Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at what makes this bestselling story work. As, like chapter 24, chapter 25 is a bit long, I’m taking two weeks to cover it.
Chapter 25: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live
Summary: Claire and Geilie are thrown into a stinking, filthy pit of a cell to await trial. Rodents and other vermin slither across the floor, and only a scant bit of sunlight reaches them during the day. At night, it freezes, and she and Geilie are forced to huddle together for warmth.
But Geilie quickly becomes an uncomfortable companion. In the frightful dark, she confesses to Claire, without a hint of regret, that she murdered her husband, that it isn’t the jealous girl Laoghaire who’s carrying Dougal’s child, but herself, and that she sold Laoghaire the ill-wish that was placed in Claire’s bed. Too, she confesses to diverting her late husband’s money to Scotland’s cause, that she’s a Jacobite, and in her word, a patriot. All this she says with pride.
Claire is horrified, but at this dreaded time when she has no one else, Geilie is also her only companion and the one thing to help her in the dark and cold.
At one point, Claire manages to doze, only to wake when Geilie asks her if she loves Jamie, for Claire apparently calls out his name in her sleep. Knowing she’ll likely soon die and unable to lie to herself any longer, Claire confesses that she does.
Reader Comments: This scene is a beautiful mixture of contrasting emotions. I was right there with Claire, horrified as Geilie revealed her secrets. She’s clearly capable of such evil, yet some of it is comprehensible. At the same time, she’s such a dynamic character. It’s hard to imagine Gabaldon killing her off. She was kind to Claire sometimes, but then, she’s clearly not to be trusted.
Obviously my opinions of Geilie Duncan are muddled because she’s such a complex character. I’m sure this is Gabaldon’s intent, to make her readers feel torn in multiple directions when it comes to Geilie. This is particularly beneficial to this part of the story because it helps really draw in a reader. If a reader feels invested in a character and doesn’t know themselves whether they want that character to meet a fair or foul fortune, it creates greater tension. In my case, part of me wants Geilie to burn for her heartlessly murdering her husband, but she’s such an interesting character.
Summary: When the ecclesiastical judges come at last, Claire and Geilie are dragged from the hole and placed before them to hear their charges and the testimony of villager after villager that they are indeed witches. For the most part, the testimony is against Geilie, but a few bring compelling evidence against Claire. The woman whose baby Claire found on the hill comes forward to attest that she saw Geilie and Claire pick the child up and say spells over it, that a demon came in the dark--really Jamie--and in the morning, they found the child dead. The youth who saw the waterhorse with Claire claims she drew it from the deep to do her evil bidding, but the judges have him locked up for drunkenness that caused him to spout such nonsense. Father Bane, the village priest, accuses her of setting the pack of dogs on him, then cursing him. For evidence, he shows his wounded leg, which has turned very bad. Claire exclaims that he must get it treated immediately, for he has blood poisoning; otherwise, he’ll die. This, Father Bane turns as proof that she’s cursing him again.
Claire knows no help is coming. Jamie is away and cannot come. Because Geilie is carrying Dougal’s inconvenient child, Colum needs to get rid of her, and if Claire gets caught up in the middle, he’s not going to make one move to help her. But as things look bleakest, a man on horseback rides into the village. To Claire’s surprise, it isn’t Jamie, but Ned Gowen, the solicitor who accompanied them on their tour to collect rents, the same tour that led to Claire and Jamie’s marriage.
Ned offers to help Claire and proceeds to spend the next several hours, to dark in fact, monologuing about the law and precedent and boring everyone mindless. Many of the villagers, who were earlier hot for blood, wander off in search of more entertaining things to do than listen to the solicitor done on and on and on and. . .
By dark, the tactic has worked somewhat. Ned convinces the judges to allow Claire’s case to be considered separately from Geilie’s and arranges slightly better quarters for Claire. As he explains to her in their brief conference that night, he intends to play up the fact that she’s English and so therefore didn’t know any better than to get mixed up with Geilie. Too, if they can force the trial to last long enough, the hysteria will die down. Boredom will give Claire a better chance at survival. She’s still very much at risk, but it’s about the only chance she has.
Just as Ned is leaving, Claire asks if Colum sent him. Ned confesses that the laird didn’t, and that, rather, he came of his own accord.
Writer Comments: Ned has just shot up to my list of favorite characters in this book. He’s awesome. He deserves something very happy. This is true heroism and honor, though of a far different flavor than that associated with Jamie.
In this scene, Gabaldon must save Claire. After all, Claire is the point-of-view character, but to have Jamie come riding in with bravado would be cliche and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Instead, Gabaldon plays on reader expectations and gives the story a twist. Who would imagine that thin, little Ned Gowen would swoop in as Claire’s hero, his weapon of choice words that bore their every listener, even the heroine. It’s humorous and fun and different. Unexpected twists make a story stand out and come alive. Ned is completely unexpected, yet he makes perfect sense. However, it isn’t until this last bit when he confesses he came to Claire’s rescue for himself rather than on anyone’s orders that shoots him up to hero status.
When writing, play with reader expectations, throw curveballs that make perfect sense in hindsight, and infuse the story with larger than life qualities. Ned is boring and plain, yet he clearly has a heart of gold.