Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we explore what makes a bestselling story work.
Chapter 18: Raiders in the Rocks
Summary: Claire and her Scottish companions depart from the inn. On the road, squeezed between Jamie and Dougal, they discuss Captain Randall’s reaction to finding out he would get Claire for interrogation purposes. Whatever Randall said, Dougal thinks it too vulgar for a lady’s ears, even Claire’s. However, Dougal thinks it unlikely that Randall will pursue Claire further as she’s now Colum’s niece.
Writer Comments: I doubt Randall is going to give up on Claire quite so easily. Perhaps there is no obvious advantage to Randall pursuing Claire--or rather there are too many risks--but Gabaldon has worked too hard to build Randall up as a terror to discard him so easily. Even if Randall doesn’t immediately come after Claire, I have little doubt that they’ll meet again.
Summary: That night, they camp on rocks. They’re too close to the border of MacKenzie lands to risk venturing into a more comfortable campsite. Security is more important now than comfort.
While telling stories around the campfire, each of the MacKenzie men starts finding excuses to get nearer their weapons. Jamie, under cover of nipping Claire’s earlobe, whispers that the horses are nervous, meaning someone is near. He tells Claire to hide the instant battle begins.
A surge of screaming, rioting Scots roar into their campsite. Claire darts into the cleft of nearby rocks, Jamie’s dirk in her fist. She hides while the battle gets into full swing. The attackers make off with two of the horses, three bags of grain, and one of the MacKenzie men. They nearly make off with Dougal and Jamie as well, but Murtagh shoots one of them and Jamie functionally berserks on the rest.
After the battle, Claire patches everyone up, then as the rest drift off to sleep, Jamie unleashes his pent up excitement through more amorous means. At first, Claire is horrified at the idea of doing anything intimate so near to twenty sleeping men, but Jamie swiftly persuades her that it’s nothing to be overly concerned about.
Writer Comments: There’s a great line in this scene when Jamie is coaxing Claire into making love.
Twenty-seven years of propriety were no match for several hundred thousand years of instinct. While my mind might object to being taken on a bare rock next to several sleeping soldiers, my body plainly considered itself the spoils of war and was eager to complete the formalities of surrender. -- page 251
The first sentence is my favorite because it so succinctly and wittily summarizes Claire’s internal struggle, state of mind, and the events of the moment. It also helps make palatable an act that most in our modern times would find disturbing. The second sentence is good as well, further expanding on the meaning of the first, but it’s the first I consider most brilliant. Such bits of summary are highly useful to the author. They help keep prose punchy and clever.
Beyond the phrasing itself though, Gabaldon handles a challenging subject here. In the modern world, any sort of sexual contact in public is highly taboo and can potentially get one in legal trouble depending on the exact nature of such contact. However, Gabaldon is writing in a different time and place, a time when our modern concepts of propriety do not fully apply. This is a challenge for Claire, but it’s also a challenge for Gabaldon’s readers. Hence, she’s wise in addressing the internal struggle directly. With Claire, we can face the challenge. Especially when dealing with a touchy subject, it helps tremendously to have a character through which readers can wrestle the morality of the matter. It doesn’t mean readers will agree or fully understand, but it helps makes it more palatable for readers.
In this scene, Gabaldon faces another challenge. Claire is relatively inactive. She watches the battle from her niche in the rocks. Unfortunately, this combined with the abundance of being verbs, which create a further layer of distance between the action and readers, creates a scene that lacks the intensity it would be capable of in other circumstances. But part of that is the nature of 1st person point of view. It’s great for some things like intimately experiencing a character, but it does have its drawbacks, as do all other choices an author can make for the construction of a story.
Summary: The next morning, Jamie and the other men decide it’s time Claire learned to use the dirk and defend herself. They spend all day teaching her to fight, attacking her in mock combat and allowing her to attack them. Jamie even helps construct a dummy for her to practice thrusting the dirk into, complete with ribs made of wood. By the end of the day, however, they declare her good enough to be a novice knife fighter.
In the one break Claire has, Dougal asks her how she and Jamie are taking being married, and she expresses a greater concern for how Colum will take the news. Dougal doesn’t seem to think Colum will react with nearly the fury Claire fears.
Writer Comments: I suppose this means Claire will get herself in the middle of a battle later on in the book. She’ll undoubtedly need to thrust that dirk into someone. Maybe it’ll be Captain Randall.
One nice thing about this story is that Gabaldon doesn’t make Claire capable of fighting right off. I’ve seen too many stories--especially speculative fiction--where the characters were skilled combatants even when it didn’t entirely make sense. Claire has to learn this skill, and she isn’t some prodigy at it either. She must struggle, and even after a lot of training and practice, she still isn’t good. This bit of realism is nice.
Further, here and in other parts of the book, it’s clear that Gabaldon did a lot of research. She goes into detail about dirk fighting, pistols, and other combat paraphernalia. In other parts of the story, she gives detailed information on medicine, dress, food, and other such subjects. It’s clear that Gabaldon did a lot of research, and the payoff is that it makes the story seem more real. Too, Gabaldon wisely doesn’t lecture her audience on the various subjects; she simply includes them. This keeps the information interesting and prevents it from bogging down the story.
Thank you for joining me for this week’s 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.