on her frilly tutu and her bedazzled t-shirt and off we went. She was very excited to be attending with her older sister and especially with her sister’s friend.  The 11 year friend didn’t quite know why she was so popular, but she was a good sport about having to be hung on and sat by and generally adored.  We bought popcorn, found our seats with “blankie” the blanket in tow.  She lasted 10 minutes including the previews before she fell asleep. The movie was wonderful and about five minutes toward the end as the audience is learning the little girl in the movie is growing up,  I heard a sleepy little voice beside me say, ” Grammy dis is the best movie eva!” And, looking at her clutching her blankie and staring up at the screen eyes full of wonder, I thought, “yes, …yes it is”.

Emmys for Outlander….they deserve it!

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Like many in the fandom, I tweeted the cleverest tweets I could for an hour solid in support of #EmmysforOutlander.  I truly believe the show deserves accolades and as a fan I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen. The show was more than entertaining it was compelling.

As positive as I am that the show deserves all the awards they can get, I’m fearful that there is a fly in the Emmy ointment. It appears that the show is still battling an image problem. Please don’t misunderstand. I did not feel that recent interviews were negative, nor do I believe the interviewers have to read the book to talk about the show.  But, I’m hearing questions and comments that make me fear the show is still misunderstood and as a result maybe not be as respected as it should be.

In a recent interview with Sam Heughan, the interviewer kept referring to the fact that his wife watches the show and that Sam appeared shirtless a lot.  Sam was gracious and tried to steer the conversation toward a more serious and less shallow topic, but even Sam’s discussion of the Gaelic used on the show was turned into a “Fabio” type reference by the interviewer.

I have a theory that the show is still being perceived as a series based on a romance novel that Ron is somehow fixing up.

Point in case, another interview with Sam found the interviewer surprised that what he found were interesting plot twists and character development  were INDEED in the book. He actually looked taken aback and asked the question again to make sure Sam had heard right.  The same interviewer shared with Caitriona Balfe that he had binge watched the first half of the season and was now hooked on the show because he must have an inner old lady side to himself (can you see the incredulity on my face?).  I continue to see the story referred to as a time-traveling bodice ripper romance where Claire falls for a hunky Scotsman (not that bodices aren’t ripped or Sam isn’t hunky, but you get my point).  The show is still having an image issue. And…in my humble opinion things like this don’t help;


Sigh…..they are cute, but I’m really finding it hard to like a Black Jack Randall doll after episodes 15 and 16!  Does he come with accessories?  A mallet and nails? Lavender oil?  Is this what Starz marketing folks think we want?  If so, then I’m wondering what THEY think the show is about and who they think WE are? (They’ll probably sell thousands because they are cute and I know I’ll be taking some hits for this)  So, I’m confused and I think people who really don’t know about the show are too!  I know this is blasphemy, but maybe that original Vanity Fair article was right!  Maybe they are marketing to who they THINK we are…hmmmm….the kilt drops…

All this leads me to be a bit concerned about how the show is being perceived by the academy voters if this is how the media views the show. However, a fellow fan pointed out to me that the critics have also consistently given the show high marks. And, they have thrown around some wonderful adjectives and called the show brave and ground-breaking and called performances stellar. So, maybe the RIGHT people (those with the power to influence votes) get it. Fingers crossed!

But…. just in case they need further convincing…here are my top reasons.…Outlander deserves an Emmy…its my blog…I can pretend my opinion matters if I want to!

1.  They took their time

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Those of us who read the books were understandably concerned about how they were going to do justice to our “big book” and story. We were relieved to hear Starz was giving the first book 16 episodes which was pretty much unprecedented. For us book fans, it still wasn’t enough! Greedy lot us book fans. There was a lot of talk about Outlander’s decision to take their time setting up the story including the use of voice-overs.  It was a gamble for sure, but a necessary gamble if you intended for the show to last more than one season.  This story needs the set-up.  If for no other reason than to understand Claire’s decision when Jamie takes her back to the stones, The story needs the context of her internal struggle and the real danger she places herself in by staying. The “slow burn” of Jamie and Claire’s relationship was refreshing to see. They didn’t jump into bed despite an obvious attraction. Their relationship was given time to develop. By the end of the season, the viewer truly had a sense of who these “people” were. They gave us time to connect to the characters and their struggles. They allowed us to see how alike and different our world is from the one Claire finds herself.  They allowed us the time to care about the characters.

2.  They got the genre thing right

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One of the most intriguing things about Diana Gabaldon’s books are the fact that they are hard to describe.  Try it! I find myself saying a lot of “just trust me on this, I know it doesn’t sound good, but it is”.  Because she was writing the first book for practice, Ms. Gabaldon freed herself from the boundary of genre.  She wrote and figured she would determine what genre she was writing along the way.  I’m not sure she ever did fit her square book into a round genre hole and I’m thankful for it. It made the reading that more interesting to have a mix of history, science fiction, horror, mystery, and yes, a love story.  This would seemingly make the story more difficult to adapt, but I think this was one of the big things the series got right.

Every episode had a story arch and just when the viewer would think they knew where the story was going and maybe expect more of the same the show would change. One week, we are at witch trail and the next a complicated homecoming. One episode we are navigating life at the castle and the next traveling the Scottish countryside. We watched Claire try to match wits with the terrifyingly cruel Capt. Jack Randall and then watched her try to deal with a unwanted marriage and …honeymoon.  And, … they never let us forget the stones and Frank were always on Claire’s mind. The adaptation worked.

3.  They immersed you in 1743 Scotland 

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Scotland was a character in the story. It was breathtakingly stark and beautiful. The costumes and sets made it easy to believe that Claire had found herself in 1743. It was a rich viewing experience. The musical score, the filming, directing, writing and production choices were all made with the idea that everything had to have a purpose including the tougher more titillating stuff. I never felt the violence or nudity was gratuitous.  It always felt necessary and as a result, we got to see an intelligent and beautiful story.

4. They let us see real women

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A lot has been written on this subject, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the FACT that this show has done more for the portrayal of women in film than anything in recent memory. There is a lot good TV out there right now, but I would say that Outlander’s women were the closest to real people. The women on this show were portrayed as complex, strong, kind, ruthless, compassionate, sexually confident, intelligent, able to think on their feet, and heroes who could save the day. These ladies weren’t your typical damsels in distress!

5.  Characters with character

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I enjoy watching Game of Thrones, a show Outlander has been compared to. I have nothing against R.R. Martin or the show based on his works.  They are what they are, but what they are is a far cry from what Outlander is or tries to be.

GOT’s season was full of characters acting out of warped emotions, values and needs. Lots of titillating stuff to discuss around the water cooler, but I must admit the most shocking thing about this show is how hard it is to find a redeeming character. I wish I could say this trend toward pushing the moral and ethical envelope was the exception rather than the rule on TV, but I can’t.  It is all too common.

My reaction to the GOT characters and their actions is very different from what I feel when I watch Outlander. When I watch Outlander I find myself emotionally connected to their stories.  Even given the fantasy element of time-travel, I found the main characters struggles to make the right choices familiar.  Many of us struggle to do the right thing and be good people. When I watched Claire and Jamie and Ned and even Gellis make their choices, I felt a real kinship. My eyes filled with tears for the human compassion I was witnessing. These characters made unselfish choices. Refreshing.

6. Real People Sex

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Once again they took their time and made sex a part of the story. The Wedding Episode was the closest thing to real sex between two people who care about each other that I’ve ever seen.  The other elements of sex in the story were told with the same care and purposefulness. Sex is a part of life and relationships. It can be awkward, passionate, tender, and sometimes even horribly life-shattering. Outlander did not shy away from showing us sex from a man’s AND a woman’s point of view. It was beautiful and awful, but always done with story in mind.

7.The performances

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I can’t remember the last time I was so blown away by performances. In fact, the show has been off the air for over two weeks and I can’t stop talking about those performances! I know there is this common belief that a viewer really shouldn’t notice the acting because if you do then somehow your disbelief didn’t get suspended enough.  Maybe that’s true, but I’m pretty sure I bought what they were selling!  My appreciation occurred upon reflection. Like I said before, the dust has settled and I can’t get the performances out of my mind! It felt real.

  • Tobias: It was something about the eyes. Tobias Menzies portrayal of Frank and his ancestor Black Jack Randall was fascinating to watch. Watching an actor play two roles and imbue them with character was intriguing.. I saw their differences and their similarities. He managed to make Jack’s villainy believable and somehow human despite his monstrous appetites. He was terrifying.
  • Sam: Sam Heughan’s portrayal of Jamie was spot on. Although I wished we could have seen a bit more of the man beneath the boy in the first half of the season, I was won over by the switch to his POV in episode 9 The Reckoning.  ” What is Jamie thinking?” was a brilliant technique for moving the story and the character forward. Jamie had dialogue long enough to let us see his character and with his convincing acting skills, Sam had time to let us “see” Jamie. We saw Jamie be brave, calculating, thoughtful, loyal. imperfect, frustrated, devastated, strong, truthful, and caring, just to name a few of the many sides of the character I knew from the books. And then,…there are the last two episodes. I’ve never seen an actor portray so much with so few words. As uncomfortable as those episodes are to watch, I keep re-watching them because I’m amazed by the performances. Every time I re-watch, I find something new to appreciate like body language or a subtle look.  The progression from a proud and unbreakable man to a totally devastated and broken man was heart-breathtakingly beautiful.
  • Caitriona:  I’m not sure that Caitriona Balfe’s performance is ever given enough credit. She is in almost every scene and without her brilliant portrayal of our frustratingly wonderful and strong Claire the show would not have succeeded. She made us believe that this happened to this woman and the viewers grew to care about her and her plight. We have all been strangers in a strange land and had to find our way at some point in our lives.  Caitriona’s portrayal of Claire dealing with the unimaginable and retaining her humanity and strength of character truly made me proud to be a woman.  She managed to get Claire’s sense of morality, justice and passion for life on the screen. We saw a woman who like many of us picks herself up, dusts herself off, accepts the situation and makes the best life for herself and others as she can.

One of my readers, an actress in the Biz summed up a lot of what I’m hearing from those folks who know what it takes to do a show like this;

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It is the kind of TV we have been waiting for and we want more of this kind of quality story-telling on our screens.. Please consider Outlander for an Emmy.because they deserve it.

“I expected to be entertained , not healed”… OUTLANDER AND READER RESPONSE

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My readers have graciously requested that I continue to write during “Droughtlander the Sequel”. Admittedly, I was a bit worried about that. I wondered what I would write about after the show was over! Oh, I of little faith, the fan-dom has given me plenty of fodder! They are constantly saying or doing something that inspires me to think and then write.  For instance, Diana Gabaldon recently posted a favorite fan comment of the day.

FAVORITE READER COMMENT OF THE DAY:

“Outlander was thrust upon me by a very insistent long time fan. I expected to be entertained, not healed.”

–Beth B.

My response to this was “Awwwww”

Other readers? Not so much…

See what I mean? Plenty of inspiration fodder!

When I went to college, I was already an adult with 28 yrs of life experience. My husband gave me a little insight into what college was likely to be like for someone such as myself, “You’ll be like a sponge . You’ll love every minute.  The professors will love you and the kids will hate you for making them look bad! “. He was pretty prophetic.  I did love every minute and the kids tended to roll their eyes at me and my eagerly raised hand. I wanted to discuss and share! They wanted to pass the class with as little effort as possible and I was making them look bad. However, after a long night partying and a short night studying, some of my fellow students saw me as a valuable commodity,”Let’s ask Beth what the reading was about”.  I may have gotten my fellow students out of a sticky situation temporarily, but I always felt they were missing the point…reading was life changing.  At least, I felt so.

One of the things I learned while earning my English degree was a theory called Reader Response. In a nutshell, the theory proposes the idea that no two readers have the same reading experience because no two people are the same.  We come to a book or movie for that matter with everything we’ve read and seen and all of our life-experiences. In addition, we often come to a reading from different places in our life’s journey. Some may read a piece of literature as an 18 yr old virgin others as a 40 something well “seasoned’ individual. Some may come to a book having just experienced a most meaningful moment of human bonding. Another reader may have just experienced a devastating loss. The theory proposes that all of these things affect our response to what we read. We all make meaning and then incorporate what we’ve learned from what we read to suit our individual needs and experience. What moves me may not move you and vice versa. We react to what we read and it becomes part of us.  It makes sense and I have seen nothing since that refutes that theory.  In fact, we now have some brain science to back its validity!

Author Hilary Freeman was intrigued by the benefits of reading and wrote the article “Getting Lost in a Good Book Can Keep You Healthy”.

…there’s increasing evidence that reading for pleasure isn’t just another leisure pursuit, or merely a way of improving literacy skills and factual knowledge….It might actually be good for our mental and physical health too.”

She cites the findings of several studies and quotes neuroscientists in her article.  She concludes that reading for pleasure has both mental and physical benefits. It helps us think more clearly, enriches our relationships and can even increase our empathy.  One of the more interesting things I read in this article was a quote from John Stein, emeritus professor of neuroscience at Magdalen College, Oxford.

‘When we “get lost” in a good book, we’re doing more than simply following a story. Imagining what’s happening is as good at activating the brain as “doing” it.’

Recent brain scan studies show that when we read the same areas of the brain, “that are used to process these experiences in real life are activated, creating new neural pathways”.  So, when we read it is as if we are experiencing it ourselves.  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2193496/Getting-lost-good-book-help-healthy.html#ixzz3cZZ0UZgR

Reading helps us to experience things we may never have the chance to in real life.  And, these studies are indicating that people are inspired to make changes in their own lives as a result. In the article,  If You Didn’t Love Reading Before You See This, You’ll Love It After  by Sarah White,  the author says that  studies show that reading fiction,

“…teaches you to be human…helps you see other people’s perspectives. A good book is the closest we can get to being in another person’s skin, and it can help us understand the real people in our lives a little better. …Reading can give you a new perspective. Here I’m not just talking about getting to peer into different worlds, but the fact that reading about life situations similar to your own may give you a different perspective on things. Whether you need help navigating a breakup or dealing with your parents, there’s a book for that.”

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/20-reasons-read-that-will-change-your-life.html

So, it would appear that books have the potential to heal as Diana’s reader suggested. When we get lost in a book, studies have shown that we might actually change our own behaviour and thoughts to match that of the character.  It is a phenomenon that researchers are calling “experience-taking”. They found that “experience-taking’ can lead to real-life changes. Strongly identifying with a character who overcomes can lead to over-coming!

I’m sure, I’m not the only one who has found this to be true in their own lives.  Like Diana’s reader who found herself surprised to be healed by Ms. Gabaldon’s story of Jamie and Claire and all the other myriad characters she has work through all of life’s challenges and ironies, I too have been changed by books. The Box Car Children and Queenie Peavy helped to shape the child I became.  Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place taught me about faith and what it means to care for others and …

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Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series has helped to enrich my relationships with those I love. So, can a book heal? I’m gonna vote yes and feel sorry for those whose worlds and experiences are limited by a life without fiction.

The Kingdom of Outlander…a cautionary tale

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Once upon a time, there was a kingdom that had a great treasure. It was a big book that the subjects never tired of reading. The book was beloved and its story celebrated.  The Kingdom’s subjects read the book and talked about the book and bonded together over the book.  It was a beautiful thing.

From the very beginning, the subjects said “It isn’t fair we keep this book all to ourselves! We are being selfish! Surely we can share the joy our book brings with others!”  So, the story was shared all over the world and the kingdom grew and the people bonded again over their love of the book.  The more the merrier was the cry!

There had always been a wish in the Kingdom to see the characters in the story come to life! “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could actually SEE our story not just imagine it?! ” they said.  But alas, the book was VERY big and no one could figure out how to show the story in a way that would make sense and yet, still bring the viewers the same joy it had for those who were readers!

Many years passed and the story remained on the pages of the book and in the readers’ imaginations. The Kingdom’s readers had almost given up hope when the author of the beloved book made a pronouncement! “The Story will be told!  We have found a magician who has had a vision and knows how to make our Big Book come to life right before our very eyes! ”  The subjects of the Kingdom rejoiced! The Kingdom was alive with news of the magician’s progress and finally the day came and the citizens’ dream of seeing their story come to life came true!  They saw their well-loved characters speaking and moving and it was a wonder!

But soon, as sometimes happens, the shiny newness of the dream began to fade. The miracle seemed less like magic and more like a trick that anyone could do!  The citizens began to grumble, “But, he left the best parts out!” and “That isn’t in the book” and “Our hero would never act that way”.

The magic version of the book had brought new members to the Kingdom, members who had never read the book, but they loved the story too! But soon, as sometimes happens, the people began to divide themselves into groups.  The citizens grumbled,”But we were here first!” and “They don’t know the story like we do!”  The grumbling got louder and soon there was discontent in the Kingdom.  And, even though there were citizens who loved both versions of the story, some people began to argue with each other and the new citizens were made to feel less than the old.

What the citizens didn’t understand was that the magic the magician wielded depended on the continued goodwill and desire of those who wished to see it.  When the interest faded, so would the magic. The squabbling and discontent and outright attacks on those who “weren’t real fans” of the book, took its toll on the magician and his magic. Soon, as sometimes happens, the people destroyed the very dream they had longed for because of their intolerance.

The moral of the story is this, “a book belongs to no one”. You can’t harness what it makes others think and feel. People bring their own stories with them when they read or see a tale and, as ALWAYS happens, no two people will ever hear or see or read the same way. Kindness, tolerance and respect generate a magic that helps keep dreams and goodwill alive.