Monday, August 09, 2010


My cousins have been urging me to read “The Outlander” for a long time and, of course, since I have a rule against EVER reading anything anyone recommends to me, I didn’t. But it’s in a spoken version on this little frog-colored iPod Nano. I guess that doesn’t break the rule since it’s not print.

But now I’m into chapter 4 or 5 and laughing because they TRICKED me! My nice proper cousins have TRICKED me into sort-of reading a BODICE RIPPER!! Sure, it’s historic and we’re Scots and all that, and they DO love Jane Austen and so on, but I was surprised. Reeeaaaallly, ladies! (Diane calls us “girls,” but I ain’t no such thing.) And the bodice ripping is QUITE actual, with the heroine being mistaken for a “wet nurse” no less. That was before she had to rip off the hem of the slip under her “light cotton sprigged dress” in order to bind up a wound. Hunky wounded men to heal, time-travel with Scots (who will NOT rip a strip off their boxer shorts to bind wounds because they don’t wear anything under their kilts), “henges” (you know, those big slabs of stone on end in circles), and a strong uniformed available man who happens to look just like her actual husband because he is the husband’s ancestor. (Um, is that technically incest? Not to worry. She doesn’t fall in love with him -- the issue is character.)

What could be better? Well, in my case this is a terrific example of ethnic rhetoric, as rendered by an actress with a real gift for accents. But I’ll have to come back to this because when I googled “Outlander,” I discovered two things: one was a second movie with the same name that’s what you might call “whole body ripper” -- meaning male violence porn -- involving an “Outplaneter” which is a dragon acting very much like a flame-throwing Blackhawk helicopter or armed drone. Not my cup of camomile tea.

The other thing is something I’ll call “wiki-casting” which is a YouTube phenomenon. This series of time-travel women’s saga is so beloved that tech-savvy lassies and their male friends have been making mash-up montages of the casts they would like to see. doesn’t list the actual casting of the pending movie. But this sort of Highland romance has been part of the BBC world for so long that there is plenty of raw material. The most ingenious one used actors from the Thirties and Forties, with Orson Welles in Macbeth Mode as the Mighty Chieftan of the castle. (Various castles. Also, some people are a lot more generous with the scenery than others.)

At first I thought I was seeing actual trailers using quotes from the book to cue up images. I’m still a little confused, but rather inspired as well. Should I attempt a time-travel novel that mixes the first Robert MacFie, born on a ship in mid-Atlantic in about this time period, with the contemporary cowboy sculptor, Robert MacFie Scriver -- the one I married? (He would love it more than anyone else!)

I realized that I was looking into a “virtual world,” one constructed partly of history, partly of imagination, partly of hunger for adventure, and partly of an international search for identity. I would argue that among earlier successful examples was the series about a paleoheroine by Jean Auel. Or maybe the many sci-fi worlds, or the Jane Austen world, which rather approaches this one. In fact, when it comes to series one would argue that the nature of the “beast” is to create and inhabit one of these “virtual” (imaginary but coherent) worlds. Not that they are stupid. “Master and Commander” is never stupid and part of the fun is learning arcane things someone else organized for us.

The following is from Wikipedia:

“Diana Jean Gabaldon born on January 11, 1952, in Arizona. Her father, Tony Gabaldon, was from New Mexico and was a former Arizona state senator. Her mother's family is from Yorkshire (England); her great-grandfather immigrated to Arizona from England in the 1860s.”
“Gabaldon grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona. She has received three degrees from two different institutions: B.S. in Zoology from Northern Arizona University, 1970–1973; M.S. in Marine Biology from the University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 1973-1975. Her research topic was, "Agonistic Interactions of Hermit Crabs." and Ph.D in Ecology from Northern Arizona University, 1975-1978. Dissertation: "Nest Site Selection in Pinyon Jays, Gymnorhynchus cyanocephalus)." She has also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Northern Arizona University, in 2007. In addition, Gabaldon Hall, a dormitory on the campus of Northern Arizona University, is named after her father, Tony Gabaldon. Gabaldon currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, Doug Watkins; they have three adult children.”

Although so far what I’ve listened to has nothing to do with warring crabs or nesting pinyon jays, Gabaldon’s background in ecology is invaluable in building a serial novel with a convincing natural environment that plays off changes over centuries. Her website is:

But, as I mentioned, for me the biggest reward is the “audible” nature of the media given to me by my cousin, the Gabaldon fan. (Available from the company named Davina Porter’s flexible and flawless management of what might be called “language ecology” among the peoples of Britain (including Gaelic and Pict) is a great listening pleasure, especially since the shared grandfather of myself and my cousins was born in Kilmarnock, emigrating to South Dakota with family to homestead as a young adult. I love the slide of the vowel, the snap of the consonants (even the glottal stops that have disappeared from modern English), the whole tone of a mouth held differently, rounded and sensuous instead of the stretched, clenched, muttered blurts so common now. It’s so right for a strong-willed curly-headed BBC-type lassie, but also for the braw and brash violent warriors parallel in time with our Revolutionary War. I love that their “cherishing” language -- spoken softly into an ear -- is Gaelic.

As a teenager I learned my English history from Anya Seton, romance novelist daughter of Ernest Thompson Seton. Since I read the books out of historical order, I’ve always been slightly confused and, since all the heroines had red hair, I somehow got the idea that was a prerequisite for a heroine, but then I already had that notion from Zane Grey, another creator of virtual worlds in Gabaldon’s actual birthplace, Arizona. I wonder whether the South Dakota homesteader idea has been exhausted by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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