Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 8/31/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

Culloden Dovecote

1) A dovecote, or doocot as they were known in Scotland, is a structure built to house pigeons.  The photo above shows the doocot at Culloden.  (Photo credit: The Poss on Flickr.)

Why pigeons?  According to this site,
Pigeons provided a valuable source of year-round fresh meat and eggs, adding variety to meals in the winter months. Their droppings, which built up in the dovecots, made an excellent fertiliser and were used in the production of gunpowder and in the processes of leather tanning and cloth dyeing. There was also a prevalent belief that pigeons had medicinal properties and they were used in various forms as a cure-all for everything from the plague to baldness.
You may recall that Lallybroch had a doocot:
Besides the arbor, there was a small walled garden, blooming with the last of the summer roses. Beyond it was what Jamie referred to as "the doocot"; or so I assumed, from the assorted pigeons that were fluttering in and out of the pierced-work opening at the top of the building.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 26, "The Laird's Return". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Here's what a doocot looks like from the inside.  The pigeons would roost in the little cubbyholes.  (You can see that this is where the term "pigeonhole" comes from!)

Doocots came in many different shapes and sizes.  There's a list of Scottish doocots here if you're interested.

2) Dachshunds really were first bred in Germany specifically to hunt badgers.  The painting above is titled Dachs und Dachshund, by Carl Friedrich Deiker, 1875.  (Click on the picture for a bigger view.)

As some of you may know, Diana Gabaldon has two dachshunds, Homer and JJ (shown here on Diana's blog in 2009).  But Gustav in LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE is named in honor of their predecessor, Gus the dachshund, who passed away in 2008, a few months after that book was published.
Gustav had tired of perching on his hind legs; he collapsed onto the floor and rolled onto his back, presenting a vast pink belly to be scratched, still wagging his tail. Grey obliged, raising a brow; the hound seemed so amiable as to appear almost feeble-minded.

“Badgers, you say. Has he ever killed one?”

“More than a dozen. I will show you the skins tomorrow.”

“Really?” Grey was impressed. He had met a few badgers, and knew of nothing—including human beings—willing to engage with one; the badger’s reputation for ferocity was extremely well founded.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 26, "Drinking with Dachshunds". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

3) This pair of engravings by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, from 1765, demonstrate the use of the knout (rhymes with "out"), a whip used for floggings in Tsarist Russia.  According to Wikipedia,
The dreaded instrument became synonymous in Western European languages with what was seen as the tyrannical cruelty of the autocratic government of Russia, much as the sjambok brought to mind the Apartheid government of South Africa or the bullwhip was associated with the period of slavery and Jim Crow laws in America.
I don't think Lord John has ever seen a knout, but evidently Harry Quarry has:
He followed Harry down the rickety stair and out of the noisome yard to the street, where they both stood for a moment, breathing deeply.

“Knouting?” Grey said.

“Russian flogging,” Quarry explained, tugging at his wilted stock. “With a whip made of hippopotamus hide. Saw it once; flayed the poor bugger to the bone in three strokes.”

“I see the appeal,” Grey agreed, feeling an unexpected kinship with his half-brother Edgar. “You haven’t got a spare knout you might lend me, before I go speak to Trevelyan?"

(From LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 12, "Along Came a Spider". Copyright© 2003 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

4) Remember the enormous lace-trimmed mobcap that Claire received from Grannie Bacon in THE FIERY CROSS?  Here are a couple of examples of what it might have looked like.  (Both of these paintings come from the collection of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum at Colonial Williamsburg, which is a very interesting place to visit.)

Looking at these paintings, I have no trouble understanding why Claire got upset.
"Grannie Bacon's sent ye a present," she explained proudly, as I unfolded the material, which proved to be an enormous mobcap, liberally embellished with lace and trimmed with lavender ribbons.  "She couldna come to the Gathering this year, but she said as we must bring ye this, and give ye her thanks for the medicine ye sent for her...roo-mah-tics."  She pronounced the word carefully, her face screwed up in concentration, then relaxed, beaming in pride at having gotten it out properly.

"Why, thank you.  How lovely!"  I held the cap up to admire, privately thinking a few choice things about Grannie Bacon.

(From THE FIERY CROSS, Chapter 10, "Grannie Bacon's Gifts". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
You can see more examples of 18th-century mobcaps here. And here are some simple instructions for making one of your own.

5) This 18th-century engraving, from Wikipedia, shows a group of women in the Highlands waulking wool.  Click on the picture for a bigger view.

This video, showing a group of women wool-waulking while singing a Gaelic "waulking song", was filmed in South Uist, Scotland, in 1970.  I have no idea what they're saying, but you definitely can get a feel for how repetitive this work is!
“Hot piss sets the dye fast,” one of the women had explained to me as I blinked, eyes watering, on my first entrance to the shed. The other women had watched at first, to see if I would shrink back from the work, but wool-waulking was no great shock, after the things I had seen and done in France, both in the war of 1944 and the hospital of 1744. Time makes very little difference to the basic realities of life. And smell aside, the waulking shed was a warm, cozy place, where the women of Lallybroch visited and joked between bolts of cloth, and sang together in the working, hands moving rhythmically across a table, or bare feet sinking deep into the steaming fabric as we sat on the floor, thrusting against a partner thrusting back.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, Chapter 34, "The Postman Always Rings Twice". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My blog is 4 years old today!

Four years ago today, I started Outlandish Observations!

I had two goals in mind when I started this blog.  The first was simply to learn about blogging.  The second was to create a central repository for news and information geared toward OUTLANDER fans, a place where people could go to find answers to commonly asked questions, links to other OUTLANDER-related sites, and the latest information on Diana Gabaldon's new and upcoming releases.

To say that this blog has succeeded far beyond my wildest imaginings is a severe understatement!  In the beginning, I never expected anyone to visit my site except a few dozen of my friends from Compuserve and LOL.  I didn't talk about it on Compuserve for the first couple of years, because I was very reluctant to draw attention to it where Diana could see -- which seems silly in retrospect, but it's true.  Suffice it to say that I did get over that shyness, eventually, and Diana regularly visits my blog to check out the latest collection of Friday Fun Facts.  (She's called them "consistently entertaining", which is extremely gratifying to me, as you can imagine!)

Special thanks to all of my followers on the Outlandish Observations Facebook page -- 773 at last count!  And many, many thanks to all of you who've visited the site over the past four years.  It's been an amazing journey, and I'm so glad you've come along for the ride. :-)

(The OUTLANDER Photo Contest that I'm currently running is intended as a celebration of this fourth anniversary.  I hope you'll consider sending in a photo if you haven't already.)

I'm going to raise a toast to all of you this evening.  I'm so grateful to you, the readers of Outlandish Observations, for your support and encouragement over these last four years!


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Update on the OUTLANDER Photo Contest

[UPDATE 9/16/2012 4:30 pm: The contest is over.  Many thanks to those of you who sent in photos! To see the winners, as well as the rest of the contest photos, look here.] 

Thanks very much to everyone who's sent in photos for the OUTLANDER Photo Contest!  I've received 37 entries so far, but I'm hoping more of you will participate.

The contest rules are here.  Please don't forget to let me know if it's OK to share your photo online when the contest is over.
I'm really enjoying the photos that people have sent in so far.  Keep 'em coming, please!  I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 8/24/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) The springhouse was very important in the days before refrigeration, particularly in warm climates such as Fraser's Ridge.  Items that needed to be kept cool, such as milk, butter, and cheese, were placed here, allowing the cool water of the spring to circulate around them and maintain a constant temperature.

Melrose Spring House Interior

Here's the interior of Melrose Spring House, Nashville, TN.  Click on the photo to enlarge it.  (Photo credit: www78 on Flickr.) 
I took my leave, starting from the springhouse. Stood inside for a moment, listening to the trickle of the water in its stone channel, breathing the cold, fresh smell of the place, with its faint sweet scents of milk and butter.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 12, "Enough". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

2) The photo above shows what mullein leaves look like.
Brianna fizzed with laughter. "I'd hate to see what they used for toilet paper then," she said.

"Actually, it wasn't bad," Claire said, surprisingly.  "Mullein leaves are really very nice; quite as good as two-ply bathroom tissue.  And in the winter or indoors, it was usually a bit of damp rag; not very sanitary, but comfortable enough.”

Roger and Brianna both gawked at her for a moment.

“Er…read it in a book,” she said, and blushed amazingly.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 2, "The Plot Thickens". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's Diana Gabaldon's explanation (from a post on Compuserve in 2008) of where she got this particular bit of historical trivia:
Actually, I got the mullein leaves from personal observation, you might say. <g>  There were (probably still are) a group of Basque sheep-herders who worked near Flagstaff [that would be Flagstaff, Arizona, where Diana grew up] in the summers.   Most of them spoke no English at all, but could get along in Spanish.   My Dad was friendly with them, and would help them out with immigration matters, tax returns, etc.--and in return, they often invited us out to take supper with them at the sheep-camps.  Entertaining experience. <g>

Anyway, after one of these excursions, my family was strolling in the woods (we'd go out every Sunday afternoon, if the weather was decent) and my father spotted a plant, and laughed.   "That's shepherd's toilet-paper," he said.  "That's what they use out in the sheep-camps."

I knew the plant, but not its _real_ name. <g>  Much, much later, when I began to write Claire, and picked up a lot of herbals for her background, I discovered that it was mullein.   But I checked to see that it did grow in Scotland, and figured that if Basque shepherds were using it, Scottish clanspeople would have been, too--given that it's free, much more sanitary than a damp rag, and that there was nothing even approaching disposable toilet paper.

3) The photo above shows a Freemason's compass that looks very much like the drawing in Daniel Rawlings' casebook mentioned in THE FIERY CROSS.
Jamie never spoke of his own association with the Freemasons. He had been “made,” as the saying went, in Ardsmuir, and beyond any secrecy imposed by membership in the society, he seldom spoke of anything that had happened between those dank stone walls.

“Rawlings must have been one as well,” he said, clearly reluctant to talk about Freemasonry, but unable to keep from making logical connections. “Else he’d not have kent what that is.” One long finger tapped the sign of the compass.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 96, "Aurum". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
What do the compasses symbolize in Freemasonry?  The following explanation comes from Albert G. Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, written in the 1870's.
[The compasses are] the most prominent emblem of virtue, the true and only, measure of a Freemason's life and conduct. As the Bible gives us light on our duties to God, and the square illustrates our duties to our neighborhood and Brother, so the compasses give that additional light which is to instruct us in the duty we owe to ourselves-the great, imperative duty of circumscribing our passions, and keeping our desires within due bounds. "It is ordained," says the philosophic Burke, "in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate passions cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters." Those Brethren who delight to trace our emblems to an astronomical origin, find in the compasses a symbol of the sun, the circular pivot representing the body of the luminary, and the diverging legs his rays.

4) I had never heard of the Wendigo before I read A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES.
"What kind of name is Weddigo?” Ian asked, putting [Donner's drawing] down.

Brianna had been clutching her pencil so tightly that her knuckles were white. She unfolded her hand and put it down, and I saw that her hands were shaking slightly.

“Wendigo,” she said. “It’s an Ojibway cannibal spirit that lives in the wood. It howls in storms and eats people.”

Ian gave her a long look.

“Nice fellow,” he said

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 55, "Wendigo". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to this site,
It cannot be emphasized enough that the Wendigo constantly hungers for human flesh, and no matter how much it eats, it always feels as if it is starving to death. So powerful is this hunger that the Wendigo goes forth crashing through the forests and uprooting trees, causing game animals to stampede, and causing whirlwinds. The monster is often thought to be the cause of ice storms, tornadoes, and violent weather. All of these weather-related events are believed to be signs of the creature's presence.
There is even a medical condition known as Wendigo psychosis.  From Wikipedia:
The term "Wendigo psychosis"....refers to a condition in which sufferers developed an insatiable desire to eat human flesh even when other food sources were readily available....One of the more famous cases of Wendigo psychosis involved a Plains Cree trapper from Alberta, named Swift Runner. During the winter of 1878, Swift Runner and his family were starving, and his eldest son died. Twenty-five miles away from emergency food supplies at a Hudson's Bay Company post, Swift Runner butchered and ate his wife and five remaining children.  Given that he resorted to cannibalism so near to food supplies, and that he killed and consumed the remains of all those present, it was revealed that Swift Runner's was not a case of pure cannibalism as a last resort to avoid starvation, but rather of a man suffering from Wendigo psychosis. He eventually confessed and was executed by authorities at Fort Saskatchewan.
One more thought about Donner in ABOSAA:  It's not only his first name that carries the association with cannibalism! His surname recalls the infamous Donner party of 1846, a group of pioneers headed for California who resorted to cannibalism after they became trapped in the Sierra Nevada in winter.

For more about the Wendigo, look here.

5) The photo above shows a pair of jade "health balls" (also known as baoding balls) from China, like the ones Mr. Willoughby carried in VOYAGER.
"Healthy balls,” Mr. Willoughby explained, rolling them together in his palm. They made a pleasant clicking noise. “Streaked jade, from Canton,” he said. “Best kind of healthy balls."

"Really?” I said, fascinated. “And they’re medicinal--good for you, that’s what you’re saying?”

He nodded vigorously, then stopped abruptly with a faint moan. After a pause, he spread out his hand, and rolled the balls to and fro, keeping them in movement with a dextrous circling of his fingers.

“All body one part; hand all parts,” he said. He poked a finger toward his open palm, touching delicately here and there between the smooth green spheres. “Head there, stomach there, liver there,” he said. “Balls make all good."

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 26, "Whore's Brunch". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
You can see a similar set on here.  They're about 1.5" in diameter.  How do they work?  According to this article:
Chinese stress balls work according to the principle of chi. According to traditional Chinese medicine, chi is the life force and organizing principle of the body, the force that keeps you alive and healthy. Chi is manifested when your body heals itself of a cut or returns to health from illness without any treatment. Chi can become blocked due to various imbalances in the body, and Chinese medicine offers various techniques to unblock it.
I don't know anything about Chinese medicine, but I'd like to try these some day. <g>

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Looking for excerpts or #DailyLines?

Diana Gabaldon is on vacation in the UK with her husband this week, following their daughter's wedding.  She hasn't been posting #DailyLines on Facebook or Twitter, and many of you seem to be suffering withdrawal symptoms <g>, missing your daily "fix".

I just wanted to point out that Jari Backman has an extensive collection of links to all of Diana's excerpts and #DailyLines from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD, on his website.

Jari is an OUTLANDER fan from Finland, and I've known him on Compuserve for about five years.  He is the one who helped me put together the list of dates that I use for the "Notable Dates This Month" feature.  (Thanks very much for that, Jari!) 

I hope you'll take the time to explore his site.  There's a lot of useful information there for OUTLANDER fans.

Also please note, Diana has said that it's fine to post LINKS to her excerpts and #DailyLines, or email the links to your friends, but please don't copy-and-paste the excerpts onto your own site.  Thank you.

Diana will be back home in a few days.  I hope she's enjoying a restful vacation!  I'm sure that the #DailyLines will resume as soon as she's had a chance to recover from the wedding, and stay put in one place long enough to actually write something! <g>

In the meantime, I thought Jari's collection of excerpts and #DailyLines might keep some of you occupied until she gets home.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  I am an excerpt-avoider myself!  I do not read excerpts or #DailyLines from Book 8.  Please do not discuss the excerpts here on my blog.  If you want to talk about the content of any of the excerpts or #DailyLines, there's a thread on Compuserve here, and you're welcome to join in the discussion there.  Thanks.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Differences between OUTLANDER and CROSS STITCH

I have seen some questions recently on Diana Gabaldon's Facebook page regarding the differences between OUTLANDER and CROSS STITCH.  So I thought I'd repost the detailed comparison of the two books that I did in 2009.

For those of you who don't know:
  • OUTLANDER is published in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand under the title CROSS STITCH.  (Why?  Look here.)
  • None of the other books have differences in the text between the US and UK versions.
  • As Diana explained on Compuserve in 2009:
    All the _other_ books are identical, between the US and UK editions, but for CROSS STITCH, the editor expressed concern that readers would think Claire was "cold-hearted," if she didn't worry about Frank more--so there are six small insertions (of a sentence or two) in which Claire worries explicitly about Frank. <g>  The same editor also asked me to remove the sex scene that ends the "Raiders in the Rocks" chapter, fearing that it might be too graphic for her readership, and asked me to alter another so (and I quote) "it looks as though they're having _normal_ sex." <ahem>  After this request, she added deprecatingly, "Of course we all _do_ that, but we don't like to admit that we do." 
Rather to my surprise, when I set out to compare the two books, I found more discrepancies than just the ones Diana mentioned.  Most of the differences are very minor, some of them are just baffling, and a few might surprise you!

Please note:  this isn't intended to be a word-for-word comparison of the two books!  I only noted those differences that jumped out at me during the reading of CROSS STITCH, and I'm sure I missed a few.


For more discussion of the differences between the two books, take some time to read through this thread on Compuserve.  Diana Gabaldon commented frequently during that discussion, and I think you'll find it interesting.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

OUTLANDER Photo Contest update

[UPDATE 9/16/2012 4:30 pm: The contest is over.  Many thanks to those of you who sent in photos! To see the winners, as well as the rest of the contest photos, look here.] 

Thanks very much to everyone who's sent in photos for the OUTLANDER Photo Contest!  I've received 25 entries in the first two weeks, which is great, but I'm hoping that more people will participate.

The contest rules are here.  If you have any questions, leave a comment here or email me at

Contest ends Saturday, September 15, at midnight Eastern time.  Good luck!

P.S.  I acknowledge each entry as it's received with a reply by email.  If you sent in a photo but you did NOT get a reply back from me, please re-send it and make sure that you put "OUTLANDER Photo Contest" in the subject line, so I will know it's for the contest.  Thanks.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


I first posted this in January, 2011, but I thought I'd repost it now, as I'm once again listening to DRAGONFLY IN AMBER.  Many thanks to Sheila on Compuserve for the inspiration for the original blog post.  Hope you all enjoy it!

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.

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

1) 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.)
"Amber,” he said, with satisfaction, as I turned the irregular lump over with a forefinger. It seemed warm to the touch, and I closed my hand over it, almost unconsciously.

“It needs polishing, of course,” he explained. “But I thought it would make ye a bonny necklace.” He flushed slightly, watching me. “It’s…it’s a gift for our first year of marriage. When I saw it, I was minded of the bit of amber Hugh Munro gave ye, when we wed.”

“I still have that,” I said softly, caressing the odd little lump of petrified tree sap. Hugh’s chunk of amber, one side sheared off and polished into a small window, had a dragonfly embedded in the matrix, suspended in eternal flight. I kept it in my medicine box, the most powerful of my charms.

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 33, "Thy Brother's Keeper", p. 456 in the hardcover)

2) The skeletons that Jamie and Claire discover in a cave in France, with their arms locked about one another.
He turned again then to the two skeletons, entwined at our feet. He crouched over them, tracing the line of the bones with a gentle finger, careful not to touch the ivory surface.

“See how they lie,” he said. “They didna fall here, and no one laid out their bodies. They lay down themselves.” His hand glided above the long armbones of the larger skeleton, a dark shadow fluttering like a large moth as it crossed the jackstraw pile of ribs.

“He had his arms around her,” he said. “He cupped his thighs behind her own, and held her tight to him, and his head is resting on her shoulder."

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 29, "To Grasp the Nettle", p. 416 in the hardcover)
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 above is just amazing.

Fraser clan stone at Culloden

3) The clan stones at Culloden, erected in 1881 and weathered by many years' exposure to the elements, but otherwise unchanging.
“Look,” Brianna said, almost in a whisper. She pointed at one of the stones. A small heap of greenish-gray twigs lay there; a few early spring flowers mingled, wilted, with the twigs.

“Heather,” Roger said. “It’s more common in the summer, when the heather is blooming--then you’ll see heaps like that in front of every clan stone. Purple, and here and there a branch of the white heather—the white is for luck, and for kingship; it was Charlie’s emblem, that and the white rose.”

“Who leaves them?” Brianna squatted on her heels next to the path, touching the twigs with a gentle finger.

“Visitors.” Roger squatted next to her. He traced the faded letters on the stone--FRASER. “People descended from the families of the men who were killed here. Or just those who like to remember them."

(DRAGONFLY Chapter 4, "Culloden", p. 43 in the hardcover)
I was so glad that I got to see Culloden for myself, on my visit to Scotland in July.  It's a very moving experience.

4) 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 wall exemplified the Reverend Wakefield’s mind. Completely covering one side of the study, it was an expanse of corkboard measuring nearly twenty feet by twelve. Virtually none of the original cork was visible under the layers upon layers of papers, notes, photographs, mimeographed sheets, bills, receipts, bird feathers, torn-off corners of envelopes containing interesting postage stamps, address labels, key rings, postcards, rubber bands, and other impedimenta, all tacked up or attached by bits of string.

(DRAGONFLY, chapter 2, "The Plot Thickens", p. 27 in the hardcover)

5) 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.

6) 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)
7) 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)
8) 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)
9) 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)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 8/17/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) Oenomancy (also spelled oinomancy) is divination by wine.  Here is a site that explains how it was done in Ancient Greece.  There were a number of different methods of divination:
  • by the patterns left by spilled wine in a cloth or paper.
  • by the appearance of cloth or paper that had been soaked and/or boiled in wine.
  • by the appearance of wine poured in libation.
  • by the sediment in a glass or bottle of wine.
  • by the sediment in the lees, dregs and casks of wine.
  • by the color and peculiarities of wine.
  • by the wine's taste.
It sounds a lot like reading tea leaves, or some sort of primitive Rorschach test, doesn't it? <g>

"Oenomancy" was one of my favorite new words from AN ECHO IN THE BONE.  I like the use of the word in this context very much:  the Murrays all gathered around the table at Lallybroch, sharing a bottle of Michael's wine, and Claire telling them what she knows of the future.
“They’ll build a machine called the guillotine--perhaps it already exists, I don’t know. It was originally made as a humane method of execution, I think, but it will be used so often that it will be a symbol of the Terror, and of the revolution in general. You don’t want to be in France when that happens.”

“I--how do ye know this?” Michael demanded. He looked pale and half belligerent. Well, here was the rub. I took a firm grip of Jamie’s hand under the table and told them how I knew.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 80, "Oenomancy". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I gasped when I read that the first time.  The idea that Claire would tell them the truth about the time-traveling took me completely by surprise.  But I agree that she had good reason to tell them.

2) I love it when Jamie and Claire run into real historical figures. Here's one of my favorite examples:
"Well, Godspeed to ye, Mayer Red-Shield,” he said, smiling.

“Jamie,” I said, suddenly thinking of something, “do you speak German?”

“Eh? Oh, aye,” he said vaguely, his attention still fixed on the window and the noises outside.

“What is ‘red shield’ in German?” I asked.

He looked blank for a moment, then his eyes cleared as his brain made the proper connection.

“Rothschild, Sassenach,” he said. “Why?”

“Just a thought,” I said. I looked toward the window, where the clatter of wooden shoes was long since lost in the noises of the street. “I suppose everyone has to start somewhere."

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 40, "I Shall Go Down To The Sea". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) was the founder of the Rothschild banking family.  He would have been in his early twenties when Jamie and Claire met him.

3) Here's a traditional Scottish ballad called "Twa Corbies", performed by Hamish Imlach.  This is the song Roger was thinking of in THE FIERY CROSS:
There was a raucous croaking from the chestnut overhead. The crows, black blotches in the yellow leaves, voicing their displeasure at the robbery of their feast.

"Whaur...shall we gang and...dine the day?” he murmured under his breath, looking up at them. “Not bastards. Get along!” Seized by revulsion, he scooped a stone from the bank and hurled it into the tree with all his might. The crows erupted into shrieking flight, and he turned back to the field, grimly satisfied.

But his belly was still knotted, and the words of the corbies’ mocking song echoed in his ears: “Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane/and I’ll pick oot his bonny blue e’en. Wi’ ae lock o’ his golden hair/we’ll theek oor nest when it grows bare."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 87, "There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here are the full lyrics (from Wikipedia):
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t'other say,
‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’

‘In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.

‘His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady's ta'en another mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.

‘Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I'll pike out his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We'll theek our nest when it grows bare.

‘Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken where he is gane;
Oer his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.’
If the Scots dialect is too difficult for you to follow, try this English translation.

Church Ruins

4) The photos above show several of the ancient stone buildings that make up the monastery of Inchcleraun, Ireland, which Jamie visited in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER:
The monastery of Inchcleraun stood on the edge of a small lake, a cluster of small stone buildings surrounding the church. There had once been a surrounding wall and a tall, circular tower, but these had crumbled—or been knocked down—and the stones lay tumbled, half sunk in the soft soil and mottled with lichens and moss.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 19, "Quagmire". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Inchcleraun was founded in the 6th century by St. Diarmuid.  Here's more information about Inchcleraun, including photos of some of the other buildings on the site.

5) The fugu fish (pictured above, from Wikipedia) is apparently an essential ingredient in the creation of zombies, as we learned in this conversation between Lord John and Geillis Abernathy:
"Poison. That would be the afile powder? What sort of poison is it, do you know?”

Seeing the spark in her eye, he thanked the impulse that had led him to add, “Do you know?” to that question--for if not for pride, he thought she might not have told him. As it was, she shrugged and answered offhand.

“Oh...herbs. Ground bones--bits o’ other things. But the main thing, the one thing ye must have, is the liver of a fugu fish.”

He shook his head, not recognizing the name. “Describe it, if you please.” She did; from her description, he thought it must be one of the odd puffer fish that blew themselves up like bladders if disturbed. He made a silent resolve never to eat one.

(From "Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" by Diana Gabaldon, in DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS. Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Fugu fish is a delicacy in Japan, but it's dangerous!  According to Wikipedia, the fugu or pufferfish contains a deadly toxin called tetrodotoxin or TTX:
TTX is roughly 100 times more poisonous than potassium cyanide. Fish poisoning by consumption of members of the order Tetraodontiformes is extremely serious. The organs (e.g. liver) of the pufferfish can contain levels of tetrodotoxin sufficient to produce paralysis of the diaphragm and, through this mechanism, death due to respiratory failure. Toxicity varies between species and at different seasons and geographic localities, and the flesh of many pufferfish may not be dangerously toxic. It is not always fatal; but at near-lethal doses, it can leave a person in a state of near-death for several days, while the person remains conscious.
Here's an article with more information about the effects of fugu poisoning, including some discussion of why anyone would ingest this stuff deliberately.

If you're interested in learning more about this phenomenon, check out THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW by Wade Davis (or the movie of the same name).  Diana told me that she used that book in her research for "Plague of Zombies".  I haven't read it myself.  Are any of you familiar with it?

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Update to Book 8 FAQ

I have updated my Book 8 FAQ page to reflect the latest information we have about WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD (book 8 in the OUTLANDER series).

I hope you find the information helpful.  I try to keep it as up to date as possible.  Please pass the link on to anyone else you know who might be interested.  Thanks!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

OUTLANDER Photo Contest update

[UPDATE 9/16/2012 4:30 pm: The contest is over.  Many thanks to those of you who sent in photos! To see the winners, as well as the rest of the contest photos, look here.] 

Thanks very much to everyone who's sent in photos for the OUTLANDER Photo Contest!  I've received 15 entries in the first week, so the contest is off to a good start already.

The contest rules are here.  Just to clarify a few things:
  • Yes, posed pictures are fine! <g>
  • The photo must include at least one of Diana Gabaldon's books, clearly identifiable.  (Photos of e-books or audiobooks are fine, too, as long as it's obvious from looking at the photo that they are Diana's books.)
  • Please don't forget to let me know if it's OK to share your photo online when the contest is over.
  • Some of you have sent multiple photos.  That's fine, but when I post the final collection online, it will include only one photo per person.  (And each person gets one entry in the contest, even if you send in more than one photo.)
I'm really enjoying the submissions so far.  Keep 'em coming, please!  I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book 8 update!

Diana Gabaldon posted a description of WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD on her blog yesterday.  It's intended for use as "catalog copy" for the publishers, and it's only a few paragraphs long, but it's very interesting!

I don't consider it spoilerish -- it's the same level of detail that would be on the inside front flap of the hardcover -- but there were a couple of details that surprised me.

The impression I get from this description (keeping in mind that I've avoided almost all MOHB excerpts and #DailyLines so far, so I really don't have anything more than vague notions of what's actually in the book) is that this is going to be very much a character-focused, character-driven book, with plenty of action and lots of potential for conflict among those eight POV characters.  The war's still going on, of course, but it might not be at center stage as much as it was in ECHO.  (I could certainly be wrong about that.)

And if you're wondering about the reference to a "Moebius twist", here's an example of what a Moebius strip looks like.

I'm guessing that reference has something to do with time-travel paradoxes?

Also please note, Diana says in her blog post:

"I’m still _writing_ this. With luck, it will be published in fall of 2013."


"I told my editor I want an octopus on the cover of this book. (There are eight main characters whose stories are told--and they’re all linked together.)"

It's very exciting to see WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD starting to come together. I can't wait!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Fun Facts - 8/10/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) I had never heard the term "epergne" (an ornamental centerpiece for a table) until I read VOYAGER:
Unable to sit, he prowled restlessly around the parlor, the Bible in his hand, touching things. Jenny’s bookshelf, battered and scarred from the last incursion of Redcoats, three months ago. The big silver epergne. That was slightly dented, but had been too heavy to fit in a soldier’s knapsack, and so had escaped the pilfering of smaller objects. Not that the English had got so much; the few truly valuable items, along with the tiny store of gold they had left, were safely tucked away in the priest hole with Jared’s wine.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 5, "To Us A Child Is Given". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The silver epergne shown above dates from 1743.  You can see more details here, including close-up photos.  Here is an article that explains the history of the epergne.

My personal reaction: it's gorgeous, but you'd need a whole team of servants just to keep the thing polished! <g>

2) Did you know that Adso the cat got his name from a character in Umberto Eco's THE NAME OF THE ROSE?  The narrator of that novel is a monk called Adso of Melk.
"My mother was verra learned--she was educated at Leoch, ye ken, along with Colum and Dougal, and could read Greek and Latin, and a bit of the Hebrew as well as French and German. She didna have so much opportunity for reading at Lallybroch, of course, but my father would take pains to have books fetched for her, from Edinburgh and Paris."

He reached across my body to touch a silky, translucent ear, and the kitten twitched its whiskers, screwing up its face as though about to sneeze, but didn’t open its eyes. The purr continued unabated.

"One of the books she liked was written by an Austrian, from the city of Melk, and so she thought it a verra suitable name for the kit."


"Aye," he said, nodding toward the empty dish, without the slightest twitch of lip or eyelid. "Adso of Milk."

A slit of green showed as one eye opened, as though in response to the name. Then it closed again, and the purring resumed.

"Well, if he doesn’t mind, I suppose I don’t," I said, resigned. "Adso it is."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 18, "No Place Like Home". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I've never read THE NAME OF THE ROSE, so I didn't recognize the reference until someone mentioned it on Compuserve a few years ago.  Here is what Diana had to say about it:
[T]hat name was one of my little hidden homages to another author--Adso of Melk is the narrator/hero of Umberto Eco's THE NAME OF THE ROSE. A fan who'd read both books--and happened to meet Eco at a conference somewhere mentioned it to him; luckily, she said he seemed amused. <g>

3) The sculptures shown above are the "Four Humors of Man", from the gardens of Versailles.  (Top to bottom: Le Sanguin, by Noël Jouvenet (1675-1680); Le Mélancolique, by Michel de Perdrix (1680); Le Cholérique, by Jacques Houzeau (1675-1680); and Le Flegmatique, by Matthieu Lespagnandelle (1675-1679).  Photo credit: Nikolai Buryakov.)  Click on the photos to enlarge them.
I paused beside a statue of a half-draped man with grapes in his hair and a flute at his lips. A large, silky goat nibbled hungrily at more grapes that were cascading from the marble folds of the draperies.

“Who’s this?” I asked, “Pan?”

Jamie shook his head, smiling. He was dressed in his old kilt and a worn, if comfortable coat, but he looked much better to me than did the luxuriously clad courtiers who passed us in chattering groups.

"No, I think there is a statue of Pan about, but it isna that one. That’s one of the Four Humors of Man.”

“Well, he looks fairly humorous,” I said, glancing up at the goat’s smiling friend.

Jamie laughed.

“And you a physician, Sassenach! Not that sort of humor. Do ye not know the four humors that make up the human body? That one’s Blood”--he motioned at the flute-player, then pointed down the path--“and there’s Melancholy.” This was a tall man in a sort of toga, holding an open book.

Jamie pointed across the path. “And over there is Choler”--a nude and muscular young man, who certainly was scowling ferociously, without regard to the marble lion that was about to bite him smartly in the leg--“and that’s Phlegm.”

“Is it, by Jove?” Phlegm, a bearded gent with a folded hat, had both arms crossed on his chest, and a tortoise at his feet.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 9, "The Splendors of Versailles". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

4) What is the "weather gauge" that Captain Hickman referred to in ECHO? Jamie obviously had no clue:
"I’m told that the Teal is firing at us,” he observed mildly. “Does this occasion ye no concern, sir?”

“Not yet it doesn’t.” Hickman spared a negligent glance at his stern windows, half of them covered with deadlights, presumably because of broken glass; a good many of the panes were shattered. “He’s just firing in hopes of a lucky shot. We’ve got the weather gauge on him, and will likely keep it for the next couple of hours.”

“I see,” said Jamie, with a convincing attitude of knowing what this meant.

“Captain Hickman is debating in his mind whether to engage the Teal in action, Uncle,” Ian put in tactfully, “or whether to run. Having the weather gauge is a matter of maneuverability, and thus gives him somewhat more latitude in the matter than the Teal has presently, I think."

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 31, "A Guided Tour Through the Chambers of the Heart". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to Wikipedia:
The weather gage (sometimes spelled weather gauge) is a nautical term used to describe the advantageous position of a fighting sailing vessel, relative to another. The term is from the Age of Sail, and is now antiquated. A ship is said to possess the weather gage if it is in any position, at sea, upwind of the other vessel....An upwind vessel is able to maneuver at will toward any downwind point, since in doing so the relative wind moves aft....A ship with the weather gage, turning downwind to attack, may alter course at will in order to bring starboard and port guns to appropriate elevations.
The painting above, by Thomas Buttersworth (1768-1827), is called "Cutter and Brig off the English Coast". It may not be exactly the same as what the ships described in ECHO looked like, but to my untrained eyes, it's similar.

5) Why did apothecary shops always have a stuffed crocodile or alligator hanging from the ceiling? The custom goes back centuries, and is even mentioned in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  The photo above is from the Deutsches Apothekenmuseum in Heidelberg, Germany, which looks like a very interesting place to visit.  (Click on the photo to see a bigger view.)
A fairly good-sized crocodile, presumably stuffed, hung from the ceiling. I gazed up at the yellow belly-scutes, hard and shiny as pressed wax.

"Real, is it?" I asked, taking a seat at the scarred oak table.

Master Raymond glanced upward, smiling.

"My crocodile? Oh, to be sure, madonna. Gives the customers confidence." He jerked his head toward the shelf that ran along the wall just above eye height. It was lined with white fired-porcelain jars, each ornamented with gilded curlicues, painted flowers and beasts, and a label, written in elaborate black script. Three of the jars closest to me were labeled in Latin, which I translated with some difficulty--crocodile's blood, and the liver and bile of the same beast, presumably the one swinging sinisterly overhead in the draft from the main shop.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 8, "Unlaid Ghosts and Crocodiles". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
What's the significance of the crocodile?  Check out this video for an explanation.

[UPDATE 8/12/2012 7:41 am:  I got an email last night from Alex Boxer, who created the "Inaugural Stuffed Crocodile" video, thanking me for including it here.  He says, "Because of you I received more views in one day than I have in the last 3 months combined!"  I told him that I thought it was fascinating, and so do a lot of other people, judging from the reaction so far.  If you want to see more of Alex's videos, check out his website at]

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please stop by next week for more!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Diana's daughter is getting married!

As some of you may know, Diana Gabaldon's younger daughter, Jennifer, is getting married in Scotland in mid-August. <g>  (Her fiance, Iain, is Scottish, and that's pretty much all I know about him.)

I just wanted to express my congratulations to Jenny and Iain, and also to Diana, her husband Doug, and the rest of their family.

I hope they have a wonderful wedding, and a long and happy life together! <g>

Diana has said that she will try to post wedding photos -- but only IF her daughter agrees!  In the meantime, you can see a photo of Jennifer and Iain here.

If you want to send your congratulations to Diana, you can post in the thread on Compuserve here.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, although "Jenny and Iain" may sound like a match inspired by OUTLANDER, as far as I know, none of Diana's kids have actually read her books.  The similarity in names is just a coincidence. <g>

Sunday, August 5, 2012

OUTLANDER Photo Contest!

To help celebrate the 4th anniversary of Outlandish Observations, which is coming up at the end of August, I've decided to hold an OUTLANDER Photo Contest!

[UPDATE 9/16/2012 4:30 pm: The contest is over.  Many thanks to those of you who sent in photos! To see the winners, as well as the rest of the contest photos, look here.] 

The Rules:

1) Submit a photo showing one of the following:
  • Yourself, a friend, or a family member (including children or pets!) reading or holding one of Diana Gabaldon's books.
  • Your OUTLANDER book collection
  • A well-loved paperback edition (you know, one of those books that's been read so often it's nearly falling apart...)
  • Your favorite place to read the books
  • The most unusual place you've read the books
  • etc.
Be creative! The only requirements are:
  • At least one of Diana Gabaldon's books must be included in the photo in order to qualify for the contest.
  • The photo must be one that you took yourself, or that you have permission to use.
2) Please email your photo to me at, with the subject line "OUTLANDER Photo Contest", and include:
  • Your name
  • A brief caption or description of the photo.  (If there's a story behind the photo, I'd love to hear it!)
  • Please state whether or not it's OK to share your photo.  (After the contest ends, I will post the photos in an album on my blog and on Facebook, so that Diana Gabaldon and any fans who might be interested can see them. If you'd rather not have your photo included in this collection, that's fine, just let me know.  It won't affect your eligibility for the contest.)
3) Contest ends Saturday, September 15, at midnight Eastern Time. Winners will be chosen at random on September 16, 2012.

4) One entry per person, please!

5) You do not have to be a US resident in order to enter this contest.

The Prizes:

There will be three (3) prizes awarded. Each winner will receive his/her choice of one of the following hardcover books, signed by Diana Gabaldon:
  • OUTLANDER 20th Anniversary Edition
  • A TRAIL OF FIRE (forthcoming story collection, to be published this fall in the UK)
I will arrange with the Poisoned Pen bookstore to ship the autographed book to you if you win.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  Good luck, and have fun!

PLEASE NOTE: I acknowledge each entry as it's received with a reply by email.  If you sent in a photo but you did NOT get a reply back from me, please re-send it and make sure that you put "OUTLANDER Photo Contest" in the subject line, so I will know it's for the contest.  Thanks.