Saturday, March 28, 2009

Diana talks about tartans

Diana Gabaldon has a new blog entry up on Panalba. The topic of this one is Scottish tartans (not the kilts themselves, but the patterns used in weaving the cloth), their history, and how the notion of "official" clan tartans came about.

Interesting stuff. I would encourage you to check it out. And if you've been hesitating to look at the Panalba site, this might be a good opportunity to sign up. There's a lot more on that site than just Diana's occasional articles. (I am in no way affiliated with the site, by the way; I just think it's interesting.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

OUTLANDER Links, Part VI: Wildlife

Diana Gabaldon's books describe an amazing variety of flora and fauna. Here are some of my favorites from the animal kingdom:
1) Four-eyed fish
"Talking to a fish," I finished. "Yes, well...have they really got four eyes?" I asked, in hopes of changing the subject.

"Yes--or so it seems." He glanced down at the fish, who appeared to be following the conversation with rapt attention. "They seem to employ their oddly shaped optics when submerged, so that the upper pair of eyes observes events above the surface of the water, and the lower pair similarly takes note of happenings below it."

(From Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 50 ("I Meet a Priest"). Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
2) Wild boar
"Pig, Daddy," he whispered. "Big pig."

Roger glanced in the direction of the little boy's gaze and froze.

It was a huge black boar, perhaps eight feet away. The thing stood more than three feet at the shoulder, and must weigh two hundred pounds or more, with curving yellow tushes the length of Jemmy's forearm. It stood with lifted head, piggy snout moistly working as it snuffed the air for food or threat.

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 108 ("Tulach Ard"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
And here is a short audio clip of what a wild boar sounds like.
3) Baboon
"A baboon," I said, enjoying the sight of his muscular back flexing as he scrubbed, "is a sort of very large monkey with a red behind."

He snorted with laughter and choked on the willow twig. "Well," he said, removing it from his mouth, "I canna fault your observations, Sassenach." He grinned at me, showing brilliant white teeth, and tossed the twig aside. "It's been thirty years since anyone took a tawse to me," he added, pressing his hands tenderly over the still-glowing surfaces of his rear. "I'd forgot how much it stings."
(From Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 33 ("Buried Treasure"). Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
4) Friesian horse
These black horses had great floating masses of silky hair--almost like women's hair--that rose and fluttered with their movements, matching the graceful fall of their long, full tails. In addition, each horse had delicate black feathers decorating hoof and fetlock, that lifted like floating milkweed seed with each step. By contrast to the usual rawboned riding horses and rough draft animals used for haulage, these horses seemed almost magical--and from the awed comment they were occasioning among the spectators, might as well have come from Fairyland as from Phillip Wylie's plantation in Edenton.

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 39 ("In Cupid's Grove"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
5) Wolf-dog hybrid
"He's a handsome creature, Ian," he said, scratching the thing familiarly under the chin. The yellow eyes narrowed slightly, either in pleasure at the attention or--more likely, I thought--in anticipation of biting off Jamie's nose. "Bigger than a wolf, though; it's broader through the head and chest, and a deal longer in the leg."
"His mother was an Irish wolfhound," Ian was hunkered down by Jamie, eagerly explaining as he stroked the enormous gray-brown back. "She got out in heat, into the woods, and when she came back in whelp--"
"Oh, aye, I see."
(From Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 1 ("A Hanging in Eden"). Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I also found this, from the Wikipedia article on wolf-dog crossbreeds:
The first record of a wolf and dog breeding in Great Britain comes from the year 1766 when what is thought to have been a male wolf mated with a Pomeranian bitch, which resulted in a litter of nine pups.
And just a few months later, in the summer of 1767, Ian acquired Rollo. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. <g>
Another interesting bit of trivia: The 18th-century surgeon, Dr. John Hunter, mentioned in the upcoming Lord John story "The Custom of the Army", is a real historical figure who apparently had a fascination for wolf-dog hybrids, and kept one as a pet for many years. (I learned this from a biography of Dr. Hunter called THE KNIFE-MAN by Wendy Moore, recommended to me by Diana on Compuserve last year. Interesting book, if you like the sort of details about 18th-century medicine that Diana includes in her books.)
6) Seals / Silkies
"A silkie is a creature who is a man upon the land, but becomes a seal within the sea. And a seal," he added, cutting off Jemmy, who had been opening his mouth to ask, "is a great sleek beastie that barks like a dog, is as big as an ox, and beautiful as the black of night. They live in the sea, but come out onto the rocks near the shore sometimes."
"Have you seen them, Grandpere?" Germain asked, eager.
"Oh, many a time," Jamie assured him. "There are a great many seals who live on the coasts of Scotland."
(From A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 49 ("The Venom of the North Wind"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a site with several different silkie legends. And some more seal photos here and here.
Hope you enjoyed these, and please let me know if you have any more links to unusual flora or fauna mentioned in the books.

If you find these links interesting, check out my previous "OUTLANDER Links" blog entries:
OUTLANDER Links, Part 14: 18th Century Clothing
OUTLANDER Links, Part 13: Plants and Herbs
OUTLANDER Links, Part 12: Standing Stones
OUTLANDER Links, Part 11: Science and Technology
OUTLANDER Links, Part 10: Weaponry
OUTLANDER Links, Part 9: Historical Events
OUTLANDER Links, Part 8: 18th Century Medicine
OUTLANDER Links, Part VII: Gemstones
OUTLANDER Links, Part V: Castles and Palaces
OUTLANDER Links, Part IV: Native Americans
OUTLANDER Links, Part III: All Things Scottish
OUTLANDER Links, Part II: Colonial North Carolina
OUTLANDER Links, Part I: Culloden
What Do These Things Look Like?

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's official!

Check out the latest update to Diana Gabaldon's web site, where you'll find her official announcement of the publication date for AN ECHO IN THE BONE (September 22, 2009, for the U.S. edition).

There's also some more information there about the Panalba site, which I've mentioned before.

Less than six months left to wait. Can you believe it?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Laoghaire: a character readers love to hate

There's been a lot of talk in Diana Gabaldon's section of the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum lately about Laoghaire. She's one of those characters who always seems to elicit strong reactions from people. In fact, many people seem to despise her so much that they can't even bear to see her name written properly (and granted, it's not an easy name to spell, by any means!)

Even Diana has commented on this reaction, saying, "I'm always kind of startled (and amused) at the vituperation with which so many readers regard Laoghaire. She may be feckless, impulsive, and somewhat vindictive (not without reason, either), but she isn't a monster."

So, why do so many readers hate Laoghaire? And is that feeling justified by the facts as we know them?

1) The first and most obvious reason is that Claire can't stand Laoghaire. She often makes the claim (unsubstantiated by the facts, as Diana pointed out in a discussion on Compuserve last year) that Laoghaire "tried to kill me" by sending her to Geillis Duncan's house knowing that the authorities meant to arrest Geillie for witchcraft. And Claire repeats this accusation a number of times in the course of the series, usually when she is under emotional stress. I think it's entirely understandable that many readers absorb Claire's prejudices, since the story is being told primarily from Claire's point of view. Still, just because Claire keeps saying it doesn't make it true.

2) Laoghaire married Jamie. I'm sure a lot of readers are outraged on Claire's behalf that anyone at all would marry Jamie, let alone someone who's shown such animosity toward Claire. Personally, I think the marriage was a mistake on the part of both Jamie and Laoghaire (and to some extent a mistake on Jenny's part as well, for her role in arranging it), but I don't really understand the intensity of the hatred that many readers feel toward Laoghaire for having married Jamie, however briefly. Yes, it can certainly be seen as a betrayal of Claire, but after all, Laoghaire thought she was long since dead, and Jamie surely never expected to see her again.

3) Laoghaire shot Jamie, and might well have succeeded in killing him, from the subsequent infection if not from the gunshot itself, had Claire not returned with her penicillin in time to save Jamie's life. I have a hard time forgiving Laoghaire for this myself, but Diana pointed out once on Compuserve that Jamie doesn't seem to hold it against her.

4) The financial settlement imposes a severe burden on Jamie and Claire, forcing them to sell gemstones to pay the money Jamie owes to Laoghaire, while Laoghaire is apparently doing quite well for herself at Balriggan, financially speaking. I don't think it's Laoghaire's fault that she had a very good lawyer on her side (Ned Gowan). But there is no denying that Jamie and Claire's financial situation would be greatly improved if they could stop sending money to Laoghaire.

5) Laoghaire is immature, selfish, and whiny, prone to calling people names (as she does when Brianna shows up in DRUMS). While this is undeniably unpleasant, it's also basically harmless. Personally, I think Alec was right, in OUTLANDER, when he said of Laoghaire that "she'll be a girl when she's fifty."

I think some readers tend to hate Laoghaire so intensely that they resist any mention of her good qualities (for example, Marsali's stories about her mother's home remedies). And I strongly suspect that we will see a side of Laoghaire in ECHO that will surprise all of us (although this is just speculation on my part.*)

What about the rest of you? What do you think about Laoghaire?

*Please note, if you've read any excerpts from ECHO that mention Laoghaire, I ask that you NOT talk about them here. Remember, I don't read ECHO excerpts. Thanks.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Six months

Today marks the six-month anniversary of my becoming Section Leader (SL) in Diana Gabaldon's section of the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum. It's also six months, more or less, since I started this blog. I am, needless to say, delighted with the way both of these things have worked out. <g> So this seems like a good opportunity to look back.

When I started Outlandish Observations, I was initially just looking for a way to learn about blogging, since I'd never done it before. I figured that no one other than my friends on LOL or Compuserve would read my blog or have any reason to notice it at all. Boy, was I wrong about that! <g> This blog has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations, and I am so grateful to those of you who drop by here to read and comment.

One of the things I wanted to do from the very beginning with this blog -- indeed, my primary reason for creating it in the first place -- was to provide a resource for the latest news and information about the OUTLANDER books, a place where fans who don't frequent the larger sites, like Compuserve or LOL, can come to find up-to-date information on what's going on. And because I'm on Compuserve every day, I'm in an excellent position to hear Diana's reaction to the latest rumors or speculations -- whether that's the possibility of an OUTLANDER movie, or the release date for AN ECHO IN THE BONE, or whatever -- and pass that information on to you right away.

It really was totally by coincidence -- believe it or not -- that I was offered the position of Section Leader on Compuserve only two weeks after I first had the idea for this blog. I've described my reaction to that elsewhere, so I won't repeat it here, except to say that I was stunned, and delighted, and it took a while to recover from the shock. But I'm very comfortable in the role by now, and still having a lot of fun with it.

When I became SL on Compuserve, I made a very deliberate decision to try to make the forum a more welcoming place for newbies. From the many comments I've received in the months since, I think I've accomplished that. I am so pleased by how many new members have decided to "take the plunge" and start posting in Diana's section of the Compuserve forum. It's a little intimidating to post there at first (believe me, I remember the feeling very well!), but I'm delighted to see how much more active Diana's section has been lately. It does make it more of a challenge for me to read and keep up with all of the posts <g> -- but really, I don't mind a bit! And I would encourage those of you who haven't yet visited the forum to come and check it out for yourselves.

Finally, I want to thank those of you who are Entrecard members. Since I joined Entrecard at the beginning of this year, the traffic on this site has jumped from an average of 40-50 visits per day (mainly coming from LOL or Compuserve) to more than 200 per day. The vast majority of that is due to Entrecard droppers. It takes some effort to get results from Entrecard, but it really does work. So, if you found my site through Entrecard and you've found it interesting or useful to you, please leave a comment and let me know! I'm always interested in what other people think.

Monday, March 9, 2009

ECHO's Release Date

Apparently it is now official: the U.S. release date for AN ECHO IN THE BONE will be Tuesday, September 22, 2009.

Here's the link to the pre-order page at Amazon.com, or click on the image below:



Unfortunately for those of you in the UK, it appears that the release date of ECHO in the UK is going to be considerably later than that. Here is what Diana had to say on Compuserve today:

What they [the publisher] _said_ is that the UK edition of the book would be released in Australia and New Zealand at about the same time as the US edition is published (it has to be, owing to some bizarre provision of Australian copyright law)--BUT that they didn't mean to release the at-home version _in_ the UK until March of 2010. I have no idea why this is, but that's what they've told me so far.
I think this is really a shame, and makes no sense at all from a marketing standpoint. Why would they make UK readers wait a full six months for the book?

Comments? Reactions? (I can hear the howls of outrage from across the Atlantic already, and I don't blame you one bit!)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Finished the series, again

This afternoon I finally finished my latest "re-listen" (the audio equivalent of a "re-read" <g>) of ABOSAA. As usual, I'm sort of worn out, overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted by the events of the last part of that book, and by the sheer fact of having come to the end of the series at last. (Again.)

I made a deliberate decision this time around to go as slowly as I could manage, trying hard to pay close attention to the details. Most of my favorite scenes, I listened to twice, sometimes three times, before moving on. And if I happened to be distracted and not paying attention in a particular part (a common occurrence, I'm afraid <wry g>), I backed up the recording and listened to it again.

As a result, it's taken me an amazingly long time to get through the series this time. I started my last "re-listen" of OUTLANDER in March of 2008 -- yes, almost exactly a year ago, believe it or not. Finished DRAGONFLY in April (in fact I listened to the farewell scenes on April 16, the anniversary of the battle of Culloden). Got through VOYAGER in six weeks, then spent most of the summer listening to DRUMS. And I'd made it almost to the hanging scene in FIERY CROSS by mid-September, when I was offered the position of Section Leader in Diana Gabaldon's section of the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum. Since then I've had a lot less time to spend listening to the audiobooks, but I finally got back to it in a systematic way at the beginning of the year, listening for half an hour or an hour a day, usually.

It took a lot longer that way, but I am thoroughly satisfied now that I've read the whole series about as slowly and carefully as I can possibly manage. (This is saying a lot, coming from someone who devoured all six books in only five weeks, the first time!)

I will probably take a break from the audiobooks for a few days, before I start over. Or maybe I'll listen to BOTB again, just for a change of pace. But right now I feel a great desire to step off the emotional roller-coaster of the OUTLANDER series and just let it all sink in.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Book Review: HOW THE SCOTS INVENTED THE MODERN WORLD

I have been reading Arthur Herman's HOW THE SCOTS INVENTED THE MODERN WORLD, and finally finished it last night. I wanted to share some of my impressions with you.


The book's concept is intriguing for OUTLANDER fans: to show how Scots, and people of Scottish ancestry, have had an enormous influence on virtually every aspect of modern society. Herman focuses primarily on the eighteenth century, a period which he refers to as the Scottish Enlightenment.

Overall I found it an interesting read, although it dragged in places (the chapter on Adam Smith in particular was difficult to get through, but possibly that's because I've never had much interest in economic theory). He goes into some detail about the Rising of 1745, and about the Clearances of the early 19th century (in which thousands of people were forcibly evicted from the Highlands).

In the latter half of the book, the author's conceit that just about every event or discovery of importance in the last 200 years has had a Scottish connection started to grate on me a bit. (Keeping in mind that I don't have a drop of Scottish blood.) I kept thinking to myself, surely not everything is a Scottish invention! And in fact some of these claims seem exaggerated. James Marshall, who discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in California in 1848, igniting the Gold Rush, is described as "a Scottish immigrant" (p. 397), but everything I can find online about him states that he was born in New Jersey.

On the other hand, here are a few things that surprised or intrigued me:

Thomas Jefferson's famous phrase "the pursuit of happiness", which we tend to think of as a quintessentially American concept, in fact has its roots in the work of Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), an "Ulster Scot" (the term then used for Scots living in Northern Ireland). Hutcheson, coincidentally, was the first university professor to lecture in English (at the University of Glasgow); until then, all university lectures had been conducted in Latin.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first to write what we today would call historical fiction.

The historical novel became a distinct art form, a way of making the past come alive through an intriguing blend of imaginative fantasy and meticulous fidelity to historical truth--a form that has proved more successful with modern readers than history itself. (p. 310)
I find that ironic indeed, that the very genre that drew so many of us to Diana Gabaldon's work in the first place was in fact invented by a Scot.

Other famous Scots (or people of Scottish ancestry) mentioned in the book include:

I learned a lot from this book, and I would encourage you to take a look at it. If you've already read it, please leave a comment here and let me know what you thought about it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

February poll results, and a little news

February Poll Results

Here are the results of the February poll. Thanks so much to everyone who participated!

What's your favorite romantic quote from the books?

44.7% - FIERY CROSS (look here for some comments by Diana about the inspiration for this particular quote):

"When the day shall come, that we do part....if my last words are not 'I love you'--ye'll ken it was because I didna have time."

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 111 ("And Yet Go Out to Meet It"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

18.4% - DRUMS OF AUTUMN:

"And when my body shall cease, my soul will still be yours. Claire--I swear by my hope of heaven, I will not be parted from you."

(From Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16 ("The First Law of Thermodynamics"). Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

11.4% - OUTLANDER:

"Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone. I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One. I give ye my Spirit, 'til our Life shall be Done."

(From Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 14 ("A Marriage Takes Place"). Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

11.4% - ABOSAA:

"Claire," he said, quite gently," it *was* you. It's always been you, and it always will be."

(From A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 31 ("And So To Bed"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

7.9% - VOYAGER:

"I have burned for you for twenty years, Sassenach," he said softly. "Do ye not know that?"

(From Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 25 ("House of Joy"). Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

3.5% - DRAGONFLY:

"I do not know if the wound is mortal, but Claire--I do feel my heart's blood leave me, when I look at you."

(From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 29 ("To Grasp the Nettle"). Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

2.6% - Other

I hope you'll vote in the March poll, which is all about one of my favorite addictions, the OUTLANDER audiobooks. <g>

Panalba

You may have seen the recent announcement on Diana's blog regarding a new web site called Panalba, which is devoted to All Things Scottish.

The site is currently in beta testing mode, which means that you need to send an email to the site administrator in order to request access. I was rather put off by this, and waited most of a week before I finally gave in and submitted my request, at the urging of a number of people on Compuserve who'd seen the site and had positive things to say about it. But the request was approved pretty quickly, so the process does seem to work.

I'm glad I did finally decide to sign up. It looks like a very interesting and informative site, and Diana has written two articles for it so far. The more recent of the two is a fascinating (and humorous) look at Scots and Gaelic as they're spoken in Scotland.

ECHO Countdown Clock

You may have noticed the countdown clock I've added to my site, showing the number of days left until the publication of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. The rumor (based on what Diana has said on Compuserve and on her blog) is that the date will be September 22, 2009, but we still haven't seen any official announcement of that date on her web site, so I suppose it's possible that it might change.

At any rate, I hope you like the countdown. It's synchronized to the same date and time as the one on the LOL Books Board (many thanks to Judie at LOL for posting her version, which turned out to be more accurate than mine!), which is 9 am ET on 9/22/09. (Less than seven months now, can you believe it?)