Some thoughts on Lord John
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!