Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.
1) Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is a classic children's story, published in 1905. Remember this scene in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, where Claire meets Governor Martin's wife?
She was round—very round, given her advanced state of pregnancy—with a small, sharp nose and a nearsighted way of peering that reminded me irresistibly of Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. In terms of personality, not quite so much.If you're not familiar with the story of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, you can read the full text on Project Gutenberg here.
“Who the devil is this?” she demanded, poking a frowsy, capped head out of the bedclothes.
“Midwife, mum,” Dilman said, bobbing again. “Have you slept well, mum?”
“Of course not,” Mrs. Martin said crossly. “This beastly child’s kicked my liver black and blue, I’ve puked all night, I’ve sweated through my sheets, and I have a shaking ague. I was told there was no midwife to be found within the county.” She gave me a dyspeptic look. “Where did you discover this person, the local prison?"
(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 92, "Amanuensis". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
2) I didn't know that peach pits contained cyanide until I read OUTLANDER.
"Cyanide?” He looked down curiously at me. “What’s that?”According to this site,
“The thing that killed Arthur Duncan. It’s a bloody fast, powerful poison. Fairly common in my time, but not here.” I licked my lips meditatively.
“I tasted it on his lips, and just that tiny bit was enough to make my whole face go numb. It acts almost instantly, as you saw. I should have known then--about Geilie, I mean. I imagine she made it from crushed peach pits or cherry stones, though it must have been the devil of a job."
(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 26, "The Laird's Return". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
There is about eighty-eight milligrams of cyanide in the average peach pit. If the pit is accidentally swallowed, the hard shell covering it will keep the cyanide from being released suddenly. Also, if swallowed, the most the cyanide will cause is a bad stomachache. The usual fatal dose of cyanide for an adult is about as low as one and a half milligrams per every kilogram of body weight....Other fruits that contain poisonous pits are: cherries, apricots, plums, almond, and, to a smaller degree, elderberries. The purpose of these poisonous pits is to repel herbivores from eating the trees' fruit before they are ready.The amount of cyanide in peach pits is not enough to harm an adult, but might be dangerous if ingested by children or pets due to their lower body weight.
3) This is William Hogarth's famous 1746 portrait of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, aka the "Old Fox", Jamie Fraser's grandfather. Click on the image for a bigger view.
He raised a thick gray brow in my direction, and shifted the gimlet stare to Jamie. “No more sense than your father, it seems.”
I could see Jamie’s hands twitch slightly, resisting the urge to clench into fists.
“At the least, I had nay need to take a wife by rape or trickery,” he observed evenly.
His grandfather grunted, unfazed by the insult. I thought I saw the corner of his wrinkled mouth twitch, but wasn’t sure.
“Aye, and ye’ve gained little enough by the bargain ye struck,” he observed. “Though at that, this one’s less expensive than that MacKenzie harlot Brian fell prey to. If this sassenach wench brings ye naught, at least she looks as though she costs ye little."
(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 40, "The Fox's Lair". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
This is the block and axe used in the execution of Lord Lovat on Tower Hill, London, on April 9, 1747. (Photo credit: kdewhunter, on Flickr.) Lord Lovat was the last man to be executed by beheading in England.
For more about the "Old Fox", look here and here.
4) This is Athlone Castle in County Westmeath, Ireland. (Click on the photo for a bigger view.) If you take away the very modern boats and the cars parked near the dock, I think it looks very much as Diana described it in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.
The guard who admitted them to the castle led them up the curving walkway into the center of the fortress, past a series of arrow slits set into the immense outer wall. These were narrow in their outer aspect but much wider on the inside, to allow an archer to draw a longbow, Grey supposed, and wondered idly if he could fit his head through one.
It was an ancient construction, originally a motte and bailey, and remnants of this were still evident, the central donjon rising like a twelve-sided pepperpot from the old bailey, now a paved courtyard ringed with smaller structures that crowded up against the huge surrounding wall.
(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 17, "Castle Athlone". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The photo above shows the twelve-sided stone structure, part of the fortifications of Athlone Castle, that was built by Justiciar John de Gray (mentioned in SCOTTISH PRISONER as a distant ancestor of Lord John) around the year 1210.
5) From the description, the "ghost bear" in THE FIERY CROSS was probably an albino black bear, like the one shown above.
“But why do they think it’s a ghost?” Brianna leaned forward, interest displacing her initial horror at the tale.According to Wikipedia:
Peter glanced at her, one eyebrow raised.
“Oh, aye, he didna say--or rather I expect he did, but not so as ye’d understand it. The thing was much bigger than the usual bear, he says--and pure white. He says when it turned to look at him, the beast’s eyes glowed red as flame. They kent at once it must be a ghost, and so they werena really surprised that their arrows didna touch it."
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 81, "Bear-Killer". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The eyes of an albino animal appear red because the colour of the red blood cells in the underlying retinal blood vessels shows through where there is no pigment to obscure it.I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts, and please come back next week for more!