Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we look at what makes this bestselling novel work. As chapter 25 is long, I’ve broken it into two parts. This week, we cover the second part, where Claire is in the midst of being tried for witchcraft.
Chapter 25: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live
Summary: After spending an uncomfortable night locked in the inn’s storeroom, Claire is dragged out again to face a second day of judgment before the village mob and the ecclesiastical judges. As the judges can’t decide the innocence or guilt of Geilie and Claire based on previous presented evidence, they decide to test the women through trial by water.
Claire doesn’t realize what this means until she and Geilie are marched to the loch and told to strip. Claire asks why, and the process is explained to her. Then she flat out refuses to comply and be drowned. In response, the judges order her whipped. The mob hauls her back to town, tears a good chunk of her clothes off her, ties her to a tree, and the town locksman proceeds to whip her. Though, she realizes after a few strikes that he’s trying to do so a mercifully as he can.
In the midst of her trial, Jamie stormed in amongst the crowd and demands her release. The mob grabs him, trying to stop him from saving her. He manages to get a hand free and tosses the crucifix Colum gave her about her head. The sight of it sobers up some of the crowd, but the judges are incensed that Jamie would dare interfere. He has her cut down and sweeps her to him while drawing his sword in her defense.
Then he proceeds to insist that since the crucifix, which is made of jet, does not burn her, she’s clearly not a witch. This throws the onlookers a bit, but they’re still too eager for blood.
Then Geilie steps forward and confesses that Claire isn’t a witch, but she is. She confesses to murdering her husband by witchcraft and to laying a spell on the changeling child so that the real child wouldn’t come back to its family. Then, to everyone’s horror, she proceeds to summon her master on the wind amongst the villagers, to shriek eerily, and spin. At one point, she stops and meets Claire’s eyes. She mouths, “Run,” and continues her dramatic charade. She rends her gown to reveal herself, the growing mound of her stomach where her child grows too. Claire is too stunned to move, but Jamie wrenches her away and makes for freedom.
But just as Claire is yanked away from the mob, she spots a mark on Geilie’s arm, the mark of sorcery in this time, but what is actually, in Claire’s time, the scar of a smallpox vaccination.
They narrowly escape, and Jamie takes Claire into the woods to hide. After a bit, he says that he must ask something and she must tell him the truth, even if she’s never told him the truth until that point. He asks if she is indeed a witch. Claire is so startled by this she asks how he could even ask that, then races away into a clearing, throws her arms about a tree, and begins cackling hysterically.
Jamie comes to her, and she realizes she better make herself sound more sane. Forcibly, she stops laughing, but she can’t stop the tirade than then issues forth. She says that, yes, she must be a witch according to him. There are diseases she cannot catch. She knows the future. She knows all sorts of things others don’t. This leads into a disjointed, frightful spewing of the truth, that she comes from the future, that she was born in 1918.
When at last she stops, she falls to the ground and curls up crying, certain she’s lost Jamie. But after a bit, he gathers her into his arms and insists that he believes her. He has her explain everything, and she does. After, he says it would be easier if she were only a witch.
Writer Comments: I didn’t see the smallpox vaccination scar on Geilie’s arm coming. However, I had exactly the reaction an author wants a reader to have: surprise, then “Oh, how did I not see that coming.” I knew there was something about Geilie that might make her aware that Claire comes from a different time. I didn’t know how she might know this, but it never occurred to me that it was because she too had come back in time. Perhaps it should have. Regardless, Gabaldon gave clues, and looking back, I can see them. A good author should surprise her readers, but not drop such surprises out of nowhere.
Addtionally, Geilie continues to intrigue me. She claimed to be a patriot earlier in the book. Now, I wonder if she’s actually trying to alter history so that Scotland escapes fully becoming part of Britain. It would explain a great many of her actions. Too, I wonder if the fact she’s pregnant will spare her for at least a little while.
Additionally, Gabaldon does something significant here: She redeems Geilie. Earlier in the chapter, Geilie confessed some awful things to Claire, including murder. To be honest, as a reader, I kind of thought she deserved to die. However, the fact that she’d sacrifice her life to save Claire speaks volumes. It makes me hope she’ll live. No character should be simplistic. All people are complex. They have elements that are repulsive and aspects that we can admire. For fiction that grabs, conflicts like this in a character’s personality must be present to retain reader interest.
Beyond that, I’d like to share the best line of this entire section, spoken by Jamie as he comes to rescue Claire and defies the mob and the ecclesiastical judges:
“Do ye dare to draw arms against the justice of God?” snapped the tubby little judge.
Jamie drew the sword completely, with a flash of steel, then thrust it point-first into the ground, leaving the hilt quivering with the force of the blow.
“I draw it in defense of this woman, and the truth,” he said. “If any here be against those two, you’ll answer to me, and then God, in that order.” -- page 398
It’s stuff like this that makes a hero like him just plain awesome.
Summary: Jamie and Claire travels for a ways, keeping off the road when they hear people coming near. Then Claire realizes as she sees Craigh na Dun on the horizon what Jamie intends.
Jamie takes her to the circle of standing stones and insists she must return ot her own time. She doesn’t belong in his. But the very thought fills Claire with dread. She resists, but Jamie insists she show him how she managed the trick before, and he forces her to go through with it. She places her hand on the rock, which still buzzes like it did the first time, and starts to go through.
Suddenly, she’s collapsed and Jamie is above her, frightened she’s hurt or nearly dead. He confesses to having grabbed her and yanked her back when he saw an expression of absolute horror on her face as she started to slip away. He then realizes that everything she told him really is true.
But when Claire recovers from the shock, he insists she must go back. When she can’t quite manage to make herself, he walks away, saying he’ll be waiting in the abandoned croft nearby to make sure she’s safe.
Just as he’s about to disappear, Claire calls to him and warns him not to join Prince Charlie’s uprising, because, if he does, like all the Scots who fight with Charlie, he’ll die. Jamie looks stunned, but manages to walk away regardless.
Claire spends the entire rest of the day trying to convince herself to go through the rock and back to Frank. She tries to reason herself into it. She tries to use emotion to push herself to go. At last, she demands that duty should insist she return to Frank. By when night comes, she’s still sitting in the past and cannot bear the thought of leaving Jamie.
She goes to him in the croft and finds him asleep with dried tears on his cheeks. She slips in beside him, and when he wakes, he asks why she stayed. But she can’t quite answer except that she had to.
The next morning, filled with fresh purpose and life, they ride away. Part of Claire grieves for Frank, but a good part of her rejoices in having chosen Jamie. Jamie insists that finding the strength to let her go was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. And now that he’s done it, he supposes it’s time to do the second hardest thing, to return home to Lallybroch.
Writer Comments: Such a touching scene! Honestly, this chapter may be the best in the book so far.
I have a feeling that Claire, despite her current intentions, will one day return to Craigh na Dun with the intention of returning to the world of 1945. Perhaps it will be to escape something. Perhaps it’ll be out of pain or sorrow. Perhaps it will be to utilize some necessary modern mechanism. (I have an image of her pregnant slipping through the cleft in the stone because she knows modern medicine is the only way to save her child.) Regardless, rather than close the possibility of Claire returning to her present, as Claire thinks herself, Gabaldon has actually thrown open the doors of possibility. We now know that Claire can probably return to 1945 whenever she wishes, and that may be a very dangerous thing. It’s certainly an intriguing one.
Further, Gabaldon utilizes a trick that really allows her to get down to Claire’s deepest desires. She gives Claire everything she supposedly wants, namely the ability and permission to return to her own time. Claire should leap at the chance, but instead, she hesitates. In this, Gabaldon removes any barrier save the truth of what holds Claire in the past, her love for Jamie. She strips Claire emotionally bare and allows us to see truth. As in life, choices are what define characters in fiction. One of the most interesting of these is when a character is presented with everything they wanted. It allows us to see growth. It allows for story complications. It’s an emotional and satisfying journey.