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

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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 .

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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.

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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.  

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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.

 

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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.

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Spoilers: They tried to live without their hearts…Jamie and Claire the years apart

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imageAfter hearing the distressing noise, Lord John approaches the door thinking of perhaps going into the room to see if Jamie is alright.  He hears heavy breathing and realizes that Jamie has awakened from a bad dream. He overhears the big Scot talking to his lost wife, “Could I but lay my head in your lap, lass. Feel your hand on me, and sleep wi’ the scent of you in my bed”.  John knows he shouldn’t be hearing this extremely private conversation and tries to back away quietly. Before he gets away he hears Jamie sob and then whisper, his voice full of longing and pain, “Christ Sassenach, I need ye”.

Cue me, ragged intake of breath and leaky eyes.

I’ve been rereading The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon, my favorite of the Lord John books.  Last night, I reached the scene where Lord John Grey hears Jamie cry out as if he was having a nightmare. This is one of those scenes that causes me to take an involuntary sob. The characters have become so real to me that I feel invested in their lives and experience moments of crippling compassion when I read of their moments of distress or pain.  I feel what John feels and what Jamie feels and have to put the book down and take a moment to recover, laugh at my silliness, and curse and simultaneously love Diana for writing books and characters that can move me this much.  I’ve often wondered if Diana feels the kind of empathy I do when she writes. Does she have to take a break and recover, does she smile through her tears at the beauty of these poignant moments she has written?

Diana has written many moving scenes in her novels, but this particular scene gets me every. single. time.  I’m curious as to why this scene, in particular, makes me so…so…verklempt! Reading that scene and “overhearing” Jamie’s private moment with his vanished wife makes me feel like I’m right beside Lord John trying desperately to get away from that door. Like Lord John, I want to go into that room and offer Jamie comfort, but I know there is nothing I can offer that would comfort him.  With that realization, we can now think of nothing worse than Jamie knowing his private pain and moment of grieving was overheard and we are quietly careful as we move down the hall.

Loved Diana’s metaphor of John missing a step and coming down hard as he escapes detection. Hearing Jamie longing for his dead wife brought John back down to Earth hard. The heart wants what it wants, but John is a realist and no fool.  He knows this man will never be his. This man will never be his because his heart belongs to a woman and a ghost at that.

It’s Claire’s ghost that I find myself thinking about this morning and Jamie’s as well, the ghosts of their lost love. I think this scene affects me so much because it is one of those rare moments when we get to see what Jamie is thinking and feeling.  We can guess how lonely he has been without Claire, but this overheard private moment confirms it.  He is trying to live without his heart and having a tough time of it. He needs her. Time hasn’t cured this. A decade separates him from that moment on Craig Na Dun and yet, his need of her hasn’t lessened.  His grief feels raw to me.

I’ve also been thinking this morning about the print shop and how the TV series is going to get us there.  I know there has been some speculation because people can’t wait to see our couple back together.  They want to get to the “good stuff”.  I understand that is “good stuff” and I would love to see them stay as faithful to that scene in the book as possible, but the show has to think about viewers other than book fans. I am reminded of an article I read about adaptations and good story-telling.

…Going from a derivative work to its source, people tend to expect fidelity less than when they start with the original, then move to the adaptation…When I read the book first, I go to the movie expecting to see a strict translation of what I saw onto the screen, even if that’s not truly what I want, or what best serves the story…

http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2012/03/22/149145605/what-fans-will-love-and-what-they-might-not-in-the-hunger-games

“…even if that’s not truly what I want, or what best serves the story…”, the truth is those moments at the print shop need to be earned.  They need the context of knowing what has come before.  It will not be enough to segue way from Claire’s realizing Jamie might still be alive to her going back through the stones. Viewers will need to know what life was like in the in-between.  And, whether we want to admit it or not, we book readers will too.  Those moments at the print shop are meaningful and moving because of what happened in those twenty years apart and who Jamie and Claire were without their hearts.  They are starved for each other’s company and face the despair of knowing they will never again have the kind of mutual love they shared. They long for each other and when I read of their longing my heart aches for them.

Too many of us can relate to their need to go on living despite devastating loss.  In Claire’s case, she pushes forward for Bree and Jamie for Fergus, William, Jenny, Ian, and their children. They go on…they exist.  Diana lets the reader see that our beloved couple are never far from each other’s thoughts. She paints us a picture of two people who truly aren’t complete without the other.  Diana chose to tell Voyager in a mixture of present day with flashbacks to the past that slowly builds the suspense and intensity of emotion.  The search for evidence of Jamie’s survival is then followed by the reality of the Dun Bonnet’s real story and we see the names on the Ardsmuir roll sheet in the flesh.  We get glimpses of the deprived and lonely existence Jamie led.  We are then transported to the inner workings of Claire’s marriage of convenience.

We will need to see what life was like for Claire. I know this isn’t a popular idea for many fans because it means more Frank.  But, to ignore what life was like for Claire would not serve the story well and lessen the impact and meaning of the print shop reunion. These glimpses of life with Frank are sprinkled throughout the story, but it makes sense to me that the show will need to rearrange things and tell the story more chronologically. What was life like for Claire?  She made a promise and I believe truly tried to make it work with Frank.  She did love him, but what ever she feels for Frank pales in comparison to what she feels for Jamie. Frank believes they can make it work. He needs to make it work because he loves her, but her heart is irrevocably Jamie’s.  As a result, what started out straight and good and true becomes a twisted convoluted mess.

One of the few looks Diana affords us of Claire’s life with Frank comes from her remembrance of the night he died.  Not a very flattering portrayal that, but in his defense, what’s a man to do? What’s a man to do with 20 years of knowing your wife loves someone else?  When I think of that particular icy night, warped things come to mind; intentions, plans, relationships, and love.  You know what time and pressure do to a lump of coal, right?  A diamond.  Time and pressure left us no gems here.  What happens when feelings get suppressed? When time and pressure are applied to that suppression? Anger. Resentment.  Emotion doesn’t stay inside the skin.  Feelings can never be fully suppressed.  They find a way to come out and sometimes it’s sideways.

.Outlander Season 3

I think some sideways feelings got straightened out that night.

“...he looked like Bree, didn’t he?  He was like her?”

“Yes.”

He breathed heavily, almost a snort.

“I could see it in your face– when you’d look at her, I could see you thinking of him.  damn you Claire Beauchamp, ” he said, very softly.  “damn you and your face that can’t hide a thing you think or feel.”

“…I did love you, ” I said, softly, at last. “Once.”

They go on to discuss why he didn’t leave and Frank wonders out loud,

“...but you couldn’t see her (Bree) without thinking of him, could you?  Without that constant memory, I wonder__ would you have forgotten him, in time?”

“No.”….

Diana Gabaldon Voyager

The last straw had been reached for Frank, but it also served to let us see how impossible it has been for Claire to love anyone but Jamie and to live without him.  The show foreshadowed this with Breanna’s comments about her mother living in another world. She is present physically, but she left her heart in another time, another place. She is living a life she no longer wants, but tries for Bree’s sake.

The story will be best served by the show showing us how empty and difficult their lives were without the other. So, when the ‘voyage’ finally leads us back to the print shop, as viewers, we will be entirely invested in the reunion of these two lost souls.

The reuniting of these two characters gives birth to some of the most poignant scenes I’ve ever read. Claire’s trip to the printer’s shop is full of those scenes.  Her nervous look at her reflection in the shop window, his fainting dead away at her sudden appearance, their holding each other both trembling with,”…longing of twenty years streaming down our faces”.  They touch each other’s features in wonder. I believe I could barely breathe when I read this scene.  The intensity of their need of each other was palpable.  Not the intensity of lust, but of need. And the scene where Claire shows Jamie Bree’s pictures?  My favorite. When he turns and ‘falls to pieces” in her arms, I couldn’t help but think he had been needing to fall apart for twenty years, but her arms were the only place he could do that…be himself…without fear. And for Claire, loving and being loved by Jamie was like  “the turn of a great key, each small turn setting into play the intricate fall of tumblers within me.”

Lord knows, the sailing will never be smooth for these two, but at last they will be together and nothing else will matter.

“…to have you with me again_ to talk wi’ you, to know I can say anything, not guard my words or hide my thoughts_God Sassenach” he said, ” The Lord knows I’m as lust crazed as a lad and I canna keep my hands from you _ or anything else_ ” he added wryly, ” but I would count that all well lost, had I no more than the pleasure of havin’ ye by me, and to tell ye all my heart”.  And she replies, “ It was lonely without you, ” I whispered,” so lonely.”

Yeah,…we need to see the years without their hearts.

 

“I’m the Laird. That’s me”….Jamie and Brian …Outlander Episode 12

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Sometimes when I watch Outlander on Starz, I get an epiphiany.  I’ve read the books… a lot…, but sometimes this visual version helps me understand something from the story better.  There are advantages to seeing emotions on an actual face.

Starz showed us a small scene with Jamie’s father Brian.  That particular scene in the hallway of Ft. William was all that I pictured when reading Outlander and more.  It was right after Brian had just had a session with Black Jack.

Let me repeat that.

BRIAN HAD JUST HAD A SESSION WITH BLACK JACK!

What that means to the story, I am only now truly coming to appreciate.  The panic I heard in Brian’s  voice, the earnest need to have a “moment” with his son written all over his face and the assurance that “whatever happens” he would be there for Jamie,  took on new meaning for me.  What must have happened in that session?! We can only imagine what Black Jack said, but most assuredly, what DID happen was Jamie’s father recognizing what sort of man held his son’s life in his hands.

I get the feeling that Brian knew there was no “way out” for his son.  The Captain was going to give Jamie 100 lashes upon 100 lashes and there was nothing he could do to stop it.  At the very least, Brian had to believe that Randall meant harm that would effect Jamie for the rest of his life; torture, imprisonment.  I believe Brian’s real fear was that his son would die a horrible death right in front of his eyes.  So, he left his “Braw Lad” the only things of value he could give him; his faith in God and his love.  How many times must Jamie have thought of that kiss over last four years…heart-breaking.

In the books, Brian’s character and back story are revealed when Jamie tells Claire the stories of his own childhood. Here is what I know of Brian Fraser:

  • He is a fair man
  • He is a loyal man
  • He is a wise man
  • He is a man of faith
  • He values education
  • He respects women
  • He is a leader
  • He is a family man
  • He has a wry sense of humor
  • He Is a man of honor
  • He is a man of integrity

And…he wants to be a better man than his own father and…he is.  Jamie was lucky to have such a father as a role model, but it’s a lot to live up to.

Like many of us who lose someone close to us without the benefit of closure, Jamie has regrets and feels guilt.  His father died while watching the whipping and at some level Jamie believes it is his fault.  We all know someone who feels this type of guilt and regret. It is one of the common themes in the human condition.  Jamie’s response to these events is understandable and maybe even predictable.  Guilt and regret are feelings that aren’t always rational or accurate, but they still plague us.  We cannot help what we feel when we lose a loved one.

Feelings just are.

Due to circumstances beyond his control, Jamie has been unable to return home.  He has had a loooong time to think and feel.   In a very real way, his ability to deal with his grief has been delayed.  Jamie has been unable to finish his  business with his sister and deal with what the death of his father means to his position at Lallybroch.  Left unaddressed and unexpressed feelings can warp our views and maybe even change how we react or in Jamie’s case overreact, to what we think we see and hear.  I think Jenny’s comment, “No word in four years” speaks volumes.  Jamie is struggling with his feelings to the point that he couldn’t even bring himself to write home. Guilt.

I’ve seen some social media posts that have suggested that Jamie becomes an instant “arsehole” when he goes through the gates of Lallybroch and that it was just too big of a change in his personality for them to believe.  I’ve even seen folks write that the change was so extreme that Claire didn’t “recognize” the man she married.  I don’t think this is the case at all! I think Claire knew exactly what was happening to Jamie.  She just didn’t know exactly what to do about it!  The subtle and significant looks on Claire and Ian’s faces during the uncomfortable exchanges between the siblings told the viewer that EVERYONE knew!  My God,  the tension was so thick you could have cut it!

It really wasn’t hard to understand.  Jamie feels guilty about Jenny and that makes him misinterpret situations and act defensively.  Jenny is angry and secretly blames her brother for her father’s death. Her brother brought home a Sassenach to be lady of Lallybroch. A Sassenach who has never run an estate or home…like she has…for four years.  She’s coming out sideways too!

Jamie doesn’t want to let his father down.  He wants to be the Laird his father was.  He has a new wife and tenants he wants to impress.  So, maybe….he tries too hard at playing the “Laird”. Understandable. In my opinion, Jamie becomes the more loveable for his misguided attempts to be the man his father would be proud of. The fact that his sister called him on his shite was so true to sibling form that it made me laugh out loud!  He isn’t perfect. He is stubborn and at times brash, but he is willing to admit when he is wrong and move on. I loved Ian’s advice and Claire’s “dealing” with her “I’m the Laird” husband. She dumped his ass on the floor to get his attention! Wonderful.

I think Brian would have been proud of his children as he looked down at them embracing in the graveyard dealing with their grief and their love for one another.

“Frasers, their hearts are as big and soft as their heads are thick and strong” Ian Murray, Jamies’s best friend and Jenny’s husband.

Book boyfriends and Jamie Fraser…some lite research

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I’ve been seeing a term used a lot lately; it’s the term book boyfriends. There are polls, websites and blogs dedicated to the topic. In fact, one of my posts was used by an on-line book club to spark a discussion about alpha book boyfriends.

Evidently, there is an established criteria that male fictional characters are being measured against to establish their book boyfriend worthiness. Included in this criteria are characteristics such as strength, wit, fighting skills, looks, and virility.  The members of The Saucy Wenches Book Club were discussing the merits of their favorite book boyfriends and why each needed to be included in a list of top Alpha Book Boyfriends.   Reading the bantering of the members was enlightening. One of the bones of contention was the idea that James Fraser, of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, might be too perfect to reign atop the ultimate alpha book boyfriend list!  If Jamie is too perfect, he’s my kind of too perfect!  These “flaws” that people love in their book boyfriends make for interesting reading, but do not equate to desirable qualities in a good real-life relationship.  In fact, take my advice as an old woman with a 38 yr. marriage under her belt,  should you encounter a man with some of these “interesting” flaws, run. Run like hell!  There seems to be a difference in what women want in real-life and….Hmmmmm…..

This discussion piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know more!  I started googling book boyfriends.  There were pages of links to the words’ use, but curiously enough, I couldn’t find a definition.  Thinking that I must be mistaken, I googled again.  Nope!  Even the urban dictionary lacked a definition for this phenomenon.  Well, I thought to myself, SOMEBODY is missing out on some interesting social research!  Now, I know falling in love with fictional characters isn’t new, but has it ever been studied?  I mean, we know they’re not real, right? Right!   And yet, the feelings they inspire are real. At least…while I’m reading..and Fangirling with my like-minded friends. Seriously, if someone had just walked into the room during one of these sessions, I’m pretty sure they would think we were all lusting after a real man. Hmmmm….interesting.

So… I googled, “why do we fall in love with fictional characters?”.  I found that there seems to be a couple of trains of thought:

  • Women who fall in love with fictional characters are unhappy with themselves and their own lives.
  • We desire the kind of love the character offers.

I’m not sure I’m too happy about either of those options. So, I set about to find evidence to disprove the idea that the reason I love James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser is because I’m some desperately unhappy woman with low-self-esteem and an unrealistic idea of love and relationships!  There had to be another explanation. There are too many of us out there who would appear to be highly functioning, relatively happy women with okay self-esteem who love book-boyfriends ! Soooooo,…… Let the lite research begin!

THE FINDINGS

One of the first articles I came across was written by a Yahoo contributor named Kyra Lennon. Back in August of 2010, she wrote an article exploring her love for J.K. Rowlings character Sirius Black. She had come to the conclusion that her love for Sirius was just an, “Extension of my love of J.K. Rowlings writing skills.”  Whoo hoo! I liked this!  It’s Diana’s fault! If she wasn’t so damn skilled at writing three dimensional characters I wouldn’t have an issue!  My love for Jamie is just a natural progression fueled by my appreciation of Diana’s writing skills.  Sigh…..nope…still wishing I was Claire.  Damn….and that rationale sounded all “intellectual” and everything!

Ms. Lennon went on to add that she thought the “fantasy” for women was that these male characters could be perfect. “They will never disappoint or hurt us and they’ll be there when we need them”. She added she felt loving fictional men was okay, as long as it isn’t an obsession.  Obsession. Well there’s a term I’ll need to clarify!

NEXT

I found a WIKI page entitled, “How to Cope with Being in Love with a Fictional Character”  It didn’t take me long to realize these people were serious! This was REAL advice for those who found themselves obsessed with someone who wasn’t real.  The article pointed out that loving a fictional character can cause you to disconnect with real-life and judge others harshly because you are focusing on perfection.   They deemed this to be unhealthy and encouraged people to “fall out” of love. The very serious wake-up call for their readers who were seeking help was to understand that the character they are in love with…can’t love them back.  Wow.

AND

Uh..oh…a response to a fan written by Karen Moning the author of the Fever Series and creator of Jericho Barrons some serious book boyfriend material.  He is one of those seriously flawed, but totally readable and sexy characters that many women love to love. Ms. Moning seems to be aware that some fans have difficulty keeping reality and fantasy separate and warns us to, “not pretend they are real”.  Women who compare real men to fictional men have,” expectations that are way too high”.  Not sure I agree. Oh, I’m okay with the don’t pretend they are real part, but what defines way too high?  If she means the whole idea of a man who never smells, burps or forgets to take out the garbage, etc. then okay, but what’s wrong with aspiration and emulation? What’s wrong with having standards? Good is good!  I’m not so sure some men couldn’t learn some things from fictional characters! Nobody is perfect, but don’t we all want to grow and become better versions of ourselves?  I know good when I see it, fictional or real!

….and…

Debra Montieth wrote an article in 2009 asking the question, “Why do women love fictional characters?” Her conclusion?How could they not.  Most fictional heroes are affectionate, beautiful, perfect lovers, listeners, protectors, sensitive and faithful. What’s not to love? This would appear to support the whole “women will get unrealistic expectations theory”, but she was like all, “so what”!  I liked her.

A GENERAL CONSENSUS

Many of the articles I found agreed that engaging in a relationship with a fictional character can be healthy not harmful. They pointed out that getting away from everyday life and real relationships for a bit is a good thing.  They point out that a little escapism never hurt anybody. But,….there’s always a but…they all warned that women need to be on guard against obsession. There’s that word again!

TO TELL THE TRUTH

To tell you the truth, I didn’t find a lot. I found lists of the top book boyfriends extolling the afore mentioned criteria, but not any serious research.

I found articles on why women love bad boys.  That might correlate. Being able to love a bad boy on the page would be much easier and safer than loving one in real-life.

I did find one item of real research entitled, “Research of Mass Media Effects on Individuals and Society” by Mary Lou Galician, 2009.  It wasn’t directly aimed at book boyfriends or the women who read them, but it did have some things to say in general about romanticism and it helped me clarify obsession.

The author points out that at the obsessive extreme, ” romantic relationships are a form of addiction”.  This obsession results in, “disabling attachment filled with anxiety, fantasy,and over dependence”.  She labels this as , ” false love syndrome” which is mythical and stereotypical .  Real love she points out is about shared goals and commitment. Real love is “productive,enlarging and joyful” .  Good things to know.

I GUESS I HAVE TO GUESS

Due to a lack of documented research or my ability to find it, I have come to the conclusion I have to make a hypotheses.  My best guess based on my experience and observation.

WHY I LOVE JAMMF

I guess I do kinda blame Diana.  She didn’t write a romance. Instead, she wrote a love story. As a result, she created a character with character and substance.  Jamie isn’t a book boyfriend. No, rather, I find him to be as close to the real thing, a man, as I’ve ever read.  He isn’t perfect, but he does exemplify a man with values, integrity and the ability to love.  I believe Ms. Gabaladon has written a character worthy of my admiration. I recognize a good thing when I see it!  I know he isn’t real and I know he doesn’t love me back.  But, I do think he is a man worth emulating and I think men could do far worse than learn a thing or two from Jamie Fraser.

I’m not unhappy with my life, but I do enjoy the escape from the everyday Ms. Gabaldon’s books offer.  I think it’s ok to live In her world for awhile. After all, she does <g> .  I find it healthy.  It challenges me mentally and emotionally.  However, I am on the look out for the obsession part! I laughingly say I’m obsessed, but I don’t think I’ve bought my ticket for Crazytown train just yet.

I’m sure there are woman out there desperately unhappy and looking for an unrealistic love.  But, most of the women I know understand the difference between fictional and real. And sometimes the fantasy helps when real life sucks. If you want to know what I really think of James Fraser read my article on this site called, “He’s a Man and That’s No Small Thing”. It’s the one used for back-up info in the alpha book boy friend contest.

And, oh…can you help me out?  I’m doing a little research.  Do you have book boy friends? Do you love JAMMF?  Why?  I really want to know!

What’s going on here?….where is JAMIE!!!

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imageI know I risk being called an Outpouter by writing this, but here goes. If I was Claire I’d be more interested in Dougal.  At least the Dougal in Outlander Starz.  That guy is interesting, complex and sexy.  Certainly, Claire finds him irritating, but he definitely is a strong principled man.  Jamie? Who? Oh, the kid. Yeah, he’s cute.

Within minutes of episode 5 credits rolling across the screen, I tweeted my confusion and concern. I don’t understand!  How could you screw up THIS relationship? Right now I’m not believing Claire could love this guy.  The show has taken all of this time to develop Claire as this smart self-assured woman and now she is going to fall in love with THIS Jamie.  Not that Claire, not this Jamie. Unless something drastically changes, I’m not buying it.  Being a cute gallant puppy dog wouldn’t be enough to catch this Claire and make her choose to stay in the past.

Where did this go wrong? Where is Jamie’s personality? More importantly, where is his spirit?  I can’t help but feel that this Jamie needs to get a spine. While reading, I always had the sense that Jamie was an extremely mature young man who indeed picked his battles, but enough is enough!  I miss the scene where Jamie confronts Dougal RIGHT AFTER he rips off his shirt. I also miss the scene that follows.  There was friendship that happened in that scene between Jamie and Claire and appreciation for Jamie’s skills. Claire got to see Jamie in a different more interesting light.  How did we go from steaming hot self-assured “je suis prest” Jamie to “he’s my uncle” just go to bed Jamie?

Ok, so…all the folks who have seen episode 6 rave about it.  My understanding is that the two men featured in this episode will be Dougal and Black Jack. I’m sure I’m going to continue to fall in love with these performances. But, here’s the rub. The wedding is episode 7.  Is there going to be enough time to fix this? It’s my hope that Dougal’s “reference” scene really is.  Maybe some of Jamie’s strong character can be restored by explaining the flogging. I’m scared that every character in the series Claire, Dougal, Black Jack, Murtagh, Rupert, Ned,….will be developed to perfection (and they have) and  Jamie  will remain the cute kid who Claire has sex with! Arrrgh!

Episode 5 had some wonderful exposition, Culloden, the Black Watch, the Redcoats.  And, Scotland indeed became a character. But, I was left disappointed because of the sorely missing fix of Jamie’s guts, spirit and wit. I need to believe this is a guy Claire can’t help but fall in love with.  There is nothing wrong with Sam’s performance. He’s doing the best with what he’s been given. But, that’s my point! What are they giving him! I want book Jamie! He’s a man to be reckoned with and…love.

So, here is what is saving me from going into deep dark fangirl depression. Diana likes it.  I know it’s an adaptation and not my book and there is a new episode next week. So, I’m holding out hope that the King of Men arrives…soon!

 

Jamie Fraser….portrait of a father…in Outlander

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Outlander

Spoilers: this post contains info about the entire series

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Every year, Father’s Day is celebrated in the U.S. on a Sunday in June. This day is often filled with family get-togethers, BBQ and gifts of some really ugly ties!  This wonderful family day can be bittersweet for many including myself. Memories of imperfect relationships, complicated emotions, and regret tend to rear their ugly heads.  It took me years of living and reflection to be able to look at this particular relationship with any semblance of objectivity. I had to become an adult with adult children before I could truly begin to understand my father.  I’ve heard people say, when discussing parental dysfunction, “he did the best he could with what he had”. I’m not sure that was true in my fathers’ case. It seems to me he had been given a lot to work with. I have decided that ultimately sometimes people make poor decisions and the consequences for themselves and those around them can be devasting. I’ve also discovered that it is difficult to live a healthy happy life without being able to let go and forgive. My father was a human being whose self-serving choices left his family to suffer and I’ve forgiven him.

My image of what a good father is had to come from somewhere other than my own home. Folks who grow-up in homes like mine very often have no idea what is normal. This is our experience and something or someone has to come along to alter our perception. For me, it was books. I found examples of good fathers and nurturing families in between the pages of books.

I learned from books the lessons I should have learned from my own father. I learned that fathers could be trusted. I learned that fathers are protective. I learned that fathers can be spiritual and emotional leaders in a family. I learned that fathers aren’t afraid to tell you when you are wrong. I’ve learned that fathers will walk beside you and be there when you need them. I learned that fathers delight in your accomplishments. I learned that fathers will listen to you and love you just because you are you.

I found Jamie Fraser of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series to be the embodiment of these characteristics.  When developing the character of Jamie, Diana Gabaldon decided to make him strong, loyal, trust-worthy, spiritual, and evidently she decided it would be an interesting twist to make him long-suffering.  Here is a man who would make an excellent father and yet, his opportunity to be a father is constantly being denied him!

Jamie truly believes that children are a blessing and treats his children as a gift from God.  Faith, Brianna, William, Jem, and wee Mandy all have a piece of Jamie’s heart. But, all to often, a piece of that heart is missing and leaves him grieving.  Absentee fathers are a very much lamented situation, but absentee children?  Leave it to Diana to give us a different perspective.  What happens when a man who longs for children is denied? He has very complicated feelings and relationships.  Let’s take a look.

Faith: During Claire’s first pregnancy she asks Jamie if he is happy about the baby.  He responds that he is fearful and, “yet when I think of you with our child at your breast…”I feel I’ve gone as hollow as a soap bubble and I might burst with joy”.  This is a man who wants his child, but he is denied the opportunity to even be present when his wife miscarries.  The reader has to wonder how much guilt Jamie carries with him over the loss of this child despite Claire’s reassurance that she probably would have lost the babe anyway.   As we know from later books, Jamie never forgets his first born.

William: Jamie, now an indentured servant, is blackmailed into bed by Geneva Dunsany.  She marries and William is born the legal son of another man, an earl.  Jamie is a father, but cannot claim his son without ruining the lives of many.  Jamie’s son is orphaned and yet, Jamie still cannot claim him. William is remitted to the care of his grandparents and aunt and Jamie is offered an end to his indenture for his role in saving William from the elder Ellesmere.  After years without freedom, Jamie could once again be his own man and go home, but he chooses to stay near his son despite his never being able to reveal William’s paternity. Who could forget Jamie describing his sneaking a peek through a window to get a small look at his son.  He is awed.

Through the early years, we see him interact with wee William. He becomes a role model to his son despite the difference in their stations.  He cares for, spends time with and teaches William.  In a very real way, Jamie is a “father-figure” to little Willie.  In my opinion, Jamie was as a good of a father to William as he could possibly be.  Jamie made a decision that resulted in the enrichment of both of their lives.  Eventually, William’s resemblance to Jamie places them both in danger.  I know that it is difficult for the modern reader to understand why Jamie just doesn’t tell people he is Willie’s father. It’s a different time.  His son is an Earl and as a result has all the advantages that come with his station. Do you take that away from him?  Do you label him a bastard? Do you cause the Dunsanys to be shamed over something you did?  Jamie believes it is his fault their daughter died, so can he now take away their grandson? No. Complicated and heart-wrenching. With the assurance that Lord John Gray will make an appropriate and caring step-father, Jamie makes the sacrifice to leave his son.

Later, there is another scene where Jamie gets to spend time with William. They are in the mountains at Fraser’s’ Ridge and like the other times Jamie is with William, he must be careful not to reveal the truth.  Williams’s aunt/mother has died and his step-father is ill. My heart broke for Jamie when he surreptitiously offers comfort and enfolds William in his arms. He goes to sleep holding the son he cannot claim. Fatherhood continues to be denied to this wonderful and caring man.

The explosive scene in 17 Chestnut Street between William, Lord John and Jamie was gut-wrenching.  I wanted to reach through the pages and tell Will that Jamie is a good man!  I want to tell him there is nothing to be ashamed of because his father is a king among men.  I want to say don’t you remember Mac? He must because he still wears the wooden rosary Jamie gave him. I can hear the longing in Jamie’s voice when he tells William he is a dirty stinking Papist. But, like other children who discover they are not who they thought they were, Will isn’t easily pacified. He is angry and feels betrayed. Jamie never intended for William to know, but now that it’s here, he will deal with the repercussions even if it means his son will hate him. Further encounters with William only serve to reveal that Jamie is a man any son could admire. He remains true to his beliefs and will not speak ill of Will’s mother even when given the opening. The last scene between the two is amazing. Without saying the words Jamie tells Will he loves him. I was left wanting more of that relationship.  I want a father and son reunion.

Brianna: One the most poignant scenes I have ever read, in any book, is the scene where Jamie looks at Brianna’s pictures.  He is so moved by what he sees that he is unable to even hold the pictures steady.  With Claire’s help he makes it through the miracle of seeing the child he thought he’d lost forever.  He then turns to Claire and falls apart in her arms.  The depth of feeling revealed in that scene moves me to tears.  This father loves his daughter just because she exists. He has no expectations other than the opportunity to learn as much as he can about his beloved girl. “Draw her for me”, he asks Claire. He delights in hearing stories of Brianna his braw lass.

When Jamie is finally given the chance to be a father to Brianna she is an adult.  She comes from a different time with different social and cultural mores and has loved another man as her father. We see Jamie navigate his way through these complications.  Sometimes he gets it right and sometimes he doesn’t (Roger), but always he is motivated by his love and dedication to his child.   Who can forget Jamie taking his six foot daughter into his arms and crooning to her his love, reassurance, and protection.  I delighted in seeing the developing relationship between these two.  He finally gets to be the father he wants to be.

And then…..they all leave …for what he believes is forever.  I get a lump in my throat thinking about this and they aren’t my children!

Probably the most convincing evidence that Jamie is a wonderful father is the relationship he has with children that are not of his blood.  Fergus, Lizzy, Joan and Marsali to name a few.  The wedding scene between Fergus and Marsali when Jamie gives Fergus his name? Jamie pulling Fergus from the pool and cradling him in his arms?  Fergus explains it best after he is told he might have a father looking for him.  He states that he believes every orphan dreams of being the lost child of a great man. He realized he didn’t need to dream because he was already the son of a great man.

Diana’s story gives me hope that people can choose to be different than their examples. Brian Fraser chose to be a good father as he did not have a loving father of his own. As a result, Jamie was the son of a great man.  Brian’s choice and guidance will affect generations to come. We would all be so lucky to have a father like Brian or Jamie Fraser.

I believe books can do more than entertain. They can help give us different perspective, help us heal, and give us wonderful examples…of loving caring fathers.

 

Photo credit to Sylvia

 

Jamie Fraser…… A life of faith

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Good morning, I decided to repost this blog for Easter and wanted to comment on how timely the issue of a personal relationship with God feels to me today.  In the current political climate, I have become very discouraged and disheartened by the intolerance being displayed by those who call themselves Christians.  “They shall know us by our Love” and We are all saved by Grace alone”.

 

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drawing credit to Sylvia

 

If you think that Outlander is a great read because of its  romance and adventure you would be right.  If you love the medical and historical details, I’m right there with you!   In fact, every time I think about the story, I find something else to appreciate. But, in my opinion, Diana’s greatest  gift to the reader is a look at human nature.  Her books contain so many characters with so many different perspectives and choices to make.  A reader commented that the author  has created somewhere over 600 characters in the Outlander series?  From orphaned identical twins to the King of France, the stories give us a look at people of different stages and walks of life.  We’ve read about births, deaths, murders, marriages, wars,  and once even a resurrection!  It  wasn’t a  very long resurrection, but hey, it was cool.

One of the aspects of human nature that Diana includes in her stories is religion/faith.  I found the need to use a slash because for many religion and faith are two sides of the same coin.  I’m not so sure about this and I think there is evidence in the series to suggest Diana might think likewise.  Ms. Gabaldon’s portrayal of “men and women of God” is  a microcosm of the religious world at large. Her priests and ministers range the spectrum between legalistic to philosophical.  Her Catholics and Protestants are at odds and her natives in tune with  the natural world.

Claire’s issues with faith and religion make perfect sense to me.  She is a pragmatic woman who has travelled the world and experienced different cultures.  Can anyone say standing stones?  As a time “traveller” she of all people would have the right to believe in things unseen.  However,  Claire is also a woman of science.  Because of all these seemingly conflicting variables I believe our Claire’s faith is pretty fluid.  Adoration, witchcraft or science, she’ll use whatever she needs to get the job done.  Jamie, on the other hand, is a different story.

As a teenager, I lived in a low income housing complex. Our “neighborhood” consisted of a circle of small attached two story condominiums. We lived literally on top of one another. The walls were thin and the street was loud. You knew your neighbors because you saw and heard them everyday in a kind of forced intimacy. While we lived there, my mother worked two jobs and that left us five kids with a lot of free time and freedom. We went where we wanted, when we wanted. A couple of doors down from us lived a young family, the Harmons. The father was into a lot of the same “nerdy” things my brothers liked and they would spend time there building slot cars and trading baseball cards.  When Mom was home it would often be my job to go “find” my brothers.  I knew where they were and would go bring them home from the Harmons. This wasn’t something I looked forward to; the Harmon’s made me uncomfortable. Like most of the residents of the complex, they didn’t have a lot. They dined off a picnic table and went to sleep on mattresses laid on the floor. They were happy and generous people that were always looking out for somebody. I never knew who I would find in their house; talking, drinking coffee or eating sandwiches, but it was usually someone I would have crossed the street to avoid. They shared whatever they had and that wasn’t much. And…I think Jesus lived there. They talked about him and to him constantly. I kind of expected to turn around and find him sitting on the couch. It sort of freaked me out. I would visit and then not come back for weeks.  Over time, my visits got more frequent, I would listen, watch and process. They had something and I found myself fascinated. They weren’t religious people, they didn’t even go to church, but they were people with faith. They never preached their beliefs, they just…lived them.  When I think of Jamie’s faith, I think of the Harmons.

Like Claire, Jamie’s faith as been shaped by where he has lived and what he has experienced.  There are scholarly tomes written to the idea that Christianity in Jamie’s part of the world is different.  The term “Celtic Christianity”  is bandied about and argued over.   The idea in contention is that the legends and myths prevalent in Jamie’s part of the world have created a unique brand of Christian faith.  I’m not prepared to write a dissertation on the validity of “Celtic Christianity”, but I’m prepared to  write what I’ve observed about Jamie’s brand of Christianity. Jamie has been raised with stories of the old folk and the idea that the natural world around him contains a divine essence. His world is full of ancient and sacred places; holy wells, fairy stones, cairns, etc.  The mystical and magical are the lenses through which his people see the world.  Once Christianity’s popularity grew in the Celtic world the two belief systems eventually blended. There is actually a term for this phenomenon, Syncretism.  In this case, Syncretism is the acceptance of previous beliefs or traditions of Celtic paganism and then the melding of these with Roman Catholic Christian beliefs and traditions.  We see evidence of this blend in Outlander and more specifically in Jamie’s expression of his faith.  He gives reverence to both simultaneously.   Quite frankly, I find Jamie’s brand of Christianity to be…beautiful and not at all disconcerting.  It fits.

It has been my experience that often higher education tends to pollute or negate the idea of a personal Christian faith.   That does not appear to be true for Jamie.  We know that his studies in University of Paris included philosophy and that he continues to read and discuss the topic throughout his life.  He is a learned  philosophical man that has chosen to remain true to his Christian beliefs.  His Gaelic expressions of thankfulness and supplication acknowledge God’s role in his personal experience of the world.  Jamie is thoughtful and prays over the decisions in his life.  His choices are always colored by his Catholicism and his God.   And, I would add, he exhibits the fruits of the Spirit:

  • Love:  Is there any doubt that Jamie loves?  His family, his clan, the prisoners, Fergus, Marsali , Joan, Murtagh, etc.  And, Claire?  Jamie believes that she is God’s gift to him and that on judgement day his love for Claire will be his one defense to balance anything he may have done poorly, “…ye gave me a rare woman and Lord I loved her well”.
  • Gentleness:  Jamie describes himself as a bloody man, and yet, time after time we see his gentleness.  I think of his time in the stable with wee Hamish explaining the facts of life and scene where he is rocking a devastated Bree in his arms.
  • Faithfulness:  Once Jamie’s word is given he remains faithful to his course.  His promises are kept.  Time and time again.
  • Self-Control:  A virgin at 23?  That alone should prove the point, but I think of his promise to Claire not to kill Jack Randall.
  • Kindness: They say a person’s character can be measured by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.  Jamie is kind to those less fortunate and the weak.
  • Long suffering:  I wish I could handle suffering like Jamie!  He does not complain.  In fact, I can only remember a few times he expressed disappointment or frustration.
  • Joy:  Jamie is grateful for all that he has and finds joy in what he had been given.
  • Goodness:  What is it that motivates Jamie?  Being the best man he can be, being a man his “fathers” can be proud of.  There are some that might argue that Jamie IS a bloody man and a murderer.  I point out that he does no violence with intent to murder that is not in defense of his family or country.  I believe there is provision for this behavior.

Jamie’s faith sustains him.   It is what shapes his identity as a man.   His faith is as natural to him as breathing.  Like the Harmons of my childhood, Jamie doesn’t preach, he just lives. To me this is what religion should be about and I think Jamie gives witness to what a Christian life is and that is living with faith.