Monday, January 31, 2011


I've been listening to DRAGONFLY IN AMBER lately, and I was intrigued by a comment on Compuserve about the fact that there are many references in that book to things that are "stuck" or "frozen" somehow, unchanging, unmoving.  I thought it might be interesting to compile a list. (Many thanks to Sheila on Compuserve for the inspiration for this blog post!)

Please note, all quotes used below are copyright © 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.

The dragonfly in amber that Hugh Munro gave Claire as a wedding present.  (And the chunk of amber that Jamie gave to Claire as a gift for their first anniversary.)

The skeletons that Jamie and Claire discover in a cave in France, with their arms locked about one another.  I was stunned to discover that there really was such a Neolithic couple, discovered in a cave in Italy in 2007 -- a full fifteen years after DRAGONFLY was published!  I think the picture below is just amazing.

The clan stones at Culloden, weathered by more than two centuries of exposure to the elements, but otherwise unchanging.

Fraser clan stone at Culloden

The objects -- including Roger's genealogical chart -- pinned to the giant cork-board in the Rev. Wakefield's study. (I always imagine the cork-lined wall as looking something like this, only much larger and more crammed with papers.)

The miniature portraits of Claire and Jamie.  Claire's dream (nightmare?) of being trapped inside the portrait always makes a shiver go up my spine:
"A Lady," he said softly, cradling the last of the portraits in his palm, shielding it for the moment. "With brown hair curling luxuriantly to her shoulders, and a necklace of pearls. Undated. The artist unknown."

It was a mirror, not a miniature.  My cheeks were flushed, and my lips trembled as Frank's finger gently traced the edge of my jaw, the graceful line of my neck.  The tears welled in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks as I heard his voice, still lecturing, as he laid down the miniature, and I stared upward at the timbered ceiling.

"Undated. Unknown. But once...once, she was real."

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 10, "A Lady, With Brown Hair Curling Luxuriantly", p. 152 in the hardcover)
I like to imagine that this miniature portrait was what Frank was holding.

Claire's description of the way a child's personality is fixed at a very early age.
But from the very start, there is that small streak of steel within each child.  That thing that says "I am," and forms the core of personality.

In the second year, the bone hardens and the child stands upright, skull wide and solid, a helmet protecting the softness within. And "I am" grows, too. Looking at them, you can almost see it, sturdy as heartwood, glowing through the translucent flesh.

The bones of the face emerge at six, and the soul within is fixed at seven.  The process of encapsulation goes on, to reach its peak in the glossy shell of adolescence, when all softness then is hidden under the nacreous layers of the multiple new personalities that teenagers try on to guard themselves.

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 4, "Culloden", p. 55 in the hardcover)
Claire waiting for Jamie when he's taken away for questioning following the incident at the dinner party after Mary's rape:
But for the hours of the night, I was helpless; powerless to move as a dragonfly in amber.

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 19, "An Oath is Sworn", p. 270 in the hardcover)
The stillborn baby, Faith, who will always remain exactly as she was when Claire saw her.
"She was perfect," I said softly, as though to myself.  "So small.  I could cup her head in the palm of my hand.  Her ears stuck out just a little--I could see the light shine through them."

The light had shone through her skin as well, glowing in the roundness of cheek and buttock with the light that pearls have; still and cool, with the strange touch of the water world still on them.

"Mother Hildegarde wrapped her in a length of white satin," I said, looking down at my fists, clenched in my lap.  "Her eyes were closed.  She hadn't any lashes yet, but her eyes were slanted.  I said they were like yours, but they said all babies' eyes are like that."

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 28, "The Coming of the Light", p. 398 in the hardcover)
And finally, heartbreakingly...the twenty-year separation that left Claire and Jamie "frozen" in each other's memories, not dead, but trapped in time, unchanging through all their years apart.
He was slow, and careful; so was I.  Each touch, each moment must be savored, remembered--treasured as a talisman against a future empty of him.

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 46, "Timor Mortis Conturbat Me", p. 698 in the hardcover)


Bug Expert said...

Fascinating reference to how an insect like a dragonfly can be frozen in time...for millions of years. And became an inspiration for a whole novel.

Anonymous said...


This is an amazing post. I love it and the images you chose are perfect!


Karen Henry said...

Bug Expert:

I'm quite entertained that you found my blog. :-) The author of the OUTLANDER books, Diana Gabaldon, uses a lot of insect and wildlife imagery in her writing. And I do find the idea of an insect preserved in amber pretty interesting.


Karen Henry said...


Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked it.


jillybean said...

Thanks for this! I was wondering about that myself...

The visual aids help a lot too

I think I have another one for you: when Claire tells Brianna to go look at the portrait of Ellen in the National Portrait Gallery and bring along a hand mirror.

I've been very interested to find the portrait of Ellen MacKenzie. I know it's out there somewhere. I don't know its title, though. A simple Google search didn't turn up much; maybe I was using the wrong keywords.

Karen Henry said...


Glad you liked it! I always find that the pictures help a lot in situations like this. :-)

I have no idea if the portrait of Ellen MacKenzie is real or fictional. That's something you could ask Diana on Compuserve, if you want. (If it's fictional, it would save you a lot of digging!)


Rinah said...

LOVE this post! I'm listening to Dragonfly in Amber right now too (and loving it!) so these images and quotes were wonderful.

Thank you!


Karen Henry said...


I'm glad you liked it! For some reason there seem to be a lot of people re-reading (or listening to) DRAGONFLY at the moment. I just listened to the bit with 16-year-old Lord John yesterday -- one of my favorite parts of that whole book.


Annabella said...

Thank you for this post! I, too, am re-reading Dragonfly through Davina's audiobook. How delightful to see these images and the concept that they symbolize. I am always amazed at the layer upon layer of deep meaning that Diana builds into each part of the overall story! I loved your last reference to Jamie and Claire's relationship. What a powerful analogy! Well done!

Karen Henry said...


It's amazing how you can still pick up new layers even after multiple re-reads. I wasn't consciously aware that some of the above things were connected to the "dragonfly" theme until I started looking for them. They're scattered all over the book, in much the same way that there are "echoes" throughout AN ECHO IN THE BONE. Great fun trying to identify them all!


The Lit Bitch said...

Great posting!! I love symbolism and symbolic metaphors and this series is riddled with them!!! I especially like how the frozen dragonfly was linked in with symbolism as you pointed out. I found a site that talks about the symbolism of dragonflys ( and they more or less symbolize a maturity or growth. The amber could represent Claire's eyes (the color of gold/yellow) and thus implying that this book is about characters and their growth.....especially Claire's. Also could mean that a dragonfly is stuck in mid-flight (like Claire and Jamie's relationship/love is)is both powerful and confining at the same much symbolism and lays of meaning in these books.....thanks for suggesting that I read you were right i did really enjoy it!!! Nice job :)

Karen Henry said...


Really glad you liked it! And as I mentioned to you elsewhere, I'm enjoying the reviews of the OUTLANDER books on your site very much. It's such a treat for the rest of us to watch a new reader discover the series. Please don't stop! :-)


Rinah said...


We are at the exact same part!! I just listened to the young Lord John episode. Interesting because I also just recently read the second Lord John book (Brotherhood of the Blade) and in it he describes the episode from his perspective. Love reading (or listening) to things from the different perspectives. How does she keep it all straight???!!!

Thanks again for this great post!


bluemoonmagnolia said...

Excellent post, Karen!! I love it :)

Karen Henry said...


Glad you liked it! I had fun putting it together.

Karen said...

Any more info on the referenced National Gallery portrait and whether it's fact or fiction?

I've just discovered this series- shocked that it's been out for nearly 20 years and I didn't know about it! I am blogging my impressions and connections, so feel free to drop in! said...

Any more info on the referenced National Gallery portrait and whether it's fact or fiction?

I've just discovered this series- shocked that it's been out for nearly 20 years and I didn't know about it! I am blogging my impressions and connections, so feel free to drop in!

Karen Henry said...

Hi Shawn,

It's always good to see someone else discovering the series for the first time. Thanks for the link to your blog. I'll be interested to hear your impressions of the rest of the series.

In answer to your question, no, I have no idea if there really is a portrait of a red-haired woman who looks like Ellen MacKenzie in the National Portrait Gallery. I've never been to the UK.


Anonymous said...

I read the first book in the series, Outlander, and it disturbed me so much I thought I would never read another. 3 years later, I read the second, Dragonfly in Amber. Now I look forward to reading the third. I also enjoy researching the "facts" in the books, like the Battle of Culloden. It also helps that my maternal ancestors lived in the Highlands.