Friday Fun Facts - 4/27/2012

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

1) Gallberries (shown above) are the very bitter-tasting berries that Claire uses in ABOSAA as a substitute for cinchona bark, to treat Lizzie's malaria.
I am told by the Trader from whom I procured Jesuit Bark that the Indians use a Plant called Gallberry, which rivals the Bark of Cinchona for bitterness and is thought capital for Use in tertian and quartan Fevers. I have collected some for Experiment and propose to try an Infusion so soon as the Opportunity presents itself.

I picked out one of the dried berries and bit into it. The pungent taste of quinine at once flooded my mouth--accompanied by a copious flood of saliva, as my mouth puckered at the eye-watering bitterness. Gallberry, indeed!

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 9, "The Threshold of War". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

2) I had never heard of amplexus (the clasping posture of fertilization in frogs and toads) before I saw the word in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, in the chapter title of that name.
There were frogs in the ditches, in the bogs that lay beyond the scrim of trees. They called, high and low, shrill and bass, cascading over one another in a vast, pulsating chorus. At a distance, sitting on a lawn with that chorus as background, watching the stars come out, that sound might be no more than a pastoral, the song of spring.

This close, it was still the song of spring, but that song was revealed to be what the pagans had always known it to be--the blind urge to seize, to mate, to spill blood and seed heedlessly into the earth, wallow in crushed flowers, writhe in the juices of grass and mud.

Those bloody frogs were shrieking their passion, raw-throated and triumphant. Hundreds of them. The racket was deafening.

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 28, "Amplexus". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
By coincidence, Saturday, April 28, 2012 is Save the Frogs Day, but I didn't discover that until after I'd already decided to include the frogs in this week's FFF.

3) Here's an article about the history of trepanation. The engraving above (from Wikipedia) comes from an 18th-century French encyclopedia. Looking at this picture gives you a new appreciation of what Lord John went through in DRUMS, doesn't it?  No wonder Claire was fascinated. I bet she wished she'd been there to observe the operation. <g>
"Brianna says that Dr. Fentiman trephined your skull."

He shifted uncomfortably under the sheets.

"I am told that he did. I am afraid I was not aware of it at the time."

Her mouth quirked slightly.

"Just as well. Would you mind if I look at it? It's only curiosity," she went on, with unaccustomed delicacy. "Not medical necessity. It's only that I've never seen a trepanation."

He closed his eyes, giving up.

"Beyond the state of my bowels, I have no secrets from you, madame."

He tilted his head, indicating the location of the hole in his head, and felt her cool fingers slide under the bandage, lifting the gauze and allowing a breath of air to soothe his hot head.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 63, "Forgiveness". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I was very amused to see that the gentleman in the illustration operates without even rolling up his lace cuffs. <g> Although it appears he's wearing some sort of apron over his suit.

This photo shows a set of surgical instruments designed for trepanation, circa 1760.  (Photo from

The thing that disturbs me about the trepanation in the story is that it was the habitually-drunk Dr. Fentiman who drilled the hole in Lord John's skull. I mean, yes, he was undoubtedly the only doctor available and all that, but still, having a drunken surgeon approaching your brain with a drill...?? It's probably just as well that John wasn't conscious at the time. <g>

4) Here's a photo of Rose Hall, Jamaica. (Click on the picture to see a bigger view.)
Rose Hall was a two-storied house; long and graciously proportioned, with a roof laid in expensive slates, rather than in the sheets of tin that covered most of the planters' residences. A long veranda ran all along one side of the house, with long windows and French doors opening on to it.

A great yellow rosebush grew by the front door, climbing on a trellis and spilling over the edge of the roof. The scent of its perfume was so heady that it made breathing difficult; or perhaps it was only excitement that made my breath come short and stick in my throat. I glanced around as we waited for the door to be answered, trying to catch a glimpse of any white-skinned figure near the sugar refinery above.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 60, "The Scent of Gemstones". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The story of the Witch of Rose Hall may or may not be true, but I think it's fascinating all the same. Her name was Annie Palmer.  No indication that she was actually a time-traveler from 1968 <g>, but then again, I don't suppose anyone was too eager to poke into her background, given her reputation.  She sounds positively evil!

UPDATE 4/27/2012 6:30 pm: Here's Johnny Cash singing "The Ballad of Annie Palmer". Thanks very much to Penny Viens on Facebook for the link! I'd never heard of this song before, but it's VERY appropriate! <g>

5) This is a Mohawk bow. (Click on the picture to see a bigger view.) According to the site where I found this picture, it's 44-1/2" long, probably made from a hickory sapling, and originally decorated with quillwork. Can't you just picture young Ian using this?
Then the boar's front legs gave way and it fell to its knees. It wobbled, eyes glazing, and collapsed onto its side, the shaft of an arrow poking up, looking frail and inconsequential by comparison to the animal's bulk.

Jemmy was squirming and crying underneath him. He sat up slowly, and gathered the little boy up into his arms. He noticed, remotely, that his hands were shaking, but he felt curiously blank. The torn skin on his palms stung, and his knee was throbbing. Patting Jemmy's back in automatic comfort, he turned his head toward the wood and saw the Indian standing at the edge of the trees, bow in hand.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 108, "Tulach Ard". Copyright© 2001 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!


Julia Lammert said...

Wonderfully done as always! Love the Rose hall photo!

Anonymous said...

Love love love the FFF! I went to Jamaica in 1988. There was a dinner/tour right at Rosehall. My only souvenier was the book The WhiteWitch of Rosehall by Herbert G. de Lisser. It was a good and creepy read. I thought of this while reading that part of Voyager. Thank you so much for doing these! It adds so much to the Outlander experience! deboraht:)

Christiane K said...

Dear Karen, no way to skip the FFF! I learnt so many things today. Think I have to re-read DOA and Voyager!!.. Rose Hall : what a beautiful place! Thanks Karen for sharing. A good day to you from Paris.

Anonymous said...

Thank you once again Karen for these fabulously fascinating facts!

I had no idea that Rose Hall was a real place run by an evil witch.

Claire's malaria cure is very topical as a new drug resistant strain of malaria has recently appeared which may kill thousands of people -

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