Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at what works for this bestselling story.
Chapter 33: The Watch
Summary: A few days after the birth, Ian comes riding home on a strange horse with news that The Watch has taken Jamie. As they also took Ian’s wooden leg, it’s up to Claire and Jenny to get Jamie back somehow.
Despite having just given birth, Jenny leads the hunt. Apparently as a child, she demanded Jamie and Ian teach her the skills they learned, like tracking. She isn’t an expert, but she knows enough to spot Jamie’s and The Watch’s trail. Claire and she take a shortcut across country to cut them off.
Unfortunately, when they catch up with The Watch, they see that they have no prisoner. Fearful Jamie might be dead, Claire helps Jenny ambush one of The Watch, tie him to a tree, and demand answers at the point of a pistol. Apparently, Jamie threw himself off a horse as they forded a stream. The Watch shot at him and he never surfaced. They assume he’s dead.
Leaving the man to work his own way free of his bonds, the women return to the stream to search for any sign of Jamie. Jenny is convinced that Jamie isn’t dead. He’s too good a swimmer to have drowned. They finally find evidence of him on the stream’s bank and discover his trail, parts of which are marked with blood.
Because of the baby, Jenny can’t stay to help Claire track Jamie down. They figure Jamie won’t return to Lallybroch because The Watch will have sent someone there to keep an eye out, just in case. However, Murtagh shows up to lend a hand in hunting down Jamie.
Murtagh also brings news that Jenny has a new kitchen maid, the wife of MacNab, the now widow MacNab. Her husband was burned in a fire, and the ashes now float fresh on the wind. Jenny and Claire deduce that the truth is that MacNab is the one who turned Jamie into The Watch, and that Murtagh and Ian took their own vengeance for this.
Jenny asks Claire to walk with her the first little bit of her journey, leaving Murtagh at the fire. She tells Claire that Jamie told her Claire might tell her things about the future and she must do what Claire says. She asks if there’s anything she ought to know. Trying not to be too obvious about what she does know, Claire tells Jenny to plant potatoes and any other crop that stores well for a long time. She says to sell off any land that isn’t productive for gold. In two years, there will be famine and war. Jenny agrees to do these things without question.
Writer Comments: Jenny is such a tough, capable character, it would be fun reading a book about her. She certainly has a flair, and I could picture perfectly the watchman waking up with her holding a pistol in his face. These are admirable traits in a supporting character, and they lend to the rough and tumble highland feel of the story.
Additionally, Gabaldon strikes a startling contrast here between the Claire at the end of the previous part and the Claire now. Or, rather, perhaps I should say she makes a notable distinction between how people react to Claire. Part Four ends with Claire nearly getting killed for being a witch. Part Five concludes with a supporting character requesting Claire demonstrate talents that might normally get her burned at the stake. This says a great deal about the other characters, but it also offers us readers a good contrast, showing us what could happen to Claire versus what does now. Too, it reveals the sort of courage Claire must muster to risk speaking out. Or, perhaps, it simply reveals how much she cares for Jamie’s family.
Contrasts are very important in fiction. The protagonist and antagonist are contrasts. Within themselves, characters should show contrasting traits, desires, and motivations to make them interesting. The opening and conclusion of a story should be contrasted sharply to demonstrate growth. Here, you can see that contrasts can also exist in plot points. Such things help keep a story interesting and dynamic.