Welcome to this read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, where we examine the cogs that help make this book an enduring success. To catch up or review previous parts of this read and previous writing techniques Gabaldon employs, click here.
Chapter 6: Colum’s Hall
Summary: Claire’s first night at the castle, she joins Colum MacKenzie and his family for dinner. His young son is astounded that she forgets to say grace, and she recovers by asking the boy to say it for her. Beyond that, Claire finds the meal relatively manageable, even though they serve herring, a dish she’s growing quite weary of eating. During the course of the meal, she inquires after Jamie, who has made no appearance. Colum and Dougal exchange an intriguing bit about the young Scot. It would seem that Jamie has not yet earned the trust of the MacKenzies.
Writer Comments: This scene is short. However, its brevity serves to highlight its main purpose, to reveal that Jamie isn’t the solid pillar of the household that he might have first appeared. While Dougal seems to generally trust him, considering how he treated Jamie in their race back to MacKenzie lands, something more is going on, and it appears Jamie’s future with the MacKenzies is somewhat in doubt. Because Gabaldon gives this piece of information framed in a scene that otherwise has little of immediate or obvious significance, we know it’s important.
Summary: The next morning at Hall, where the MacKenzie dispenses justice, Claire is officially and publically offered the hospitality of Castle Leoch until her English relations can be apprised of here whereabouts and safe transport arranged. However, by saying her English relations rather than her French, keeps her under suspicion.
Afterward, a father presents his teenage daughter for punishment for loose behavior. The MacKenzie’s executioner/punisher steps forward to beat her with his thick leather belt as her sentence. However, Jamie steps forward and offers to take her punishment for her. This causes quite a stir as only a man of her clan can do such a thing, and Jamie is not a MacKenzie. However, Colum allows it. But, as Jamie is a man, he’s allowed to choose fists rather than a whipping. The executioner beats him artfully, causing plenty of pain without much real damage.
One finished, Jamie leaves the hall, and Claire chases after him. She helps him stanch his bleeding lip and asks why he did such a thing. Jamie explains that, as the girl was young, she would have been humiliated and had a hard time recovering from the incident. He, on the other hand, just has a couple of days of bruises to deal with. Mrs. Fitz arrives with her own medicines and explains to Claire the proper use of leaches and willow bark tea.
Writer Comments: Heroes naturally are required to do foolish, brave things. They defend the innocent, protect the weak, and generally make themselves stand out with acts of bravery, kindness, and courage. In this scene Gabaldon firmly establishes Jamie as a hero. And it’s these heroic qualities that endear Jamie to readers’ hearts.
Summary: The next day, Claire finds Mrs. Fitz in the kitchen and asks about Jamie, as she intends to check on his wound. Mrs. Fitz send a boy off to find him and leads Claire out to the herb garden. The boy returns with word that Jamie won’t come because he feels fine, but Mrs. Fitz has her own plans to work around that. After Claire demonstrates a decent knowledge of the plants, Mrs. Fitz sets her to planting garlic and tending the plants until lunch. Then she gives Claire lunch for Jamie, for according to her reckoning, a young man like Jamie isn’t likely to turn down food, even if he is avoiding doctoring.
Claire takes Jamie’s lunch down and finds him in the middle of taming a mare. He gladly accepts the food and tells her about the time he ate grass during the winter because he had nothing else. She’s horrified and fascinated. He finishes his story and his meal and is off to work again before Claire realizes she missed checking his wounds.
Writer Comments: This scene shows the second time Jamie almost says something and cuts himself off quickly before altering his words to make them more general. Clearly, there’s more to him and his history than he’s letting on. However, Claire hasn’t seemed to realize this yet.
Concealing information from a point-of-view character while tipping off readers can be tricky. This is especially true when it comes to a narrative rendered in first person like Outlander. There are numerous tricks to tipping readers off while keeping the narrator ignorant, such as carefully or oddly worded description. However, here, Gabaldon employs perhaps the easiest. She uses dialogue. Jamie, the speaker, know what he’s saying and what he’s concealing. Because Claire hears his words just was the reader does, she and the reader can come to differing conclusions and observations. As a reader, I notice these two careful maneuverings in language. Claire doesn’t have to notice for them to be there.
Thank you for joining me for this chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next Monday. Until then, join me Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.
To see other books I’ve broken down for their fascinating stories and insights into writing, click here.