William and time-travel

Can William time-travel?

A lot of people have asked that question since AN ECHO IN THE BONE came out in 2009.  It's a question that comes up frequently on Compuserve and on Diana Gabaldon's Facebook page.

[UPDATE 1/24/2012 10:33 am: Please note that Diana has not (to my knowledge) ever come right out and said definitively, "No, William can't time-travel", or "Yes, William has the time-travel gene". Different readers are free to draw their own conclusions. And what I wrote in this blog post is only my own opinion, based on the text and on things Diana has said in public since ECHO came out. If you disagree, that's fine. Only Diana really knows for sure.]

[UPDATE 2/21/2013 8:04 pm: Diana answered that question definitively on Compuserve in June 2012, here. (She says he's not a time-traveler.)]

The Evidence

Here's the original scene in ECHO that started all the speculation:
He’d heard the rocks talking to themselves on the fells at Helwater. The Lake District, his maternal grandparents’ home. In the fog. He hadn’t told anyone that.
He’d heard his mother--his real mother--whisper to him, too. That was why he’d gone into the fog. They’d been picnicking on the fells, his grandparents and Mama Isobel and some friends, with a few servants. When the fog came down, sudden as it sometimes did, there was a general scurry to pack up the luncheon things, and he had been left by himself, watching the inexorable white wall roll silently toward him.

And he’d swear he’d heard a woman’s whisper, too low to make out words but holding somehow a sense of longing, and he had known she spoke to him.

And he’d walked into the fog. For a few moments, he was fascinated by the movement of the water vapor near the ground, the way it flickered and shimmered and seemed alive. But then the fog grew thicker, and in moments he’d known he was lost.

He’d called out. First to the woman he thought must be his mother. The dead come down in the fog. That was nearly all he knew about his mother--that she was dead. She’d been no older than he was now when she died. He’d seen three paintings of her. They said he had her hair and her hand with a horse.

She’d answered him, he’d swear she’d answered him--but in a voice with no words. He’d felt the caress of cool fingers on his face, and he’d wandered on, entranced.

Then he fell, badly, tumbling over rocks into a small hollow, bruising himself and knocking out all his wind. The fog had billowed over him, marching past, urgent in its hurry to engulf things, as he lay stunned and breathless in the bottom of his small declivity. Then he began to hear the rocks murmur all around him, and he’d crawled, then run, as fast as he could, screaming. Fell again, got up and went on running.

Fell down, finally unable to go further, and huddled terrified and blind on the rough grass, surrounded by vast emptiness. Then he heard them calling out for him, voices he knew, and he tried to cry out in reply, but his throat was raw from screaming, and he made no more than desperate rasping noises, running toward where he thought the voices were. But sound moves in a fog, and nothing is as it seems: not sound, not time nor place.

Again and again and again, he ran toward the voices but fell over something, tripped and rolled down a slope, stumbled into rocky outcrops, found himself clinging to the edge of a scarp, the voices now behind him, fading into the fog, leaving him.

Mac had found him. A big hand had suddenly reached down and grabbed him, and the next minute he was lifted up, bruised and scraped and bleeding but clutched tight against the Scottish groom’s rough shirt, strong arms holding him as though they’d never let him go.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 36 ("The Great Dismal"). Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
And here's the same incident from Jamie's point of view, in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER:

“William!” he bellowed, plunging into the fog.

“Willie! Willie!” The women’s higher voices obligingly took up the call, regular as a bell on a ship’s buoy, and serving the same purpose. "Willie! Where are youuuu?”

The air had changed quite suddenly, no longer clear but soft and echoing; sound seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

“William!” The sound bounced off the stones and the short, leathery turf. "William!”
He went higher, among the tumbled stones. Staggered from one to another, feeling round their bases, stubbing his toes. The fog was cold in his chest, aching. His foot came down on something soft--Willie’s jacket--and his heart leapt.


Was that a sound, a whimper? He stopped dead, trying to listen, trying to hear through the whisper of the moving fog and the distant voices, cacophonous as a ring of church bells.

And then, quite suddenly, he saw the boy curled up in a rocky hollow, the yellow of his shirt showing briefly through an eddy in the fog. He lunged and seized William before he could disappear, clutched him to his bosom, saying, “It’s all right, a chuisle, it’s all right now, dinna be troubled, we’ll go and see your grannie, aye?”

“Mac! Mac, Mac! Oh, Mac!”

Willie clung to him like a leech, trying to burrow into his chest, and he wrapped his arms tight around the boy, too overcome to speak.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 39 ("The Fog Comes Down"). Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

A lot of people seem to think that William "hearing the stones" in the scene in ECHO means he can time-travel.

I understand why people think so. It does seem that Diana deliberately wrote that scene in ECHO in such a way that many readers would be left with that impression. He heard something in the rocks (or thought he did); that much is clear. And was obviously frightened out of his wits as a result. Both of those things could be taken as evidence that he sensed the presence of a time-portal, and therefore, that he can time-travel.


Now, I understand the temptation to jump to conclusions here, and assume that because William heard something in the rocks, he must therefore be able to time-travel. But I'm not at all convinced.

1) We know that Jamie does not have the time-travel gene, and it seems awfully unlikely that Geneva Dunsany would have it. Theoretically possible, but very unlikely. (I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I am.)

2) I don't see anything in these two scenes that indicates that there's a stone circle nearby. A pile of "tumbled stones" could be any random rock formation; it certainly doesn't sound like a ring of standing stones marking a time-portal. (And Jamie surely would have noticed a stone circle -- or the remains of one -- on the Helwater estate. Given his reaction when the abbot told him there was a stone circle near Inchcleraun (SCOTTISH PRISONER, p. 257) -- I can't imagine that he would have failed to recognize a circle of stones when he saw it.)

3) William was so young at the time, can his memories of the event really be trusted? Isn't it possible that he was simply hearing the fog-distorted voices of the women (Isobel, Lady Dunsany, and Betty) calling to him, and he only imagined that the voices were coming out of the rocks? That's always been my impression, and seeing the scene from Jamie's point of view in SCOTTISH PRISONER helped to reinforce that.

4) Finally, consider Diana Gabaldon's own comments on this subject. Here's what she said on Facebook today (January 24), in response to a similar question:
Well, we don't know that he's actually hearing the rocks; he's only three (he thinks he was five at the time, but it was a bit earlier than he recalls) and was lost in the fog and imagining he heard his mother's voice. He may very well have imagined hearing the rocks as well.
Diana has also commented on this in a discussion on Compuserve:
I don't _think_ Willie heard the stones scream--he thought they were talking to him.
And a bit later in that same thread on Compuserve (here), she mentions "red herrings". I think that's what this is: deliberate misdirection. Or, to put it another way: she's messing with our minds -- something that Diana readily admits that she enjoys doing. She once told me, "Hey, that's one of the chief perks of this job. <g>"


I think it's highly unlikely that William has the time-travel gene, and I don't think the incident where he was lost in the fog as a small boy proves that he can travel. But that's just my opinion. Until and unless Diana gives us some definitive proof one way or the other (for example, having the adult William walk up to a ring of standing stones so we can see how he reacts), we just don't know for sure. But it's fine to speculate about it if you want to.


Faith said...

Okay I am so happy you posted about this. I agree with you entirely. I always had a feeling Diana was messing with our minds a bit and it's got to be fun to watch some fall for it all the while seeing who doesn't! It's just another wild and fun twist.

Karen Henry said...


Well, as I said, this is one of those questions that I see over and over again on Compuserve. Someone asked about it yesterday on the forum, and then there was that post on Diana's FB page yesterday, and I thought the time was right to explore the question in detail.

It's fun to speculate, of course, but I do think in this instance that a lot of people are jumping to conclusions on the basis of very little evidence.

But yes, you definitely should always keep in mind that Diana likes to mess with readers' minds. :-)


Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I had always thought of that incident as something ethereal/supernatural, but not necessarily indicative of anything relating to time-travel. I accepted it literally, as his mother visiting him. But now I wonder...No, I think you're right- Herself's just messing with our heads, lol -Jennifer @ Outlanderfan.com

Anonymous said...

Argggh! I typed a lengthy response only to have it rejected because I wasn't signed in to my WordPress acct!

I am the person who queried Diana yesterday about Willie on FB...I have never had this conversation with Diana or anyone else before, and it was an innocent supposition/query; I don't think saying some people 'fall' for it or not is really necessary--it makes it sound like some people aren't capable of inferring properly... After all, Diana can change HER mind too; LOL!

My thoughts this second read--There could have been standing stones that a more 'educated and enlightened' people tore down because they didn't want that kind of superstition around them etc etc...So many directions, and which she ultimately chooses, we will all find out together...
I posted back to her response at FB about it maybe being a red herring myself before I saw you wrote this blog post...

I've never read the books with any other support than The Outlandish Companion..reading them with access to so many others thoughts and Diana's own opinions is a totally new level of reading! One that I am enjoying immensely.

I am probably going to get lost right here on this blog for a few hours now anyway, thanks!!!
(PS, your word verification won't accept my typing!! Weird, so I am trying anyomous-- I am Trish)

Frankie said...

Now, I'm going to reveal something really embarrassing about myself, but a few years ago, I was really into the Twilight series-until the last book came out that, brought it all home how crazy it was to have gotten so obsessed with it. But, anyway, before the last book came out, I predicted that Bella (the "heroine" for those of you that aren't familiar with the books) would get pregnant. Very few people would entertain the idea. They kept saying Stephenie Meyer (the author) had completely ruled out the possibility, yada yada yada. I kept saying, I think she's messing with everyone. I think it's going to happen. Well, guess what? It happened. So, I don't rule out either Jamie or Willie time traveling. In regards to the scene quoted, stone circles are not what gives an area supernatural power. Stone circles were built by the ancients in areas they recognized to have supernatural powers (I think these areas could be called Axis Mundi). Thus, the train tunnel.

Regardless of whether or not Willie and Jamie can time travel, they obviously have supernatural abilities. We never have yet found out why Geillie Duncan wanted Brianna other than she was descended from the Lovetts (not sure I spelled that right). Geillie knew something that I'm sure will play out in some form.

Outlander Kitchen said...

Very interesting read, Karen!

What I will say is that William is Jamie's son, and Jamie certainly seems to have some powers of his own...not sure how to describe them, but they certainly involve conjuring those he loves in his dreams.

Who know if that "gene" gets passed through the paternal line? ;)


Karen Henry said...

Trish - thanks for stopping by to comment! Please understand that I'm not picking on you; I've seen this particular question maybe two dozen times since ECHO came out, and it was just coincidence that your question on FB yesterday prompted me to write this blog post.

I also think that everyone's entitled to their own opinions and speculations about the books. Diana has not (to my knowledge) ever come right out and said definitively, "No, William can't time-travel", or "Yes, William has the time-travel gene". All she's said is variations on what she told you on Facebook, and different readers are free to draw their own conclusions.

And what I wrote in this blog post is only my own opinion, based on the text and on things Diana has said in public since ECHO came out. No offense intended, honestly! I wasn't directing any of these comments to you personally.

Anyway, welcome, and I hope you'll have fun exploring my site! :-)


aliaslaceygreen said...

None taken, Karen! I'm not looking to make waves, new as I am to having people to share this story with, I was simply responding to one of the earlier comments, not your choosing to blog about this!!

I am determined to avoid all the little excerpts Diana posts on FB, or if I 'DO' read them, I do it gently, softly and without spending too much time THINKING big thoughts about them, because I want 8 to be fresh to me when I get there....

And I promised my DD and DH I would read Dragon Tattoo series after I finished this re-read of the series, so I don't know if I may sneak Scottish Prisoner in before they know I finished Echo or not!! LOL!
Now, let's see if I can sign in properly... Trish

Unknown said...

As usual you have posted a great amount of detail to draw conclusions from (whether you think he can or can't)
Personally, I don't think he can. I do admit that as Jamie gets older he seems to develop some sort of freakish powers that he didn't seem to have when he was younger.
I'm ok with that because I am sure that it will eventually lead to that "Jamie's ghost" scene from Outlander.
It could be that William inherited a bit of that supernatural power from Jamie and it just comes out in bits and pieces when his adrenaline is running high.

Regarding that prophesy from Voyager, I think it may be Jem and Amanda. Like just look at their mixed up genes and hereditary. I can't wait to see where Diana takes us on that journey!!!

Powered by Blogger.