Friday Fun Facts - 3/1/2013

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

1) I had never heard the term "blue vitriol" before I read "The Space Between", and I was surprised to learn that it's an archaic term for copper (II) sulfate (CuSO4) -- a chemical that you may remember from chemistry classes in school.  Isn't that a gorgeous color? I thought the Comte's use of it in the story was fascinating.
He found the blue vitriol by smell, and wrapped the cloth tightly around the head of one torch, then--whistling under his breath--did three more, impregnated with different salts.   He loved this part.  It was so simple, and so astonishingly beautiful.

He paused for a minute to listen, but it was well past dark and the only sounds were those of the night itself--frogs chirping and bellowing in the distant marshes by the cemetery, wind stirring the leaves of spring.   A few hovels a half-mile away, only one with fire-light glowing dully from a smoke-hole in the roof.

Almost a pity there’s no one but me to see this. He took the little clay firepot from its wrappings and touched a coal to the cloth-wrapped torch. A tiny green flame flickered like a serpent’s tongue, then burst into life in a brilliant globe of ghostly color.

(From "The Space Between" by Diana Gabaldon, in A TRAIL OF FIRE. Copyright© 2012 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to this site,
The beautiful blue color arises from water molecules attached directly to the copper(II) ion. The water/copper ion complex absorbs photons of yellow or red light. Absorption of a photon promotes an electron from the water to the copper(II) ion. Since only yellow or red light is absorbed, blue light is transmitted, and the crystals appear blue.

Here's a short video showing how you can make your own green flames using common household chemicals.

(If you haven't yet read "The Space Between", I highly recommend it!  It's available in THE MAD SCIENTIST'S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION or A TRAIL OF FIRE.)

2) The photo above shows a copper warming pan similar to the one Tom Byrd used to warm Lord John's bed in BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE.  Filled with embers from the fire, it was a quick and easy method of warming up a bed.
Tom bent to shovel embers into the warming pan. “And a pair of doeskin breeches.”

“Don’t I have a pair?” Grey asked, surprised

“You do,” Byrd said, straightening, “and Lord only knows what you sat on whilst wearing ’em.” He gave Grey a disapproving look; Tom was eighteen, and round-faced as a pie, but his disapproving looks would have done credit to an old gaffer of eighty.

“I’ve done me best, me lord, but bear in mind, if you go out in those breeches, don’t be taking your coat off, or folk will be sure you’ve beshit yourself.”

Grey laughed, and stood aside for Tom to warm the bed. He shucked his banyan and slippers and slid between the sheets, the heat grateful on his chilly feet.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 1, "All in the Family". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's an article about the various types of warming pans used in the 17th-19th centuries.

If you're wondering why Jamie and Claire didn't have one of these on the Ridge, I can think of two reasons: 1) These pans were made of metal, and metal of any kind was scarce and expensive in the Colonies; 2) With Jamie's internal furnace, Claire evidently didn't need any extra help staying warm on those cold winter nights! <g>  They certainly had one of these when they were living in Jared's house in Paris, though.

[UPDATE 3/1/2013 6:25 am:  Diana Gabaldon said on Compuserve this morning, "Oh--warming pans were expensive--and unnecessary.  The common way of warming a bed in the backcountry (or in poorer homes) was to set a brick or stone in the fire for awhile, then roll it out with the poker, wrap it in rags, and put it under your quilts to take the chill off.  It would radiate heat for some hours, much like a hot-water bottle."]

3) Those of you who have read "The Space Between" will recall Leopold the snake, but even if you haven't read the new story, you probably remember this scene from OUTLANDER:

“Aye. Did ye know that snakes have two cocks?--male snakes, I mean.”

“No, I didn’t. Are you sure about that?”

“Aye, and both of ’em forked, like this.” He spread his second and third fingers apart in illustration.

“That sounds terribly uncomfortable for the female snake,” I said, giggling.

“Well, she appeared to be enjoying herself,” said Jamie. “Near as I could tell; snakes havena got much expression on their faces."

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 15, "Revelations of the Bridal Chamber". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Diana Gabaldon posted a link to the photo above, showing a snake's hemipenes, on Facebook about a year ago, and I just couldn't resist including it here. <g> So why, exactly, do snakes have two penises?  Look here for an explanation.

Moores Creek Bridge

4) The photo above shows Moores Creek Bridge, where a battle was fought on February 27, 1776.  (Photo credit: irisha_z on Flickr)

Here's part of Jamie's view of the battle, from A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES:
“A righ! A righ!” The King! The King!

McLeod was at the bridge; he’d been hit, there was blood on his coat, but he brandished sword and targe, and ran onto the bridge, stabbing his sword into the wood to anchor himself.

The cannon spoke again, but were aimed too high; most of the Highlanders had crowded down to the banks of the creek--some were in the water, clinging to the bridge supports, inching across. More were on the timbers, slipping, using their swords like McLeod to keep their balance.

“Fire!” and he fired, powder smoke blending with the fog. The cannon had the range, they spoke one-two, and he felt the blast push against him, felt as though the shot had torn through him. Most of those on the bridge were in the water now, more threw themselves flat upon the timbers, trying to wriggle their way across, only to be picked off by the muskets, every man firing at will from the redoubt.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 113, "The Ghosts of Culloden". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's an article with more information about the history of the battle. The Moores Creek National Battlefield is located in Pender County, NC, about 20 miles from Wilmington. It's only a couple of hours drive from where I live, but I've never been there.

5) The photo above shows a pair of Royal Doulton Toby jugs, circa 1785.
Jocasta and Duncan were sitting side by side, rigid as a pair of Toby jugs, carefully not facing each other. At this, Jocasta took a deep and audible breath, obviously forcing herself to relax.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 55, "Deductions". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to Wikipedia:
A Toby Jug - also sometimes known as a Fillpot (or Philpot) - is a pottery jug in the form of a seated person, or the head of a recognizable person (often an English king). Typically the seated figure is a heavily-set, jovial man holding a mug of beer in one hand and a pipe of tobacco in the other and wearing 18th century attire: a long coat and a tricorn hat. The tricorn hat forms a pouring spout, often with a removable lid, and a handle is attached at the rear.
For more about Toby jugs, visit the website of the American Toby Jug Museum in Evanston, Illinois.

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! 


Sara said...

I never knew they were called Toby jugs! I have two right here: Shakespeare and The Lawyer. That would be a fun museum to visit!

Shawn C. said...

Love the details you choose to learn more about, and the additional information you share! Also, love that you include the Lord John books and the novellas, not just the Big Books (although they provide plenty to choose from!) Thanks again Karen.

Michelle said...

I always look forward to your FFF. Thanks for all your research!

Ronni said...


Thanks again for your truly interesting bits of info. Special thanks for the blue vitriol info. I read THE SHADOW BETWEEN yesterday and loved it, especially the cliffhanger aspects. Now I have another DG story to anticipate!

Karen Henry said...

Sara - I've seen these before, but I didn't know what they were called before last week. :-)

Shawn - thanks so much! I try to include bits from ALL of Diana's books and stories, because this is all one immense story, and everything interconnects. Besides, I loved the green fire in "The Space Between" and I wanted to know how he did that. :-)

Michelle - you're welcome! Glad you're enjoying the FFF.

Ronni - "The Space Between" is a wonderful story, with lots of potential for speculation. Glad you liked the blue vitriol. Isn't that a beautiful color?


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