What do these things look like?

There are many items mentioned in Diana Gabaldon's books that are difficult for modern readers to picture, because we don't have a frame of reference for what they look like in real life. Here are some links I've collected that show what some of these things (and people!) actually look like:

1. Astrolabe (mentioned in THE FIERY CROSS, chapter 77, "A Package From London")

The Wikipedia article on astrolabes from which I got this picture indicates that this is a 16th century brass model, but you can easily imagine it gold-plated, with Jamie's name engraved on it. <g>

2. Bilboquet (18th century toy)
Placing the hand over his eye, he fixed the other piercingly on the bilboquet and gave the ivory cup a toss. The tethered ball leaped from its socket into an arc, and dropped as though guided by radar, landing back in its cup with a snug little plop.
(From Dragonfly In Amber by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 12 ("L'Hopital des Anges"). Copyright © 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.
I saw this in a gift shop in Colonial Williamsburg in September. Naturally, the moment I saw it, I decided I had to have one. It's not nearly as easy as it looks! <g> This may not look exactly like the French version mentioned in DRAGONFLY, but the basic idea is the same.

3. Dirk and sgian dubh

Thanks to Jari Backman for this link, which shows exactly what a dirk looks like. They're larger than I'd thought!

4. Barrel-type butter churn

This is, presumably, the same type of butter churn mentioned in FIERY CROSS:
"Oh, no, Father; it was a barrel churn. The sort that lies on its side, aye, with a wee handle to turn it? Well, it's only that she was workin' the churn with great vigor, and the laces of her bodice undone, so that her breasts wobbled to and fro, and the cloth clinging to her with the sweat of her work. Now, the churn was just the right height--and curved, aye?--so as to make me think of bendin' her across it and lifting her skirts, and--"

My mouth opened involuntarily in shock. That was my bodice he was describing, my breasts, and my butter churn!

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 13 ("Beans and Barbecue"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
5. Mammoth skeleton

This is a picture of a mammoth skeleton. Just imagine what Ian and Brianna must have thought, to see those enormous tusks curving up out of the ground:
The raked arches of ribs rose huge from the dirt, and she had the impression of a scatter of things half-buried in the rubble at the foot of the bank: enormous things, knobbed and twisted. They might be bones or simply boulders--but it was the tusk that caught her eye, jutting from the bank in a massive curve, intensely familiar, and the more startling for its very familiarity.

(From A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 70 ("Emily"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
6. Rhododendron hell

Remember the rhododendron hell Roger was trapped in while trying to escape from the Indians in DRUMS?
He looked upward, through the snarl of branches. He could see small patches of sky, but the rhododendrons rose nearly twelve feet over his head. There was no way to stand up; he could barely sit upright under the interlacing branches.
(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 51 ("Betrayal"). Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
7. Here is a picture of Simon Fraser (the "Old Fox", Jamie's grandfather)

Also look here for more information. The "Old Fox" was an actual historical figure. Notice the eyes in this portrait; these are the "gull-wing brows" that Jamie inherited. <g>

8. Passenger pigeon

This was something that very much startled me the first time I read FIERY CROSS:
It was impossible to make out individual birds in that violent cascade; it was no more than a river of feathers that filled the sky from one side to the other. Above the thunder of the wings, I could hear the birds calling to each other, a constant sussurrus of sound, like a wind storm rushing through the forest."

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 82 ("A Darkening Sky"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Finally, here are a couple of items that I was curious about:

9. Banyan (men's dressing gown), worn by Lord John:

10. Stays (women's undergarment):

If you liked these links, check out my other "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 VI: Wildlife

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


Janellybelly said...

Who needs 'Google' when you have Karen Henry! I love the butter churn picture, I think Kirsten posted it when I used that quote for QOTD recently :) I appreciate you research & insights - Thank you.

Karen Henry said...


Thanks! <g> You're right, I'm sure I first saw that butter churn picture on LOL. That's one of my favorite scenes from FIERY CROSS, and I think the picture makes it even funnier.


Mitzi H. said...

If there is one thing about the Outlander Books, it is that they do invoke curiosity. I have stopped many times while I’m reading them to Google an item so I can get a clearer picture in my mind about what she is describing. Another thing I like to Google search is Maps of the areas and the battles. I’m from Northern California and haven’t traveled outside of Nevada so I’m not familiar with the East Coast. It really helps me to get a handle on where everyone is located, for instance where is New Bern or Wilmington in relation to Cross Creek or Fraser’s Ridge. There a lot of great maps of the colonies and battle maps describing where troop movements occur. Just yesterday, I googled Moore’s Creek. There are some beautiful pictures of the battle area and the bridge Jamie and his men dismantled before that battle. Got to love Google!!!


Karen Henry said...


If you know of any particularly good sites for that sort of information (the Moore's Creek site, for example), feel free to share a link or two. <g> Even those of us who live in North Carolina would find it interesting, I'm sure. I've lived in the Raleigh, NC, area for the better part of 25 years now, but I know almost nothing of the history of colonial NC except for what I've read in these books.

I think it's amazing that Diana, living in Arizona, can write so convincingly about North Carolina (or Scotland, for that matter) based largely on research, with only infrequent trips to the area to see it for herself.


Merrymags said...


Love the post today. I'm with Mitzi in that I Google all sorts of stuff I run across in the Books when I'm uncertain of it or want a better image as I read. I am also fascinated by the fact that Diana has such skill in depicting environments, artifacts, lifestyles, all sorts of aspects of life that she hasn't experienced or has only limited experience. This, for me, is the crux of why I enjoy her Books so much -- we have a vivid example of an intelligent mind, and the pay off is Jamie, Claire et al.


Lisa said...

I LOVE THIS POST!!! More more MORE!!!

Karen Henry said...


Thanks! Glad you liked it. And if you run across any more links that may be of interest to people here, let me know.

And I totally agree with you about Diana's writing. <vbg>


Karen Henry said...


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


Jari Backman said...

Thank you Karen,

For some reason I always thougth of the spherical astrolabe, must have mixed circles and spheres. [s]

Merrymags said...


Out of respect to your mandate not to discuss excerpts, please allow me to say that I have, in anticipation of the oncoming War in Echo in the Bone, been Googling Revolutionary War armament: grenades, guns, bayonets, uniforms, cannon, powder horns, bullets, surgical instruments, ad infinitum. Do you wish for any specific sites for these?


Karen Henry said...


Yes, absolutely, I would love to see the links you've collected! <g> If you want to post them here, that's fine, or email them to me (my email address is at the very bottom of this page on the right) and I'll sort through them and post the ones I like best. Totally up to you.

We know that the next book will get into the Revolutionary War in more detail. I think everybody here would appreciate learning more about what the uniforms, weaponry, etc. looked like. (It fascinates me, too, as you can tell from the pictures of my Williamsburg trip -- I spent a lot of time staring at the weapons displays I saw there, much to my parents' bemusement. <g>)


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