In Search of Jamie Fraser

My sister and I took a trip to Scotland a few years back. One of our running jokes was that I was looking for Jamie Fraser.

Jamie is the hero of Diana Gabaldon's mega-bestselling fantasy/romance series, Outlander. In this series, our heroine, Army nurse Claire Randall is on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband, Frank, when she is magically transported back in time (to 1740 or so). Here, improperly clothed and completely without protection, she is "adopted" by the MacKenzie clan, the young scion of which becomes her protector, insisting upon marrying her to make it morally right that he should be traveling with her. (And, we suspect, he kinda likes her, too.)

It's probably at this moment that the female readers of this book will fall in love with the auburn-haired hero, James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser.

Younger than Claire by 5 years, Jamie is boyishly handsome, large, strong, and tough, but also sweet and delightfully innocent at the same time; he is educated as Scottish men of his rank tended to be, yet physically capable and able ride, shoot, fight, hunt, and take a beating for a young lass rather than besmirch her honor.

I was amused at the flap on over one scene in the first book, Outlander (there are six in the series) in which Claire's actions threaten the safety and lives of Jamie's clan, and he, now her husband, takes her over his knee and spanks her. I have to admit I saw nothing out of character or inappropriate with this - it was, after all, 1740; he is the leader of his group and responsible for them in a way that we don't totally understand today; Claire was acting like a spoiled brat. While of course that doesn't make it right by our standards for a man to punish his wife physically, we also don't think it's right for 13-year-old girls to marry, yet they did in the 1700s.

Parenthetically, it was also this particular post-war that taught me what the "Mary-Sue Test" for fiction is. According to Wikipedia,  "A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as "Mary Sues" is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the "Mary Sue" character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an "author's pet"."

Honestly, I have "met" just such characters, and I will even say that I heartily dislike Claire's daughter Brianna, who appears later in the series, but I don't find any of the Outlander characters to be so one-dimensional. Jamie is sweet and romantic and sexual, but he's also a bit of a prig and a little overly-stoic. Claire is headstrong and, particularly in the beginning, a little self-absorbed. Having negative qualities does nothing, in my opinion, to compromise a romantic hero or heroine, in fact, quite the opposite. Such characteristics make them more believable and likeable.

The tough going is the whole randomness of the transportation of Claire to another century. Some reviewers complained that she adapted to quickly to her situation: I would argue that this was in keeping with the rest of her character. Claire is pragmatic; she's been a nurse during WWII and she's survived. She's tough-minded, resilient, and very practical. In her situation, I might have adapted equally quickly - it's that or, what? I'd love to ask these reviewers exactly what they expected the romantic heroine to do? Sit down and cry and refuse to move til she was returned home?

While it is romantic fiction, and as such, dwells quite a bit on relationships and sexual encounters, Gabaldon has also done a good job with period detail. While this can't be overdone, in my opinion (I like to be immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of another time), Gabaldon has included a good amount of information about what foods they had, what they wore, travel, manners, and the like. Because Claire is a nurse, she is soon called upon to act as chief medic for the clan (and later in the series, after she returns to her own time, she becomes a doctor), so we are also entertained by the state of medicine at the time, as well as Claire's innovative attempts at bringing some of her medical knowledge to bear in a more primitive time.

I read the first four books, Voyager (Outlander) (Jamie fondly calls Claire Sassenach, the Gaelic for "outlander"), Dragonfly in Amber, (which describes Claire returning from the future, having raised hers and Jamie's baby in a safer era), Drums of Autumn (this part of the saga covers the trip Jamie, Claire make from Scotland to the New World), and The Fiery Cross (which continues the story of Clan Faser in America) as fast as they were printed. Then I lost track. Admittedly, like most fiction of this type (series, historical, romantic), the story tended to thin out a bit with each book, and as I mentioned before, I was not enamored of Claire and Jamie's daughter, Brianna, who also comes back in time, looking for her mother, and eventually meeting her father).

Since then, two additional books have been added. When I saw An Echo in the Bone on shelves, I was about to pick it up and race home to read when I saw that I had missed by one - A Breath of Snow and Ashes had been published in 2006, and it finds the Fraser clan, which now includes not only Brianna and Roger (her husband) but baby Jemmy, as well as Claire, Jamie, and assorted other characters like Mrs. Bug and Ian, Jamie's nephew.

Now that Clan Fraser is in America awaiting the war they know (thanks to Claire's time travel) is coming, I am less intrigued by the whole story than I was while they were in Scotland, fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie (Jamie is a Jacobite, and a Catholic); still, the details of life on the American frontier (then only in the Blue Ridge Mountains!), and during a time of political strife and turmoil, fascinate. Most of the Scots, oddly, remained true to the crown during the war - I say oddly because many of them were only in the New World because they were thrown out of their homes in the Highlands by absentee English landlords after Scotland lost to England at Culloden in 1746.

Claire continues her medical experimentation - she is attempting to grow penicillin mold on old bread; and Brianna is fiddling around with ways to bring plumbing into the homes of her family and friends. All of them know what's coming, but don't know exactly whom to trust - and, as it turns out, while we know which side wins and we know whom we want to have win, Gabaldon has done a good job of muddying up the battle lines, so that the good guys aren't all good, and the bad guys aren't all bad. And Jamie, our moral touchstone, is having a hard time choosing up sides.

The last (or at least, latest) book in the series, An Echo in the Bone, was published in September of this year. If you haven't read this series yet, this winter might be a good time to try it out - I am a big fan of long winter nights spent reading a saga I know will go on, and on, and satisfyingly on.

And if you have read the series, have a little fun and look on YouTube for any keywords describing the series. Fans have had a ball deciding which actors should be cast as Jamie and Claire, and creating video tributes to both. (I think they may be on to something with Scottish actor Gerard Butler as Jamie...)


*Gaelic for "cheers."


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