Friday, October 31, 2014

Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #11

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.  In honor of Halloween (or Samhain, or All Hallows' Eve), this is a collection of my favorite spooky, mysterious, and/or Halloween-related items from previous FFF posts.  Hope you enjoy it!

1) Here's one artist's conception of what a Nuckelavee looks like. (Drawing by Verdego at  Click on the picture for a bigger view.
“Jem,” she said, the thought occurring as they came even with him. “Do you know what a Nuckelavee is?”

Jem’s eyes went huge, and he clapped his hands over Mandy’s ears. Something with a hundred cold tiny feet skittered up Brianna’s back.

“Aye,” he said, his voice small and breathless.

“Who told you about it?” she asked, keeping her voice calm. She’d kill Annie MacDonald, she thought.

But Jem’s eyes slid sideways, as he glanced involuntarily over her shoulder, up at the broch.

“He did,” he whispered.

He?” she said sharply, and grabbed Mandy by the arm as the little girl wiggled free and turned furiously on her brother. “Don’t kick your brother, Mandy! Who do you mean, Jemmy?”

Jem’s lower teeth caught his lip.

“Him,” he blurted. “The Nuckelavee.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 21, "The Minister's Cat". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The following description of the Nuckelavee, from a site on the folklore of the Orkney Islands, sounds very close to the way the creature is described in ECHO:
From the few recorded descriptions of the Nuckelavee, we learn that his head was similar to that of a man only "ten times larger". He had an incredibly wide mouth that jutted out like a pig's snout and a single red eye that burned with a red flame.

Hairless, his body was also skinless, its entire surface appearing like raw and living flesh. It was said that his thick, black blood could be seen coursing through his veins, as his sinewy muscles writhed with every movement he made. His long ape-like arms hung down to the ground and from his gaping mouth spewed a foul, black reek.

All in all, not a pleasant sight to encounter on some lonely stretch of coastline.
Definitely not! <shudder> I can certainly understand why eight-year-old Jem was scared out of his wits at the prospect of encountering such a creature.

2) The fugu fish (pictured above, from Wikipedia) is apparently an essential ingredient in the creation of zombies, as we learned in this conversation between Lord John and Geillis Abernathy:
"Poison. That would be the afile powder? What sort of poison is it, do you know?”

Seeing the spark in her eye, he thanked the impulse that had led him to add, “Do you know?” to that question--for if not for pride, he thought she might not have told him. As it was, she shrugged and answered offhand.

“Oh...herbs. Ground bones--bits o’ other things. But the main thing, the one thing ye must have, is the liver of a fugu fish.”

He shook his head, not recognizing the name. “Describe it, if you please.” She did; from her description, he thought it must be one of the odd puffer fish that blew themselves up like bladders if disturbed. He made a silent resolve never to eat one.

(From "A Plague of Zombies" by Diana Gabaldon. Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Fugu fish is a delicacy in Japan, but it's dangerous!  According to Wikipedia, the fugu or pufferfish contains a deadly toxin called tetrodotoxin or TTX:
TTX is roughly 100 times more poisonous than potassium cyanide. Fish poisoning by consumption of members of the order Tetraodontiformes is extremely serious. The organs (e.g. liver) of the pufferfish can contain levels of tetrodotoxin sufficient to produce paralysis of the diaphragm and, through this mechanism, death due to respiratory failure. Toxicity varies between species and at different seasons and geographic localities, and the flesh of many pufferfish may not be dangerously toxic. It is not always fatal; but at near-lethal doses, it can leave a person in a state of near-death for several days, while the person remains conscious.
Here's an article with more information about the effects of fugu poisoning, including some discussion of why anyone would ingest this stuff deliberately.

If you're interested in learning more about this phenomenon, check out THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW by Wade Davis (or the movie of the same name). Diana told me that she used that book in her research for "Plague of Zombies". I haven't read it myself.  Are any of you familiar with it?

Milecastle 37, Hadrian's Wall

3) This is Milecastle 37 of Hadrian's Wall, in Northumbria, England. Click on the photo for a bigger view.  (Photo credit: Sharon & Rick, on Flickr.)  You may recall that Jerry MacKenzie flew over this spot on October 31, 1941, just before his plane went down.
Mile-castle 37.

A stone rectangle, attached to Hadrian's Wall like a snail on a leaf.  The old Roman legions had made these small, neat forts to house the garrisons that guarded the wall.  Nothing left now but the outline of the foundation, but it made a good target.

He circled once, calculating, then dived and roared over it at an altitude of maybe fifty feet, cameras clunking like an army of stampeding robots.  Pulled up sharp and hared off, circling high and fast, pulling out to run for the imagined border, circling up again…and all the time his heart thumped and the sweat ran down his sides, imagining what it would be like when the real day came.

(From "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows" by Diana Gabaldon. Copyright© 2010 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
If you want to get a sense of what Jerry saw from the cockpit that day in 1941, here's an aerial view of Mile-castle 37, from Google Maps.  For more about the milecastles, look here.

4) When I first read VOYAGER, I was baffled by Claire and Roger's conversation about an old fairy tale:
"‘See’st thou this great gray head, with jaws which have no meat?’” Roger quoted. “You know the story? The little tailor who spent the night in a haunted church, and met the hungry ghost?”

“I do. I think if I’d heard that outside my window, I’d have spent the rest of the night hiding under the bedclothes."

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 22, "All Hallows' Eve". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The story they're referring to is called "The Sprightly Tailor", by Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916). You can read the full story here.

5) Diana Gabaldon has said that the Devil's Tramping Ground in rural Chatham County, North Carolina, was the inspiration for the barren spot inside the rhododendron hell that Roger discovered in DRUMS OF AUTUMN.
His head and shoulders protruded into a clear space. Not merely clear, but empty. Eagerly, he wriggled forward, out of the claustrophobic grip of the rhododendrons.

He was standing in an open space, facing a cliff wall that rose on the far side of a small clearing. It really was a clearing, too; nothing at all grew in the soft dirt beneath his feet. Astonished, he turned slowly round, gulping great lungfuls of cold, sharp air.

“My God in heaven,” he said softly, aloud. The clearing was roughly oval in shape, ringed by standing stones, with one end of the oval closed by the cliff face. The stones were evenly spaced around the ring, a few of them fallen, a couple more dislodged from their places by the press of roots and stems behind them. He could see the dense black mass of the rhododendrons, showing between and above the stones--but not one plant grew within the perimeter of the ring.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 51, "Betrayal". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Devil's Tramping Ground - 10

Here's another view. (Photo credit: opus2008, on Flickr.) According to this site,
The Devil's Tramping Ground is a mysterious, perfectly round and absolutely barren circle about forty feet in diameter in the pine woods of Chatham County. Not a tree, not flower, no lowly weed or even a single blade of grass will grow in the limits of the circle. Seed sowed there refuse to sprout. Any vegetation transplanted there will wither and die.

And, what's even more strange, any object left in the circle at dusk will have been violently moved outside its bounds by dawn.
Happy Halloween, everyone! Be careful if you go near any standing stones, and be sure to carry a wee gemstone, just in case. <g>

I hope you enjoyed this 11th installment of the Best of the Friday Fun Facts! Here are the previous collections:

Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #1
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #2
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #3
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #4
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #5
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #6
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #7
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #8
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #9
Best of the Friday Fun Facts: Collection #10

Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What do you think about Frank?

What do you think about Frank?  That's a question that comes up frequently in any discussion of the OUTLANDER books, and I think it's worth re-examining, in view of how Frank Randall is portrayed in the TV series.


I'm going to talk about events in the later books. If you haven't read all eight of the OUTLANDER books, plus Diana Gabaldon's novella, "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows", there may be spoilers below. Read at your own risk!

Frank Randall is one of the most enigmatic characters in Diana Gabaldon's books, one of those characters who tend to generate strong feelings (pro or con) in readers.  Because we never see Frank's point of view in the books, except through the letters in DRUMS OF AUTUMN and WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD, it's difficult to get a sense of what he's feeling and what motivates him.  He can come across as boring, overly critical of Claire, and insensitive.  (That was certainly my impression of him on first reading the OUTLANDER books!)  And of course, he's constantly being compared to Jamie, and who can compete with that? <g>

In many ways, Frank in the TV series is a more sympathetic character than he appears in the books. I think there's no doubt, watching Claire and Frank together in Episode 101 ("Sassenach") and in the brief flashbacks in later episodes, that they loved each other very much.

And Episode 108 ("Both Sides Now") makes it abundantly clear that Frank is devastated by Claire's disappearance, and willing to do whatever it takes to find her again.

But the much more intriguing question, for many fans, is what happened after that, especially in the years following Claire's return to the 20th century.

Did Frank have relationships with other women?  Probably.

Did he commit adultery?  Maybe, maybe not.  Claire certainly seems to think so, but she's hardly an unbiased observer (to put it mildly!) and the evidence in the books is not conclusive.  (You don't have to take my word for it. Here's a very interesting post from Diana Gabaldon on Compuserve from 2009 that goes into some detail on that point.)

There's no doubt that Frank loved Bree unconditionally and with his whole heart.  I give him a lot of credit for that.
As the birth grew closer, we had both been edgy; Frank irritable and myself terrified, having no idea what might happen between us, with the appearance of Jamie Fraser’s child. But when the nurse had taken Brianna from her bassinet and handed her to Frank, with the words “Here’s Daddy’s little girl,” his face had grown blank, and then--looking down at the tiny face, perfect as a rosebud--gone soft with wonder. Within a week, he had been hers, body and soul.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 3, "Frank and Full Disclosure". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
On the other hand....why did Frank want to take Bree to England so abruptly? This is something that always infuriates me, on re-reading:
"I've decided to go back to England permanently. I've a good position offered at Cambridge, and I mean to take it up. You won't leave the hospital, of course. But I don't mean to leave my daughter behind."

"Your daughter?" I felt momentarily incapable of speech. So he had a new job all set, and a new mistress to go along. He'd been planning this for some time, then. A whole new life--but not with Brianna.

"My daughter," he said calmly. "You can come to visit whenever you like, of course..."

"You...bloody...bastard!" I said.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 19, "To Lay a Ghost". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Frank made sure Brianna learned how to fire a gun and ride a horse. Did he somehow know that she was going to travel back in time some day?  Did he find evidence of Bree's existence in the 18th century?
"Maybe he found me," she said softly. Her throat felt tight. "Maybe he knew I'd go back, through the stones. But if he did--he didn't tell me."

[Roger] stopped walking, and put a hand on her arm to turn her toward him.

"And perhaps he didn't know that at all," he said firmly. "He may only have thought ye might try it, if you ever found out about Fraser. And if you did find out, and did go...then he wanted you to be safe. I'd say no matter what he knew, that's what he wanted; you to be safe."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "Shooting Lessons". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Frank had a fake gravestone with Jamie's name on it put up in the cemetery at St. Kilda's, hoping that Claire or Bree would find it some day.  Why would he do that?

And we shouldn't forget about Frank's involvement in MI6 during World War II.  What about the very intriguing letter from Frank to Bree, in WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD, about the Fraser Prophecy? With his background in intelligence, what else might he have discovered?

What about Claire's feelings for Frank?  Some fans wonder why Claire never took off Frank's gold wedding ring.  I think the answer to that is very simple.  They were married for nearly thirty years, after all.  Claire genuinely loved Frank at the time they were married, she felt terribly guilty for betraying him when she decided to stay with Jamie, and she still has feelings for him even after his death. I think Jamie said it best:
"And will ye choose, too?” he asked softly. He opened his hand, and I saw the glint of gold. “Do ye want it back?”

I paused, looking up into his face, searching it for doubt. I saw none there, but something else; a waiting, a deep curiosity as to what I might say.

“It was a long time ago,” I said softly.

“And a long time,” he said. “I am a jealous man, but not a vengeful one. I would take you from him, my Sassenach--but I wouldna take him from you.”

He paused for a moment, the fire glinting softly from the ring in his hand. “It was your life, no?”

And he asked again, “Do you want it back?”

I held up my hand in answer and he slid the gold ring on my finger, the metal warm from his body.

From F. to C. with love. Always.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 71, "Circle's Close". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
My personal opinion (and you're certainly free to disagree!) is that Frank is neither a villain nor a saint.  Like all the major characters in Diana's books, he's a complex and multifaceted character, flawed and fallible and very human.
"Most of them -- of us -- we're we’re just...there, and we do our best. Most of the time," he added, and the corner of his mouth lifted slightly, though she couldn't tell whether it was in humour or bitterness.

(From "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows" by Diana Gabaldon. Copyright© 2010 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I think Frank got thrown into an impossible situation after Claire came back, and in my opinion he did the best he could -- most of the time -- to cope with it.

What about the rest of you?  Do you consider yourself a "Friend of Frank" (FoF), or do you think Claire was a fool for staying with him all those years? Feel free to post a comment here or on my Facebook page.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Vote for OUTLANDER in the People's Choice Awards!

Please help support the OUTLANDER TV series by voting in the People's Choice Awards!

The awards will be given out in January, 2015, but they have opened up the voting this week to give everyone a chance to help choose the nominees.  Between now and midnight ET on October 30, 2014, you can vote here:

Favorite Cable Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV (vote for OUTLANDER!)
Favorite Actor in a New TV Series (write in Sam Heughan)
Favorite Actress in a New TV Series (write in Caitriona Balfe)

As far as I know, anyone can vote (even if you live outside the US), and I've been told that you can vote as many times as you want.  Please help spread the word to any other OUTLANDER fans you may know.

(Thanks to Karli Anderson for the OUTLANDER People's Choice logo!)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


On September 24, I was rear-ended in the pouring rain on my way home from work.  No one was hurt, thank God, but my car had extensive damage.

I finally got it back from the repair shop yesterday, after nearly four weeks.  They did a beautiful job.  From the back, it looks brand new!

The repair cost about $8900, not counting the cost of the rental car. I was lucky that the other driver's insurance paid for the whole thing!
Jem [had] taken one look at the automobiles on the road they’d reached half an hour after their emergence from the stones on Ocracoke and stood transfixed, a huge grin spreading across his face as the cars whizzed past him.

"Vroom,” he’d said contentedly to himself, the trauma of separation and time travel [....] apparently forgotten. 

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 26, "Stag at Bay". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
That's very much the way I feel today.  I'm so relieved to be able to drive my own car again.  VROOM!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Happy Birthday, Claire!

Happy 96th birthday to Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser!

If you're on Twitter, please tag your tweets today (October 20th) with #HappyBDayClaire, especially between the hours of 8-10 pm in your local time zone.  We are going to try to send this hashtag around the world, as we did with #WorldOutlanderDay a few months ago.

In celebration of Claire's birthday, here are some of my favorite "Claire moments" from the OUTLANDER books.  It wasn't easy to pick just one per book, but I tried to choose quotes that highlight the many different aspects of Claire's personality.  I hope you enjoy them!

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.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 18, "Raiders in the Rocks". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

"Cut me,” I said urgently. “Deep enough to leave a scar. I want to take away your touch with me, to have something of you that will stay with me always. I don’t care if it hurts; nothing could hurt more than leaving you. At least when I touch it, wherever I am, I can feel your touch on me."

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 46, "Timor Mortis Conturbat Me". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I ached desperately; my head throbbed, my back was stiff and my feet swollen, but none of these was of any significance, compared to the deeper ache that knotted my heart.

Any doctor hates to lose a patient. Death is the enemy, and to lose someone in your care to the clutch of the dark angel is to be vanquished yourself, to feel the rage of betrayal and impotence, beyond the common, human grief of loss and the horror of death’s finality. I had lost twenty-three men between dawn and sunset of this day. Elias was only the first.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 48, "Moment of Grace". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

"What, exactly, are ye doing, Sassenach? And what in the name of God are ye wearing?” Jamie, arms crossed, was leaning against the door, watching me with both brows raised.

"I am improvising a brassiere,” I said with dignity. “I don’t mean to ride sidesaddle through the mountains wearing a dress, and if I’m not wearing stays, I don’t mean my breasts to be joggling all the way, either. Most uncomfortable, joggling."

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 13, "An Examination of Conscience". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

As for sweeping the floor, polishing the windows, dusting, and general drudgery of that sort...well, if women’s work was never done, why trouble about how much of it wasn’t being accomplished at any given moment?

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 96, "Aurum". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

"I have lived through a fucking world war,” I said, my voice low and venomous. “I have lost a child. I have lost two husbands. I have starved with an army, been beaten and wounded, been patronized, betrayed, imprisoned, and attacked. And I have fucking survived!” My voice was rising, but I was helpless to stop it. “And now should I be shattered because some wretched, pathetic excuses for men stuck their nasty little appendages between my legs and wiggled them?!” I stood up, seized the edge of the washstand and heaved it over, sending everything flying with a crash--basin, ewer, and lighted candlestick, which promptly went out.

“Well, I won’t,” I said quite calmly.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 29, "Perfectly Fine". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I had picked up Jamie’s sword before. It was a cavalry sword, larger and heavier than the usual, but I didn’t notice now.

I snatched it up and swung it in a two-handed arc that ripped the air and left the metal ringing in my hands.

Mother and son jumped back, identical looks of ludicrous surprise on their round, grimy faces.

“Get away!” I said.

Her mouth opened, but she didn’t say anything.

"I’m sorry for your man,” I said. “But my man lies here. Get away, I said!” I raised the sword, and the woman stepped back hastily, dragging the boy by the arm.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 62, "One Just Man". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

A trained surgeon is also a potential killer, and an important bit of the training lies in accepting the fact. Your intent is entirely benign--or at least you hope so--but you are laying violent hands on someone, and you must be ruthless in order to do it effectively. And sometimes the person under your hands will die, and knowing do it anyway.

(From WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 117, "Into the Briar Patch". Copyright© 2014 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Happy Birthday, Claire! Many thanks to Diana Gabaldon for creating such an amazing character, and to Caitriona Balfe for bringing her to life on TV!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Help celebrate Claire's birthday on Monday!

As many of you know, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser's birthday is coming up on Monday, October 20.  She will be 96 years old, believe it or not!

I thought it would be fun to have a worldwide celebration of Claire's birthday. <g>  We've tried to do this in the past, with limited success, but now that OUTLANDER is getting so much attention, I hope we'll get a lot more fans to participate!

If you're on Facebook, Twitter, or other social-media sites, please take the opportunity to wish Claire a happy birthday on Monday.

If you're on Twitter, please tag your tweets on Monday with #HappyBDayClaire, especially between the hours of 8-10 pm in your local time zone.  We are going to try to send this hashtag around the world, as we did with #WorldOutlanderDay a few months ago.

We're also asking those of you with OUTLANDER-related blogs or fan-sites to please post something Claire-related (favorite quotes, photos of Caitriona as Claire, memes, etc.) on October 20th, in honor of her birthday.  If you're looking for ideas, here are a few suggestions:
  • What do you like best about Claire as a character?
  • What are some of your favorite Claire moments from the OUTLANDER books?
  • What do you think of Caitriona Balfe's portrayal of her in the TV series?
Look for my special "Happy Birthday, Claire!" post on Monday.  And please spread the word to any other OUTLANDER fans you may know. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Unusual words in Diana Gabaldon's books

I have always been fascinated by Diana Gabaldon's use of obscure or unusual words in her writing.  Here are a few of my favorites, in alphabetical order:

absquatulation (A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES)
borborygmi (THE FIERY CROSS)
coccygodynia (DRUMS OF AUTUMN)
horripilation ("A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows")
oenomancy (AN ECHO IN THE BONE)
stultiloquy (AN ECHO IN THE BONE)

What about the rest of you?  Is there a particular word or phrase that you encountered for the first time in one of Diana Gabaldon's books or stories?

Diana makes no secret of the fact that she loves unusual words. Look here for a discussion on Compuserve from 2008 in which she talks about it in some detail.