Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some thoughts on Lord John

I definitely did not start out as a fan of Lord John Grey.

When I first started reading the OUTLANDER books, I was (of course) captivated by Jamie and Claire's story, and wanted to focus on them. Lord John kept popping up in the story, but I brushed him aside rather irritably, much as Claire reacts to him in DRUMS: "What is he doing here? I really wish he'd go away. I don't want to read about some gay English soldier, I'd much rather read about Jamie and Claire!"

This attitude was compounded, in the beginning, by the timing. When I first discovered Diana Gabaldon's section of the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, in the spring of 2007, virtually the only excerpts she was posting there were from LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE. And at that time, I had essentially no interest in reading Lord John stories. I resented him for taking Diana's time and attention away from the main OUTLANDER series, and I just could not understand at all why she would prefer to focus on Lord John instead of Jamie, Claire, Roger, Bree, and the rest.

Based on what I've heard Diana say in the months since, this seems to be a fairly common attitude among the fans: "I really wish you'd quit writing about Lord John and get back to your real writing." This usually produces an irritated reaction from Diana, *rolling eyes* or a mildly sarcastic comeback. And the reason for that is very simple: What the fans who make comments like that don't understand is that the Lord John stories are in fact an integral part of the overall OUTLANDER storyline, and that Lord John's life is inextricably tangled with Jamie's, in a number of ways.

What Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey have in common

Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser have a good deal in common. Both are decent, honorable men who will move heaven and earth to protect the ones they love, no matter the cost to themselves. They come from similar social and educational backgrounds; Jamie's facility with the Latin and Greek classics is every bit as good as Lord John's. They share a love of literature, and Lord John periodically sends Jamie books to add to his collection at Fraser's Ridge. And of course, they both have a military background, although they were fighting on opposing sides (as during their first meeting, at Prestonpans, in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER). They understand one another very well indeed, and this is one of the things that has enabled them to form such a close friendship.

And then there's Willie, Jamie's illegitimate son by Geneva Dunsany. Lord John is one of only a tiny handful of people who know the truth of Willie's paternity. To the rest of the world, the boy is the ninth Earl of Ellesmere, son of an English nobleman. And Lord John goes to great lengths to help Jamie keep that secret. I love this exchange between Lord John and Brianna:

"I have never spoken to your father regarding Geneva, Ellesmere, or William himself--save to inform him of my marriage to Isobel and to assure him that I would fulfill my responsibilities as William's guardian to the best of my ability."
She set her foot on the stone, driving it into the soft sand, and stopped.
"You never said anything to him? What did he say to you?" she demanded.
"Nothing." He returned her stare.
"Why did you marry Isobel?"
He sighed, but there was no point in evasion.
"In order to take care of William."
The thick red brows nearly touched her hairline.
"So you got married, in spite of--I mean, you turned your whole life upside down, just to take care of Jamie Fraser's illegitimate son? And neither one of you ever talked about it?"
"No," he said, baffled. "Of course not."
(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 116("The Ninth Earl of Ellesmere"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)


To people who don't understand how Lord John thinks (as Brianna certainly does not), this whole exchange is rather baffling. Why in the world would he do such a thing?

The answer, of course, is that he loves Jamie Fraser. In his own way, John loves Jamie as passionately and as devotedly as Claire loves him -- even as he knows full well that Jamie cannot, will not, ever acknowledge his feelings openly.

I think this is the key to understanding what Lord John means to the OUTLANDER series as a whole, and to Jamie in particular. Their relationship is complex and multi-layered, and I've come to find it very intriguing.

The Lord John Books

For those of you who have not read any of the three Lord John books (LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER, LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, and LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS), I would highly recommend starting with BOTB. It's the best of the three books, in my opinion, and gives a great deal of insight into how Lord John thinks and what motivates him as a person.

PRIVATE MATTER is by far the weakest of the three Lord John books, in my opinion. It's the only thing I have ever read by Diana that I have to force myself to keep reading. Still, parts of it are enjoyable, and I certainly wouldn't dismiss it entirely.

HAND OF DEVILS is a must-read for Lord John fans. "Succubus" is a fun story, with lots of humor in it, and "Haunted Soldier" picks up right where BOTB left off. I don't care for "Hellfire" very much, but it's so short that ignoring it won't interfere with your enjoyment or understanding of the other Lord John stories.

I would encourage anyone who likes Diana Gabaldon's writing to at least give the Lord John books a try. You may be surprised!

21 comments:

Janell said...

Good comments Karen. I think the Lord John books also seem to round out the story somewhat. While they continue a lot of material that is not truly part of the "main" story, they fill in with color and detail about what is going on while Claire is away and Jamie is imprisoned. I do think it is also good to have a chance to really try to understand more about Lord John's own character. With this I think some of his actions would almost appear as a "deux ex machina" introduced to help claire/Jamie get through something. By giving him his own development, DG helps the whole story/time seem more real to me.

Steven Lopata said...

I have to say that I agree with you. Besides, all three Lord John books are mysteries, old time mysteries, my favorite kind.

Electra said...

Hi Karen,

I too had to warm up to Lord John's importance in the stories, but now find his character very endearing.

There is an old excerpt that was to be in Book 6, that was tentatively titled King, Farewell in which Claire had the news that Jamie's ship had been sunk returning from Scotland to the Colonies and Lord John proposed marriage to her.

That abandoned story line reemphasized to me what a truly devoted and honorable friend he is to both Jamie and Claire.

Karen Henry said...

Hi Steve:

Good to see you over here! I've seen your posts on Compuserve many times, but I don't think we've actually "talked" much. [g]

Interesting point about mysteries. My reaction is exactly the opposite. I've never been a fan of mystery novels. Perhaps this is why I have such a hard time with PRIVATE MATTER, because it's the one that most closely resembles a traditional mystery format. For me, "Lord John solves a mystery" is not a very compelling "hook" for a novel. My reaction tends to be, why should I care? Why does *he* care about solving the mystery?

"Lord John solves a mystery involving his father's death and in the process nearly gets himself killed, and has an explosive emotional confrontation with Jamie Fraser, who holds the key to solving the mystery" (in essence, the plot of BOTB) -- that holds much more appeal for me as a reader. Lord John has a much more personal stake in the outcome of the story, and for me, that's what drew me into BOTB, and what was missing in PRIVATE MATTER.

Karen

Karen Henry said...

Hi Electra:

Yes, Lord John is a devoted friend, not just to Jamie, but to Claire and Brianna as well.

Do me a favor: Please don't discuss excerpts on this blog, OK? Even though I realize the one you were referring to is from a storyline that ended up not being included in the books, I would really rather not see excerpt discussions here. (See the recent thread on Compuserve, here, for my numerous attempts to explain my point of view on reading excerpts.[g])

Speculation, on the other hand, is never, ever a problem. [vbg]

Thanks,
Karen

Karen Henry said...

Hi Janell:

I agree with everything you've said. Many parts of the main OUTLANDER series (in VOYAGER, especially) have additional depth and poignancy, now that we know so much more about the backstory with Lord John, and what he was doing while Jamie was at Ardsmuir.

I think he's a lot more difficult to understand, as a character, if your only exposure to him is through the OUTLANDER books. He has to hide so much of what he's thinking and feeling from other people, that people who don't know him well (or who know nothing about him except that he's gay) tend to jump to conclusions about his motives.

For an example of what I mean, look at how suspicious Claire is, in ABOSAA, of Lord John's motives in sending Bobby Higgins to them the first time. It's completely innocent, but she automatically jumps to the wrong conclusion.

Karen

Janell said...

Karen-I especially like the way the relationship between LJ and Bree develops. By the time we get to the end of ABOSSA I was almost as sad to see Bree part from him as from Claire and Jamie! The scene as LJ and Jamie look out the window of the inn (I think it's an inn) and see William, Roger and Bree and the 2 little ones chatting is so bittersweet to the two men, as well as to the reader. My heart aches for LJ when I think about how he felt Bree was almost like a daughter to him-his conversations throughout the book are great. He has such a hard time figuring her out!

Antigonos said...

I forced myself to listen to BOTB, and didn't really like it--perhaps because I don't like the way Jeff Woodman reads Jamie, but LJ never comes to life for me in the way Jamie does, except much, much later, in DOA and FC. But then, I find LJ's unrequited physical passion of Jamie difficult to imagine. [I can also never understand Claire's jealousy of LJ. If there is one thing Jamie isn't, it's bisexual]

Bedelia said...

As I've said on other forums, I absolutely LOVE LJG, but, like you Karen, it took me a long time to do so. I initially saw him as a stuffy prig, somewhat effeminate, but I can't put my finger on exactly what made me feel that way. Maybe I was just wishing he was like that so I could dislike him. But then after reading the LJG books, after re-reading the Outlander series umpteen times, I discovered a different John: intelligent, handsome, very witty, loyal, passionate, courageous and caring. I just wish he could find someone to love who is worthy of him. Someday he'll get his happy ending, I think.

Mitzi said...

I really didn’t like Lord John in the beginning of Voyager, but then he grew on me and by the end of ABOSAA, I found that I’d become very fond of him. I just love listening to the scene of Bree and Lord John at Jocasta’s and I must agree with Bree…I love the way he talks too. His use of the English language is engaging and he’s got a very dry sense of humor that tickles me.

I’ve read all of the Lord John books. It took me awhile to get through Private Matter…I’m not sure why, but I had a hard time keeping interested in the storyline. I really like BOTB. In my opinion it is the best Lord John book so far and I’m looking forward to more of his stories.

Mitzi

Jari Backman said...

Dear Karen,

I enjoyed tremendously your input to show us LJ as he is, and why he is among us.

I was very long time quite sure that Diana is building something really awful with him, and then I realized that John simply exists as he is.

And that's why Diana has to tell us about him.

TessJ said...

There is a rather large hole right now in the LJ story that I am looking forward to the filling. At the end of BOTB we're left with the sense of an enormous chasm between Lord John & Jamie. It's a far cry from the relationship between the 2 men that we see when they encounter each other in Jamaica in VOYAGER. I am looking forward to LJ & THE SCOTTISH PRISONER (if the title remains) to see what occurs that brings these 2 men back together as friends.

I also would like to see in ECHO or future books the tentative relationship between LJ & Claire grow into something deeper.

I have a friend & fellow Outlander nut who is insistent that LJ is (gulp) going to die in the next book. I fervently hope she is wrong about that.

Tess

Karen Henry said...

Tess:

About that rather large hole in the story: Yes, absolutely! That has bothered me ever since I first read BOTB. And when I mentioned it to Diana (this was in the days right after the book came out), her response was, "Well, sure it's a lacuna in the story. That's what LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER is for."

I went into BOTB the first time fully expecting to see Lord John and Jamie grow closer over the course of the book. Instead, Diana has effectively tossed a grenade into the middle of their relationship, making it very difficult to imagine how they will ever be able to develop a close friendship. Look at the scene in "Haunted Soldier" where John writes the letter to Jamie; even weeks later, he's still struggling to make sense of what happened and where they go from here.

I have no trouble believing that we'll need a whole book (SCOTTISH PRISONER) to see how this conflict gets resolved. Looking forward to it! <g>

Saundra Grose said...

Hi Karen,

Found your following comment interesting...

"The answer, of course, is that he loves Jamie Fraser. In his own way, John loves Jamie as passionately and as devotedly as Claire loves him -- even as he knows full well that Jamie cannot, will not, ever acknowledge his feelings openly".

I am curious, what "feelings" does Jamie have for John that he cannot declare openly???

Karen Henry said...

Hi Saundra:

No, you misunderstood what I meant. <g> I was talking about John's feelings for Jamie -- which they both are aware of, but can never acknowledge.

Jamie obviously cares for John a great deal, but Jamie sees him as a friend, nothing more. A good friend, to be sure, but certainly not a potential lover (!). And I didn't mean to imply anything of the sort.

Good to see you over here, by the way. I hope you enjoy the blog. <g>

Karen

Saundra Grose said...

Hi Karen,

I do love your blog; you know how much I have enjoyed your posting on the forum.

Thanks for the clarification!!

I agree with you about Private Matters; the thing I didn't like about the book was that everything was "spilled" at one time and there weren't the twists and turns and build-up that keep one guessing up to the bitter end. In a good mystery novel, at the end you find out who did it but, once you find out who, all the pieces fall into place from what you have read thoughout the book; the author doesn't have to reiterate them for you. This probably doesn't make a bit of sense, but that's the way I talk too!!

Karen Henry said...

Saundra:

For me, the thing that makes PRIVATE MATTER so difficult to get into is the sheer number of characters introduced early on. By around page 60 of the paperback, I feel as though I need a scorecard, just to keep track of who's who. Let's see, there's the murdered man. And his wife. And the apothecary who turns out to be the wife's lover. Iphegenia what's-her-name, and her various relations. And so on. I get exhausted just trying to keep them all straight. And there seems to be no connection at all between most of these characters and the main plot of the book (the Trevelyan subplot), until the very end of the book.

I've found the story much easier to listen to than to read, oddly enough. But I still don't care for it. <shrug>

Karen

Alice said...

OK, you've convinced me. Now I have to read Lord John, although I agree with you that at this point he seems a bit of a distraction.

Lisa L said...

I like your site Karen. It's like an "all inclusive" Diana Gabaldon site. I never go to Compuserve so I can now count on you for her comments. Anyway, regarding Lord John, I've only read the first one in the series so far and wasn't enraptured by it. However, the Lord John character runs a VERY close second, to me, after Jamie and Claire. I love him. I love his integrity and loyalty but mostly his sarcastic sense of humour. My favorite episode with him was when he and Brianna were at Jocasta's and they were bantering, I believe, about Roger and how she seemed to be doing everything in her power to prevent her own happiness. I don't remember his exact words but I don't laugh easily and this cracked me up.

Karen Henry said...

Hi Lisa:

Thanks! Glad you're enjoying the blog so far. And you're right, that's exactly what it's intended to be, an all-inclusive site where fans from anywhere can come together to share information and discuss these wonderful books. I have felt for a long time that there was a need for better communication between the different fan groups...and also, that it would be nice to have a place where those who don't visit the Compuserve forum (for whatever reason) can come to get the latest news and information that Diana posts there.

Karen

Karen Henry said...

Hi Alice:

Great! I hope you like BOTB when you get a chance to read it.

And don't get me wrong, I'm a Jamie and Claire fan first and foremost -- but Lord John has his place in the series, and he's an interesting character in his own right.

Karen