Review: Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources

I thought I could fit it all in one final Part 5 post, but that proved to be a mighty miscalculation. I had far too much to say about the Outlander tour alone–big surprise!–and I still plan to provide an overall series wrap-up. In fact, this post is so substantial, with pictures and tons of Outlander-related resources, I thought it best to include a table of contents. Get ready for everything (else) you need to know to create the best Outlander adventure for you and yours!

The final post is forthcoming. If you missed any of the first 4 parts of the series An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, you can find them in my blog’s Scotland and Outlander sections, linked through Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained, or in direct links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. The first 3 parts showcase 37 filming & book locations with several photos. Part 4 details my trip planning process with snapshots of our planned vs. actual itineraries and reflections on the quality of our Scotland vacation experience.

Table of Contents

  1. All Our Outlander Tourist Destinations in Scotland
    • Our Outlander Day Tour Experience
    • Special Visit to Glencorse Old Kirk
    • Other Outlander-Related Sites We Visited
  2. Our Outlander Tour Company: Slainte Scotland
    • Day Tours with Slainte Scotland
    • Outlander Tour with Special Guests
  3. Outlander Tourism Reference – Diana’s Recommendations, Tour Company Pages, Location List, Articles & Resources

    • Tour Companies’ Tour Advertisements, including those of Slainte Scotland
    • List of 40 Filming (NOT book) Locations
    • Articles and Info about Filming Locations
    • Specific Filming Locations in Depth
    • Info about Outlander Book Locations
    • Book and Premise Inspired Outlander Tourism
    • Places Mentioned on Series 1 of the Show
    • Sam Heughan (Jamie) and Laura Donnelly (Jenny) Studied Theatre Here
    • Articles Reflecting Outlander STARZ’s Pop Culture Progress
    • And for Good Measure (surviving Droughtlander)

All images © C. L. Tangenberg

All Our Outlander Tourist Destinations in Scotland
Our Outlander Day Tour Experience

I started my tour search by perusing Diana Gabaldon’s recommended Outlander tour companies, discussed on her website. I sought a company that offered tours of more than half a day but less than 3 days so we could balance official Outlander tourism with exploring Scotland more generally. My first choice was Inverness Tours, but by the time the dates of our trip became settled, there were no tours of the right length available among those led by their four tour guides who work year round. Inverness Tours has long been a popular tour company with Outlander fans.

Moving on to Slainte Scotland, I contacted the company through both email and their website’s chat feature to get details about their 1-day Outlander tour. After a few messages back and forth, and a chat with a very helpful representative, I learned the likelihood of visiting West Kirk (the Black Kirk) in Culross and the all-important Midhope Castle (Lallybroch), and I carefully parsed the schedule of stops to ensure we’d have time to make it to our 7:30pm play showing in Edinburgh that evening.

Satisfied with all the circumstances, I decided to take the plunge and booked our tickets for the tour. Slainte Scotland made a great first impression by being prompt, informative, enthusiastic, and professional in their communications. They provided the detail needed to help make our day flow as smoothly as possible.

The day started on our own with a train ride from Edinburgh to Dalmeny Station, our meeting place for the start of the tour. Slainte Scotland day tours allow travellers from both Glasgow and Edinburgh to converge on a central location for sites in the wider area. Dalmeny is located in South Queensferry, a stone’s throw from the Firth of Forth, about 20 minutes by train northward from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station in the valley opposite the Princes Street Gardens between Old Town (south) and New Town (north).

The Slainte Scotland Outlander Day Tour we enjoyed on September 17th was a 9-hour van tour that guided us and about 8 other people in 2 vans through 5 filming locations:

  1. Midhope Castle (Lallybroch) on the property of Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian,
  2. the fascinating Blackness Castle (Fort William) perched on the coast of the Firth of Forth, in the council area of Falkirk, then across the Forth Bridge north to
  3. Falkland, in central Fife (1940s Inverness), including lunch at the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s B&B), then westward to Stirling for the famous
  4. Doune Castle (Castle Leoch, Monty Python & the Holy Grail castle), including a complimentary Dalwhinnie whisky tasting on the grounds outside the castle, provided by our fun-loving tour guides, and finished as the sun descended, 
  5. in the well-preserved 17th-century style Royal Burgh of Culross, used for Crainsmuir village, Geillis Duncan’s house, and the Castle Leoch herb garden.

Each site’s inherent charms, curiosities, and historical intrigues await your discovery.

Midhope Castle, the exteriors and grounds of which served as the site of the Fraser home of Broch Tuarach, or “north-facing tower” in Gaelic, is known affectionately by those who call it home in the series as Lallybroch. The building itself is hazardous to enter, so the entrance is locked to visitors. The interiors of Lallybroch were constructed and filmed at LBP Outlander, Ltd., the Outlander studios at Wardpark North in Cumbernauld, to the east outside Glasgow.

Visitors may be surprised to find a couple of houses in close proximity to the building, but you might enjoy reading a bit on the way to the castle about the history of the family that used to live in and now cares for the estate. When we visited, it was the last day of public access before a solid month of filming for Outlander series 3 two days later. Preparations were in evidence with the plastic tarp and orange cones covering the threshold, along with equipment set up beside the castle.

Note the electric poles and wires they have to edit out of final shots. Jamie’s ep102 flashback to BJR’s visit to the estate, where it starts on the hill as Jamie sorts the hay, and Jamie’s ep113 confrontation with Tarran McQuarrie’s lackeys of the Watch in the Lallybroch stables were filmed behind the castle and up the hill at this location.

Blackness Castle was one of my favorite attractions in all of Scotland, not just from the Outlander tour. As our tour guide Catriona explained, “Blackness” describes not the mood of the castle but the color of a specific type of land form on which the castle was built, called a “ness,” meaning a “promontory; a cape or headland” (https://glosbe.com/en/gd/ness). With the sun shining down on it, the tide out stranding a smattering of sail and fishing boats, and a view across the shore and the firth, our time at Blackness Castle was nothing but bright and cheerful.

Said to be haunted, the prisoners’ tower I left to my husband’s exploration–I didn’t want to climb all those steps. Our guide Catriona (pictured) showed us where the platform staging Jamie’s flogging by Captain Randall was set up. It was interesting to see how much uplifted rock protruded into the floor of the courtyard of this very intact, ship-shaped castle.

There was much to explore and there were hazards to avoid as we climbed in and out of the corridors and doorways, down steep steps and along the terraces framing the top level. Catriona also showed us the location where Jamie and Murtagh question the English soldier rather rudely as to the whereabouts of the “Englishwoman,” Claire.

Royal Burgh of Falkland, a National Trust Scotland site, offered a little eerie magic at the Bruce Fountain in the town center. Here in ep101, we see the back of Ghost Jamie watching night-gowned Claire through the second-floor window of Mrs. Baird’s B&B as she brushes the tangles out of her hair. Moments later, Frank walks up to him in the rain, and he disappears. I couldn’t resist a little mimicry of the scene.

The lunch at the Covenanter Hotel was simple but acceptable (I had tomato soup and a tuna sandwich), although service was a little slow. They were not particularly expecting us and seemed to accommodate us but grudgingly, based on the comments of our tour guide at the time. This delay may have contributed in part to our skipping West Kirk as the final stop in the tour.

Falkland Palace was visible across the main street from the hotel, and on the opposite end of the town square was the furniture store that served Claire’s window shopping of vases in ep101. Our guide Catriona had the opportunity to be an extra background actor in series 1 and described the freezing cold conditions of working on set that day. We walked a bit through town on our way back to where they had parked the vans after dropping us off in the center of town.

The sunshine enhanced our enjoyment as we passed a tavern where Catriona pointed out a sign outside that Àdhamh Ò Broin had told her misspells a Gaelic word, comically altering the translation from “a thousand welcomes” (ceud mile failte) to “a thousand smells” (ceud mile faile). Whether the proprietors were Scots, English, or other, it proved that even the locals lose themselves in translation sometimes.

Doune Castle first became widely known overseas from its use in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Now, complimentary audio guides at the castle impart insights about filming experiences from both Terry Jones of Monty Python and Sam Heughan, who plays Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser. Castle Leoch’s great hall and some other interiors found form on constructed sets at the studios, but the raw materials at Doune provided the courtyard, steps from the castle, exterior shots of the castle, and scans of the surrounding countryside. Monty Python used the interiors heavily for Holy Grail. Another well-preserved structure, Doune Castle was an impressive element of the tour.

At the close of our Doune visit, Slainte Scotland provided samples of 15-year-old Dalwhinnie (Highland) single-malt Scotch whisky. A little fiery going down, but still smooth and a good introductory single malt, Dalwhinnie became one of two whiskies my husband and I took home with us from duty free.

An unusual aspect of our tour that day was the presence of the tour guides’ three children and their German shepherd puppy (pictured in the Falkland section above). Their arrival in Dalmeny was slightly delayed due to complications in the aftermath of unavailable daycare. The kids were well behaved and charming. One spoke Gaelic from attending a Gaelic school and also sang us a song. It was equally delightful to meet and chat with our fellow Outlander tourists from England, Kentucky, and Germany.

While our van held two of the the three kids and Catriona, the other was driven by her husband with the puppy and the other American group as passengers. While we tasted our whisky, the kids were off running, inducing the dog to whine so as to join in the fun. Overall, from our point of view, the impromptu adjustment worked out well. I’m sure it helped that we love dogs and are perfectly contented with good kids around.

Royal Burgh of Culross. At the witching hour before sunset, we arrived in old Culross, National Trust Scotland site of series filming for exteriors of Crainsmuir village. We drove past the distinctive yellow buildings of the Palace into the square of the mercat cross where the exterior of Geillis Duncan’s house and the pillory were filmed. We stayed only briefly, and driving was particularly tricky in the narrow streets of this well-preserved old village. Cars kept coming down a hill into the village square, forcing our van to back up a couple of different times before successfully making it all the way up the hill. Such is life in old towns with one-track, or one-lane, streets that go both ways.

For Outlander series 1 filming, the Culross Palace Garden doubled as the Castle Leoch herb garden, the Mercat Cross stood in for the village of Cranesmuir, and visual effects fused the Palace Garden with the backdrop of Doune Castle to bring Crainsmuir and Leoch together. The Study building (in white) was Geillis Duncan’s house, and the Culross Palace Withdrawing Room became Geillis’ drawing room. In series 2, the Palace Courtyard provided the main stair where Claire practices dentistry while Jamie meets with Bonnie Prince Charlie, while the Palace High Hall was used for the Jacobite meeting where Jamie swears his oath to the Prince. Then, the Palace’s Kings Room became Jamie and Claire’s bedroom when visiting a village, and the Palace’s Kitchen and Pantry served as the tavern bearing wanted posters, and the Bennet House outside it, in ep211, “Vengeance Is Mine.” See where Jamie & Claire stood: http://www.nts.org.uk/Outlander/Culross-Palace/.

Although I had hoped we would venture nearby to West Kirk (the Black Kirk), time constraints and fading daylight robbed us of the chance, so we worked our way southward again, back across the Firth of Forth, to Dalmeny, South Queensferry, to catch the train back to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. On our way back to Dalmeny, Catriona played a mix of songs by Scottish artists, old and new, which added to the festive mood.

I took a final opportunity to ask Catriona about Hopetoun House, the estate of which we passed on our return path. She provided the insight that a visit there would require at least 2 hours, whereas one could take in all of Linlithgow Palace in about an hour. These details helped us make decisions about where to go in our trip’s final days.

Summary Review of Outlander Day Tour with Slainte Scotland

This exciting 9-hour tour with Slainte Scotland was led by Owner and Managing Director of Clyde Coast Tourism Ltd., proud Scot, and Outlander STARZ TV series extra–the lively, lovely, and knowledgeable pro tour guide Catriona Stevenson. Assisted by her husband and fellow driver, the small group experience allowed time and attention for individual questions and interests. Although the tour path altered slightly from the order of advertisement, in the end we had no regrets.

Mirroring positive first impressions, the Slainte Scotland experience met and exceeded all expectations. The tour ran smoothly, and they made it insightful and fun. Visiting time at each site was ample and enjoyable, and Catriona was uniquely qualified to provide glimpses of behind-the-scenes facts about the Outlander TV series, including her encounters with its stars and crew. This tour also served as our official primer on Outlander filming locations, which we further pursued on our own afterwards. *

The sun was setting as we alighted on the train platform in Dalmeny. That evening at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, we attended a vibrant performance by the Dundee Rep Theatre of a 20th-century, ceilidh-style historical and political play The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, which kept us awake even after an all-day tour and with jet lag setting in from the day before. Seeing this play early in the trip provided essential perspective on the past 200 years of Scottish-English relations and politics, which we could then reflect on as we traveled the country.


Special Trip to Glencorse Old Kirk

* One particular Outlander visit I arranged directly with the property manager, Sarah Chambers, was to Glencorse Old Kirk, location of Claire and Jamie’s wedding in ep107. Through email and then mobile texting upon arrival on the grounds, we settled on a day and time, around 2:45pm on 21 September, for a brief look through and around the kirk.

We were staying in Arrochar at the time and had just visited the incomparable Stirling Castle that morning. Sarah asked in advance for a donation of 20 pounds, which we gladly provided, and she showed us a scrapbook of filming pictures not seen online. She also pointed out how the grounds and interior were used in the making of ep107, sharing her personal observations of the occasion.

Many visitors and some journalists have mistaken the Glencorse House for the Glencorse Parish Church as the building used for the wedding. The actual site is downhill and behind a gate from the house. It’s a little hidden and difficult to find, even with assistance, and it requires permission to access. But if you’re all about the wedding, Glencorse a great little addition to an itinerary. Incidentally, they also regularly host weddings at the church and receptions at the house. See the Glencorse House facebook page for a flavor of their work.

These were Sarah’s directions, which we had to alter slightly coming from Stirling Castle instead of from Edinburgh:

Directions from Edinburgh: Take A701 toward Penicuik. After you pass the Ikea, continue past the Nissan garage at the traffic lights. Then, there are 2 roundabouts till Gowkleymoss roundabout (very large). Continue on the small dual carriageway w/ Glencorse Golf Club on left, then very shortly Fisher’s Tryst pub on the left. Directly opposite the pub, take the road to the right signposted Glencorse Kirk. The large church on the brow of the hill is NOT us. Continue round the corner, to the bottom of the hill: you’ve arrived! Total of about 2 miles from Ikea.

The property is owned by the McCaig family, and our contact was Sarah Chambers (McCaig), daughter of the owners. Glencorse Old Parish Church, or Glencorse Old Kirk, is located in the foothills of the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh and north of Penicuik, Midlothian. The address is the town of Milton Bridge, EH26 0NZ. Tel: 01968 676 406. Email: info@glencorsehouse.com. Glencorse House: http://www.glencorsehouse.co.uk/.

After our visit at Glencorse, we enjoyed exploring the iconic Rosslyn Chapel in nearby Roslin, site of key scenes in the filming of The Da Vinci Code.

Other Outlander-Related Sites We Visited

Previous posts have touched on our experiences of Linlithgow Palace (Wentworth Prison) and other Outlander-related sites not included in our guided tour. See the previous parts in the series An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, organized by region, for comments and pictures about the following book and filming locations we sampled:

  • in part 1, Edinburgh, Palace at Holyroodhouse, and Glencorse Old Kirk
  • in part 2, Glasgow Cathedral, Pollok Country Park, and Outlander studios
  • in part 3, Loch Rannoch, Clava Cairns, Culloden, Beauly Priory, and bits about Inverness, the River Ness, and Loch Ness (Highlands)

I also provide insights with photo captions at Scottish Color: A Photo Essay.


Our Outlander Tour Company: Slainte Scotland
Day Tours with Slainte Scotland

Slainte Scotland offers several different kinds of their most popular day tours including the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Day Tour, Whisky Distillery Tour, Glencoe Day Tour, Loch Ness Day Tour, South of Edinburgh Tour, and a selection of Outlander Day Tours. However, they are open to interests in other destinations, and some tours can be personalized. Their website’s site map also has sections for Whisky Tours, a Luxury Tour, a Private Tour, Cruise Ship Shore Excursions, and a tour search page.

On TripAdvisor, the management company for Slainte Scotland, called Clyde Coast Tourism Ltd., features over 100 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, and has earned TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, awarded to attractions that consistently receive great reviews from travelers.

Visit http://slaintescotland.com/ and http://slaintescotland.com/day-tours.html for more information.

Outlander Day Tours at http://slaintescotland.com/outlander-tours-of-scotland.html describes the packages for the Outlander Day Trip, Outlander 3 Day Tour, Outlander 7 Day Tour, and Outlander 5 Day Tour.

Outlander Tour with Special Guests

In addition, a new offering from Slainte Scotland this year is a special Outlander tour featuring actor Scott Kyle (Outlander‘s Ross) and supporting Highlander actors from the show, as well as Outlander‘s Gaelic Consultant Àdhamh Ò Broin, Fraser Murdoch who works on Outlander‘s visual effects, and Gillebride MacMillan who plays Gwyllyn the Bard in series 1. The tour will launch from the 2017 Starfury Convention in Blackpool, England, at which Sam Heughan will appear on Saturday and Sunday. The subsequent Outlander Tour with Special Guests is scheduled for 28th August to 1st September.

Outlander Tourism Reference – Diana’s Recommendations, Tour Company Pages, Location List, Articles & Resources

Outlander-Based Tours of Scotland – DianaGabaldon.com – Herself explains the purpose of her list, provides disclaimers, and describes how the selected companies made the list.

Tour Companies’ Tour Advertisements (text theirs)

Slainte Scotland (Catriona Stevenson and co.)

Slainte Scotland – Outlander Tours | VisitScotland – Are you a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books and the subsequent hit Starz TV show of the same name? Do you want to enjoy the landscape that inspired the books? Join us on our Outlander Tour, visiting some of the main filming locations.

Outlander Day Tours from Edinburgh and Glasgow – Scottish Tours and Private Hire – Slainte Scotland ToursOutlander Day Tours from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Includes Castle Leoch and Fort William.

Outlander Tours, Outlander filming location Tour, Outlander Tour Scotland – Scottish Tours and Private Hire – Slainte Scotland ToursOutlander Tours of Scotland. Be your own Claire Randall searching for your very own Jamie Fraser.

Inverness Tours (Hugh Allison and co.)

Outlander Tours, based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series

Outlander – Inverness Tours – All Day Diana Gabaldon Outlander Special Tour (This was the tour my friend took and greatly enjoyed in July 2016. Stops include Clava Cairns, Culloden, Inverness, as well as Beauly Priory, Castle Leod, Rogie Falls, and Loch Garve.)

Clans & Castles (clansandcastles.com/gabaldon.htm) – Clans & Castles – self-guided itinerary for fans of Diana Gabaldon ‘s novels – Clans & Castles itinerary for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s novels. Will you walk through the split stone?

Borders Journeys (bordersjourneys.co.uk) – Outlander – Preston Mill – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders.

Outlander tour – Rosalyn’s Ancestral & Outlander Tour – Borders Journeys.

Outlander Road Trip – Borders Journeys.

Borders Journeys has also taken tourists to Glencorse Old Kirk, among other southern and central filming locations.

Outlandish Journeys (outlandishjourneys.com) – Outlander – Tour Options – Outlandish Journeys – Tour Options available with Outlandish Journeys

Outlander – TV Series Tour – Outlander Tour (outlandertour.co.uk) – Outlander TV Series Scottish locations tour from Edinburgh

Discovering Outlander – National Trust Scotland

I checked out at least four other companies online last summer, but there are probably dozens. One of those four was Vacation Scotland, included in Diana’s list. Her description was compelling, but I was put off by their outdated website presentation and place name misspellings. Further perusing signaled to me a company I wouldn’t personally pursue. Although I didn’t include them here, you may find expertise and other facets that make up for the shaky first impression. Another company steered me away by their emphasis on Ireland tours.

I recommend finding a company that has specialized in Outlander tours for several years prior to the show’s premier and those that have a genuine special interest in the series, a unique approach, or a special focus. They’re more likely to deliver a bit of the magic viewers and readers receive from the series. For instance, it was very interesting to me to hear about Catriona’s acting and running into the cast on more than one occasion. She also knows Àdhamh Ò Broin, official Gaelic language consultant for the show, with whom we explored Argyll on 20 September, three days after our Outlander tour.

For other tour possibilities, go to Outlander Tour Search Results – VisitScotland.

List of 40 Filming (NOT book) Locations – in rough counterclockwise geographical order (central to south to north)
  1. LBP Outlander Ltd. (Outlander studios), Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire, east of Glasgow, central Scotland – all STARZ series interior sets
  2. Torbrex Farm, near Cumbernauld and greater Glasgow – s2 foggy, tent-contained Battle of Prestonpans
  3. George Square, Glasgow city centre – s1 flashback of Claire and Frank marriage, Westminster register office
  4. Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow east city centre – s2 l’Hopital des Anges, Paris
  5. Pollok Country Park, Pollok, south Glasgow – Castle Leod grounds, s2 BJR-Jamie duel
  6. Hunterston House, West Kilbride, North Ayrshire – Rev. Wakefield house interiors
  7. Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire – s2 seat of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, a.k.a. the Old Fox, Beaufort Castle, Beauly, Highlands
  8. Dunure Harbour, Firth of Clyde, South Ayrshire – s3 filming based on Voyager
  9. Troon coast, South Ayrshire – s1 end, departing Scotland for France
  10. Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill, Mid Nithsdale, Dumfries & Galloway – s2 exteriors, living rooms & bedrooms of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor, England
  11. Glencorse Old Kirk, Milton Bridge, near Penicuik, southern Midlothian – s1 Jamie & Claire wedding
  12. Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot, East Lothian – s1 Lallybroch broken mill
  13. Gosford House gardens/woodlands, Gosford Bay, near Longniddry, East Lothian – s2 Stable Building at Palace of Versailles, France
  14. Old Town, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh – s3 Jamie-Claire reunion, adventures
  15. Bo’ness and Kinneil Rail Station, on Firth of Forth, Midlothian – s1 flashback of Frank-Claire WWII good-bye on train platform
  16. Hopetoun House, near Queensferry, West Lothian – s1 Sandringham residence in Highland, Scotland
  17. Midhope Castle, Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian – Lallybroch estate & grounds
  18. Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian – s1 Wentworth Prison exteriors and corridors
  19. Muiravonside Country Park, West Lothian & Falkirk, near Linlithgow – s2 Battle of Prestonpans, British encampment, and English countryside
  20. Callendar House, Falkirk – s2 used as part of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor
  21. Dunmore Park, Dunmore, Falkirk – s1 Claire and VE-Day, end of WWII
  22. Blackness Castle, Blackness, on Firth of Forth, Falkirk – s1 Fort William
  23. Culross, royal burgh of; southwestern Fife – s1 Crainsmuir village, Geillis Duncan’s house, & Castle Leod herb garden; s2 Jacobite camps and buildings
  24. Aberdour Castle, Firth of Forth, southern Fife – s1 Scottish abbey of Jamie’s convalescence after Wentworth
  25. Dysart Harbour, Dysart, Firth of Forth, Fife – s2 port of Le Havre, where Jamie, Claire & Murtagh arrive in France, 1740s
  26. The Reaper Tall Ship, Anstruther Harbour, Anstruther, near East Neuk, coastal Fife – s2 one of the ships seen in the port of Le Havre, France
  27. Balgonie Castle, near Markinch, central Fife – s1 Eldridge Manor, MacRannoch’s home near Wentworth Prison
  28. Falkland, royal burgh of; central Fife – Inverness 1940s, 1960s
  29. Doune Castle, Doune, Stirling, Perthshire border – s1 Castle Leod castle, grounds & surrounding land
  30. Touch House, NE edge of Touch Hills, Stirling – s2 Culloden House before battle
  31. Finnich Glen, a.k.a. Devil’s Pulpit, near Drymen, Stirling – s1 St. Ninian’s Spring, a.k.a. the Liar’s Spring, where Dougal Mackenzie tests Claire’s veracity
  32. Loch Katrine, Trossachs National Park, east of Loch Lomond, Stirling – s2 Roger Wakefield driving Brianna Randall through countryside around Inverness
  33. Tullibardine Chapel, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 Jamie & Claire small group’s hideout chapel after pursuit by Redcoats
  34. Drummond Castle gardens, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 park & orchard of Palace of Versailles, France
  35. Deanston Distillery, former cotton mill, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Perth & Kinross – s2 Jared Fraser’s wine warehouse, docks of Le Havre
  36. Tibbermore Parish Church, Tibbermore, Perth & Kinross – s1 Crainsmuir witch trial church interior
  37. Dunalastair Estate, Loch Rannoch, Perth & Kinross – Craigh na Dun standing stones circle through which Claire time travels
  38. Glencoe, Ballachulish, Highland – long shots in credits and transition scenes
  39. Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland – s1 Clan Mackenzie rents collection, wool waulking
  40. Tulloch Ghru, near Aviemore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland – s1 Claire & Highlanders travel between Inverness & Castle Leod, & maybe time on road during Clan Mackenzie rents collection
Articles and Info about Filming Locations

Outlander – Filming Locations in Scotland | VisitScotland – includes a link to their pdf (below) with labeled map and site snippets, a section on Outlander book sites including Inverness, highlights of Outlander-related culture and history, and links to other TV, film, and literary tourism opportunities.

Outlander film locations – outlander-film-locations.pdf – a great guide available through the above page at VisitScotland; a full-color map of numbered sites mainly in Scotland’s central belt, each number corresponding to a succinct but helpful blurb about a location accompanied by an identifying picture of the actual site. A total of 29 listed as of this post–vastly updated since summer 2016! Also accessible through Outlander map | VisitScotland

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander TV series filmed in Scotland – VisitScotland (2013 article)

Outlander – 14 Scottish Places All “Outlander” Fans Must Visit (Buzzfeed.com, 2015) – Never seen Outlander? You should visit these stunning Scottish locations anyway. Warning: Mild Season 1 spoilers ahead… (Episode shots alongside tourism photos of each site.)

Outlander’s Cast and Crew’s Favorite Filming Locations | Travel + Leisure (interview, 2016) – The masterminds behind the Starz hit spoke to T+L the best places they went on the job.

Where is Outlander filmed? Top 5 Scottish locations in season 2 (radiotimes.com, 2015) Gary Rose goes for a spin in the Highlands, taking in the Culloden battlefield, the town that doubles as Cranesmuir and a working medieval village

Outlander – Five must-visit Outlander filming locations – The Scotsman (2016)

7 Outlander sights you need to visit in Scotland this year – Daily Record (2017)

Specific Filming Locations in Depth

LBP Outlander Ltd, Wyndford Road, Cumbernauld, Wardpark North, Glasgow, UK – Google Maps

Pollok Country Park – Glasgow City Council
A Visit to Pollok Country Park
Pollok House

Hopetoun locations map
Outlander at Midhope (Lallybroch) – Hopetoun (hopetoun.co.uk – Hopetoun House and estate includes Hopetoun Farm Shop and Midhope Castle among its properties.)
Midhope Castle, Abercorn – Queensferry – West Lothian – Scotland | British Listed Buildings
You searched for Midhope – Hopetoun
Outlander at Hopetoun – Hopetoun
House and Grounds – Hopetoun
Grounds and Wildlife – Hopetoun
Hopetoun Farm Shop – Butchery, Deli, Bakery near Edinburgh
Hopetoun-Farm-Shop-Broxburn-to-Midhope-Castle-Google-Maps.pdf

Blackness Castle (visitwestlothian.co.uk)
Blackness Castle (historicenvironmentscotland.scot)

Bo’ness And Kinneil Railway – Google Maps

Glencorse House: http://www.glencorsehouse.co.uk/.
Glencorse, Old Glencorse Kirk – Penicuik – Midlothian – Scotland | British Listed Buildings
Glencorse Old Kirk – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders
Glencorse, Old Parish Church | ScotlandsPlaces

City Tours Edinburgh | VisitScotland
Royal Mile and Grassmarket | VisitScotland
Palace of Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh)
Edinburgh and Stirling castles ranked in UK’s top 10 best-loved castles – Scotland Now
Discover Edinburgh Castle
Parks and gardens – Meadows | The City of Edinburgh Council

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot (NTS)
Discovering Outlander – Preston Mill brief profile, National Trust Scotland (NTS)
Outlander – Preston Mill’s Outlander | National Trust for Scotland USA (ntsusa.org detailed article about the scene) – In June 2014, 150 cast and crew members from the hit TV show Outlander set up camp at the NTS Property Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot. 

Outlander – Preston Mill – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders.

Aberdour Castle | VisitScotland

Dysart Harbour – The Harbourmasters House, Hot Pot Wynd, Dysart, Kirkcaldy KY1 2TQ, United Kingdom – Google Maps

Black Kirk | My Outlander Adventure

Royal Burgh of Culross | VisitScotland
Culross Palace, Townhouse & Study | VisitScotland
Culross West Church – Culross, Fife – Places of Worship in Scotland | SCHR

Falkland | VisitScotland

Falkland Palace & Garden – National Trust Scotland (NTS)

Attractions near The Covenanter Hotel

Finnich Glen – Devil’s Pulpit – Google Maps

Doune Castle (HES)

Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust | Pages | Perthshire Big Tree Country
Rannoch_Path_Network_Leaflet.pdf
Walkhighlands: Start of Loch Rannoch Forest walk
Kinloch Rannoch, Tummel Bridge, Loch Rannoch, walking holidays, wildlife watching, fishing, highland clans
Places to Visit from the Dunalastair Estate Holiday Cottages – Central for touring
Dunalastair Highland Estate near Pitlochry in Scotland has holiday cottages for relaxing vacations
Walking, Cycling, Horse-riding around Perthshire

Glencoe | VisitScotland

Cairngorms-National-Park-Map.jpg (JPEG Image, 1969 × 1439 pixels)
Cairngorms Guide, Things To Do, Events, Activities
Map of Waterfalls in Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Highlands, Scotland

Outlander – Cairngorms – Tulloch Ghru (as Featured in Outlander TV Series) | Stately Home (lovetoescape.com) – Tulloch Ghru (as Featured in Outlander Tv Series) is a Thing to Do in Aviemore, The Highlands, Scotland. Stately Home, Loch, Lake, Waterfall, Nature Reserve, Park, Garden or Woodland . . .
Tulloch-Ghru_old-map-area_from-Wizzley.jpg – sleuthing and description of the area, distinguishing it from a similarly named one nearby
Rothiemurchus Forest landscape profile/description. This area of the Cairngorms National Park is located in its western region on an east-west line between Fort Augustus (at the southern tip of Loch Ness) and Aberdeen (on the North Sea coast).
Detailed map of Rothiemurchus Forest; includes “Tullochgrue” (Upper and Lower), which is located west of Allt Druidhe (waterway) and the forest center, just north of Achnagoichan (close to it), south of Inverdruie (farther from it), and southeast of Aviemore (farthest of these)
Aviemore: Overview of Aviemore (Gazetteer Scotland)
Bed and breakfast Kingussie near Aviemore

Highland Folk Museum home page (Highlife Highland)
Visitor Information – Highland Folk Museum (Highlife Highland)

Info about Outlander Book Locations

Lochaber, Fort William

Fort William, Highland PH33 6SW – Google Maps
The Outdoor Capital of the UK – Google Maps
The Jacobite Steam Train – Locomotive and Coaches | West Coast Railways

Inverness & Inverness-shire

Visit Inverness Loch Ness Tourist Destination Guide
Inverness Information Centre | VisitScotland
Inverness Travel Guide | Travel + Leisure
Inverness – Holidays, Breaks & Travel | VisitScotland
Art Galleries – Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Events in September in Inverness, Loch Ness & Nairn | Things to do | Page 1 | Welcome to Scotland

Tour Search – Loch Ness by Jacobite
Jacobite Cruises Ltd | Cruise Scotland
Urquhart Castle tourist and visitor information, history and pictures | Urquhart Castle

Fort George: Overview
Contact Us – The Highlanders Museum (Highlanders Museum, Fort George)

Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre | VisitScotland
Culloden – Visit (NTS)

Beauly

Beauly Priory: Prices and Opening Times
Beaufort Estate Cottages, Beauly, Inverness-Shire – Go Breakaway.co.uk

Book and Premise Inspired Outlander Tourism

Standing Stones, Stone Circles, Stone Features, and Cairns

Prehistoric Sites in Scotland Examples:

Fowlis Wester Sculptured Stone, Perthshire (Perth and Kinross)In village church at Fowlis Wester, 6 miles (10km) NE of Crieff, On the A85. Historic Scotland property; tall cross-slab carved with Pictish symbols, figure sculpture and Celtic details.

Cairnpapple Hill, Edinburgh and the Lothians – 3 miles (5km) N of Bathgate, Lothian. Near Torphichen (B792), Narrow, winding road. Tel. 01506 634 622. Open: April-end Sep, 9.30am-5.30pm, daily. Historic Scotland property; one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Scotland; used as burial and ceremonial site BC3000 – AD500; central part of monument under cement dome with ladder leading down to interior; views from the hill. Cairnpapple Hill – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nether Largie Cairns, Argyll and ButeBetween Nether Largie and Kilmartin, Argyll, Off the A816. Historic Scotland property; 2 Bronze Age cairns, 1 Neolithic cairn (3000BC); axe carvings in N cairn.

Temple Wood Stone Circles, Argyll and Bute.25 miles SW of Nether Largie, South of Kilmartin, Argyll on A816. Open site. Historic Scotland property; circle of upright stones and remains of earlier circle; date approximately 3000BC.

Machrie Moor Stone Circles, Ayrshire and Isle of Arran3 miles N of Blackwaterfoot, On W side of Arran, off the A841, 1.5 mile walk to the site. Historic Scotland property; remains of 5 Bronze Age stone circles considered one of most important sites of its kind in all of Britain.

Twelve Apostles Neolithic Stone Circle, Dumfries and GallowayOff the A76, N of Dumfries and New Bridge, Situated in a field. Of the 11 remaining stones only 5 are standing, the tallest of which is about 3.2 feet high.

Clava Cairns (HES)
The Clava Cairns (also known as Balnuaran of Clava) lie 6 miles E of Inverness. These Bronze Age chambered cairns are each surrounded by a stone circle in a wooded field. A most unusual place. Robert Pollock has a guide to this site. Photos online by Phil Wright and Undiscovered Scotland.

Corrimony chambered cairn is situated in Glen Urquhart (8 miles W of Drumnadrochit) and surrounded by a circle of 11 standing stones. Robert Pollock has a guide to this site. (undiscoveredscotland.co.uk)

Standing Stones & Stone Circles in Scotland | VisitScotland

Standing stones and ancient monuments – The Internet Guide to Scotland (scotland-inverness.co.uk)

The Old Man of Storr is a strangely shaped rock pillar you can see from as far as Portree and beyond; Portree, Trotternish area, Isle of Skye. (https://www.isleofskye.com/skye-guide/top-ten-skye-walks/old-man-of-storr)

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Saint John’s Castlerigg and Wythburn, Allerdale District, United Kingdom – Google Maps – Lake District, England

Fairy Hills, Fairies, Witches & Legends

Fairy Hills, Biodiversity & Heritage
Fairies – TOMNAHURICH CEMETERY (Historic Environment Scotland profile)
http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/invernesshire/featured-sites/tomnahurich-hill.html
Inverness Image Library – Tomnahurich (Hill of the Fairies)
The Witch of Inverness and the Fairies of Tomnahurich – Google Books
Fairies – The Faery Folklorist: Robert Kirk – Part 2 – Aberfoyle Church
The Kelpie of Loch Garve | Mysterious Britain & Ireland
Black Isle – RSPB Fairy Glen – Google Maps
Skye – The Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye – Google Maps

Brochs, Caves & Other Rock Formations

Brochs in Scotland | Unusual Accommodation | VisitScotland
Caves and karst in Scotland – Scottish Natural Heritage
Cliffs, Canyons & Rock Formations of Scotland, United Kingdom
10 unusual rock formations | Travel | The Guardian
There is also Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa, Bowfiddle Rock on the Moray Firth, and the famous Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, among others.
Falls-of-Rogie_tripadvisor_stock-image.jpeg
Waterfalls, Rivers, Caves & Natural Features to Explore in Garve | Things to do | Page 1 | Welcome to Scotland
Loch Garve | Fishing | Caithness, Sutherland & Ross-shire | Welcome to Scotland
12 fairy tale waterfalls in Scotland to see before you die – Daily Record

–> For a guide to nature and wildlife tourism in Scotland, see the end section of my post “Wildlife TV Programs This Week,” which also previewed the Destination Wild show Wild Scotland that aired on NatGeoWild on 2 April 2017.

The Clans

Map: The 18th century territories of Scotland’s clans – The Scotsman
Map of the Highlands of Scotland denoting the districts or counties inhabited by the Highland Clans. – Maps of Scotland
The Clan Museum – Google Maps
Strathpeffer Visitor Guide, Hotels, Cottages, Things to Do in Scotland
Castle Leod | the Seat of Clan Mackenzie
Castle Leod (Strathpeffer, Scotland): Top Tips Before You Go – TripAdvisor

Genealogical Research

How to research your Scottish family history in six easy steps | VisitScotland
Family History — Clan MacKenzie Routes

Lochaber/West Highland

Glenfinnan Monument – Google Maps

Fraser Lands

Castle Fraser | VisitScotland – Aberdeenshire (just north of Royal Deeside)
Lovat Castle (site of) | Castle in Kirkhill, Inverness-shire | Scottish castles | Stravaiging around Scotland

Castles in the Highlands | VisitScotland

Places Mentioned on Series 1 of the Show

Inverness/Nairn (searching for Claire in Ep108, “Both Sides Now”)

Darnaway Forest – Google Maps
Findhorn Bridge – Google Maps (Findhorn River)

Highland (searching for Jamie in Ep114, “The Search”)

Achnasheen – Google Maps
glen rowan cross – Google Maps
Glen Rowan Guest House – Google Maps

Sam Heughan (Jamie) and Laura Donnelly (Jenny) Studied Theatre Here

Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: Overview of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: Photographs of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
: Glasgow City Map / http://www.scottish-places.info/councils/morecpix16.html

Articles Reflecting Outlander STARZ’s Pop Culture Progress

Cumbernauld lands role in production of US TV series (From Herald Scotland) (2013)
Outlander brings Diana Gabaldon fans flocking to Scotland | UK news | The Guardian (2014)
Town movie studio is a star attraction – Cumbernauld News (2014)
Outlander article – Scots tourism feels ‘Outlander effect’ of hit TV show – The Scotsman (2015)
A brief history of Outlander and the Scottish Clans – Scotland Now (2016)
Outlander looking for trainees to work on Season 3 of hit show in Scotland – Scotland Now (2016)
Filming underway for Outlander season three Voyager – Daily Record (2016)
Outlander helps Scotland outshine rest of the UK when it comes to visitor attractions – Daily Record (2017)

And for Good Measure

10 ideas on how to beat Droughtlander | VisitScotland


In the next post of this series, the official Part 5 to An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, I’ll present Scotland tourism tips and logistical resources, plus share some final thoughts on Outlander tourism in Scotland. Thanks for learning along with me. Slan leat!

Camp NaNoWriMo: Song of Spring

For this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo, the first of two annual camps (also in July), I continue and hope to reinvigorate the process of writing my 2016 NaNo novel based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.

Currently, I have a detailed plot outline, my main characters are taking shape, and I’m zeroing in on the kind of story I want to tell. I’ve drafted almost the first half of the story, but many of those scenes and especially several pieces of exposition probably will require significant rewriting to match the second half’s focus and character arcs.

My Camp NaNo goal is to finish the first draft of the whole story by April 30–however disjointed, incoherent, or mediocre it might be. Forward momentum! The summary and excerpt below represent my latest clues to what the final draft may become.

To see hints of the slow, unsteady development of the project since last summer, see this seed, a snapshot on the cusp of its germination, and the small bud of a key scene‘s rough draft.


Happy writing and reading this month, which is also National Poetry Month. For ideas on how to celebrate poetry, visit my list of suggestions from last year. Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 27th this year. Whatever you’ve got going, I wish you the best. Enjoy!

Plus, nature lovers, don’t forget to watch The Zoo tonight at 10pm EDT on Animal Planet, and Wild Scotland starting tomorrow at 8pm EDT on NatGeoWild. My post from earlier this week about TV nature programs and Scotland nature tourism can be found here.


I’ll soon share some other projects seeking fertile soil.

Summary: Novel synopsis-in-progress (drafted 3/28/17, revised 4/1/17)

A fantasy tale based on Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land re-imagines the second of his two Alice books. Glimpses of original chapters and the use of characters provide a frame of reference for new adventures and insights about the true nature of heroics and villainy in Looking-Glass Land. The teenage girl Song Warber, a Jabberwock, or Wock, wields her singular music-making powers in the struggle of freedom and justice for all Looking-Glass Landers.

A little girl named Alice mysteriously arrives in Looking-Glass Land and stirs up trouble for Song’s family even as both her presence and Song’s threaten the monarchy. Yet, it is only by allying with this alien little girl that Song can fulfill a destiny she only begins to fathom when her family falls into the hands of those determined to tear them apart—the Royals, or chess pieces, of Looking-Glass Land. Alice’s destiny is also at stake as she awakens to the gritty realities of this ailing country. Her triumph will depend on new alliances, betrayals, comings of age, secret support, a bit of magic, open battle, overcoming tragedies, facing fears, and confronting the White King, the Red Queen, and a vengeful Humpty Dumpty.

Can two young girls of vastly different species, upbringings, and worlds ever hope to right the wrongs of the place they inhabit, however briefly, together? The good of parallel worlds may depend on it. And what will become of Song and Alice in the process? It’s a reversal across the chessboard of team loyalties and the realm’s purpose as a land of vivid dreams, uncommon reality, and infinite possibility. Will Looking-Glass Land survive the turmoil?

Hunted Song novel excerpt (3/28/17, rev 4/1/17):

A story was told. Another was told after that. A minimum of three short stories or two longer ones would always be spoken in any given sitting where storytellers and story hearers gathered together.

Every story told was a try on the part of a contestant. It was a storytelling contest. Each contestant was a member of the Looking-Glass Land community, a long-standing member of the fellowship of the realm. No one was new. No one was young. No one was particularly old. The Royals were an exception. The White Royals looked wizened. The Red Royals, middle aged.

Storytelling had once been merely a pastime as popular as baking and walking in Looking-Glass Land. As popular as tea time. In fact, stories were often told over hearths and tea tables and tea sets. Tea things were the natural scenery for a storytelling session. Like other pastimes, preoccupations, and cultural rituals, the tradition of storytelling in Looking-Glass Land came with many rules. There were particular steps to be taken in the telling of a story. Specific qualities each story must have. A certain size an audience must have in number, to represent a story telling properly. Like tea time in England, storytelling in Looking-Glass Land had a certain order of operations to it.

As times grew harder, the wizened, middle-aged and neither youthful nor old inhabitants of the land grew more serious, less playful, less tolerant of creativity, invention, new ideas, new characters, or, eventually, any new stories. The only stories permitted were stories that had been told many times before. Known stories. Stories people had heard over and over again. Stories that became in their telling like the reciting of a pledge each morning in school or the swearing of an oath for public office. Familiar, unoriginal, the same–always the same. Even the wording had become regimented so that each well-known story could only be told in exactly one way with exactly the same words from start to finish, every time.

The contest continued, however. It became a competition in style of delivery. The stories never changed, so contestants needed only to memorize the content, and the rest could take on a variety of bellowing, shrill screeching, whispering, and outrageous inflections, dramatic pauses, vibrations and other sound effects, as well as musical accompaniment of every kind. Even a technique such as ventriloquism had been a trend at one time, but eventually, the crowds began to crave more elaborate movements on the part of the storytellers and from any actors they chose to act out the events of the tale.

You may think, So what? Stories are popular because they are told over and over again. When a story is repeatedly shared, it means it is popular. This can be true. However, the people of Looking-Glass Land took repetition to a whole other level. There were never to be any new stories of any kind for any purpose. Even recounting the events of one’s day to one’s family came to carry with it very strict rules and restrictions. Such recollections could only be so long and would not be permitted to be repeated outside the family circle within hearing range of other families or anywhere in public.

This was at first very difficult for people to comply with, as you might imagine. But over time, with practice, and a few minor adjustments to the rules, as with many things grown easier with habit, recitative storytelling in Looking-Glass Land came into its own. Upon visiting the land at such a time, you would note that it was as if no one had ever heard an original story, so much so that it mattered little who had originated the stories in the general repertoire. The creators had been forgotten, and no one mourned the loss of their memory. Memory instead became less and less important, and forgetfulness became au courant and du jour, as the French might say of more benign customs.

As a result, even short-term memory became devalued and less tenable among the people. This had reached a level of such ridiculousness that an outsider would find it absolutely comical how poorly the people held facts, events, even names in their memory, how few things they remembered while traveling from point A to point B, even just down the road from their houses. A side effect of this was that the Looking-Glass Landers were constantly getting lost in their own neighborhoods and villages, and needed help from a kindly neighbor they’d sought help from a thousand times before but whom at the moment they could not recognize. They could only hold so much information in those dry, unused brain muscles, you see.

The lack of need for invention, creativity, new ideas, or any kind of refreshing of activity had an even more devastating impact. It created scores of demented community members, folks with early onset Alzheimer’s, as it were, though they wouldn’t be able to spell that word let alone hold their own attention long enough to grasp its meaning. To try to remember the term? Forget it! And so they would.

This chronic, permanent forgetfulness applied to all things. There were occasional anomalies among the villagers in the thoughts they managed to commit to memory in their own clandestine ways, even while original storytelling became illegal, in both spoken and written form. Mainly, though, among most of the population, to forget was to comply, and to recite was patriotic. It was a way to pay homage to the stories the kingdom had declared the best, most worthy tales to be passed down from generation to generation in Looking-Glass Land. It could therefore hardly be noticed when the variation in delivery of these rote storytelling activities gradually lessened as well.

Like the flappers on the floating island world discovered by Gulliver, the people of Looking-Glass Land devised a means of support for their forgetfulness, to steer them aright and keep them from wandering forever aimlessly amidst their brooks, woods, and meadows. One of these devices was a system of concrete roads on which were painted in permanent pigments instructions to every destination known in the land to every other destination, as well as labels several points in advance of reaching a destination to remind the traveller that the arrival was imminent.

This worked even in cases where the person was in fact closer to their point of origin than they were to their designated destination. With abysmal short-term memory, the misguided could be guided best only by counter-factual signs and directions exaggerating the distance, the nearness, the direction, and the size of the places people sought to reach.

In fact, in our land, with our far superior short-term remembering skills (trust me, even you with poor short-term memory have nothing on these characters), we would interpret these overdone instructions as patently false, utter lies, and deep absurdities.

And who made such systems, you ask? Why, the government of course! They were naturally exempt from the restrictions they decreed. They became the parents, nurses, and shepherds of their people, and they could do very much as they liked, always, without challenge or correction or fear.

Such was the state of Looking-Glass Land in the years around the time Alice made her historic visit.

Actually, that would have been her second visit, if memory serves. Alice had been to Looking-Glass Land before, and the results of the first visit differed greatly from what that old fart Charles Dodgson professed them to be in his famous novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It’s really quite funny. For a man who treasured his memories of childhood and later friendships with children so dearly, he proved to have significant memory problems of his own when it came to the fictional worlds he himself had created.

As an outsider myself, from the next country of Wonderland, I saw what went on in Looking-Glass Land with my own eyes. I possess certain . . . powers that made these observations easier. Because of my unique circumstances and close investigation, I can tell you how it really happened, and I will very shortly. I only hope your memory is not so short. I hope that you will be able to learn and benefit from this history–for everyone’s sake. Perhaps having this written form to re-read and refer to will aid you in that endeavor. I bid you good luck and urge you to make an effort, if you can.

The Dream of Turning 40

My birthday’s gift to you? Getting personal–one day early.


Each time I’ve thought of this coming birthday, I have heard Meg Ryan’s immortal lines:

“And I'm gonna be forty!”
“When?” asks Harry.
“Some day,” Sally adds weakly.
“In eight years!” Harry reasons.
“Yes, but it's just sitting there like this big dead end. . . .”

As with many of my favorite movies, and even ones I don’t like much, I occasionally hear these movie lines from When Harry Met Sally running through my head as I go about my day. These days, this particular record is broken.

Sally wants a family and has just learned that her several months’ ex-boyfriend Joe is engaged. Harry has gone to her place to comfort her. She’s crying rather hysterically, having shown no signs of grief post-breakup. Finally, the bubble has burst, and Harry and Sally’s friendship takes an irrevocable turn.

What’s my point? Lord knows. But isn’t that a great scene? More entertaining than I find everyday life, which is probably why I live in the cinematic fantasy world a significant portion of the time. (Don’t need the video; it’s all memorized.) Besides, the trauma is happening to someone else. I’m comforted, safe, but it also often means the joy and rapture are more likely found elsewhere. What reward without risk?

My eight years have passed, and 32 more besides. That reminds me, I’ve decided to state my age as “ten and thirty,” as in the days of yore. That sounds much more forgiving. Go for it, 60-year-olds! Say, “I am twenty and forty” or “I am twice thirty.” Sounds younger. I got this idea from my husband, who is nearly 14 months younger than I. Very thoughtful, Dear.

No, my husband is a hoot and adorable, and my parents, bless them, still vital and being parents. But I currently have no pets or children to look after (besides the backyard birds), which is the most accepted form of daily joy. No little ones to amuse me each day, which is, of course, the primary function of kids. Right, parents? Well, maybe not “primary,” but it’s mixed in there with all the exhaustion, stress, bewilderment, and worry.

The truth is I’m on the fence about having kids and have been for a while, but the inevitable alarm bells for presumably fertile women go up in volume a few decibels with the introduction of that dreaded digit “4.” No more thirties, not that I’ll miss the years themselves. No more legitimately falling into the young category. I’m entering that middle zone some refer to as “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Sounds like license for a mid-life crisis, for sure. 

But it’s certainly not a mid-reproductive years crisis. No, if it is a crisis or anything like, it’s that we’re coming down to the wire. As Sally Albright says after “this big dead end,” “and it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73.” Harry replies: “Yeah, but he was too old to pick ’em up.” Sally starts to laugh but it returns to sobs.

Generally, women who want children and haven’t found a mate by their mid- to late-30s have more cause for mid-life crisis than men do, but science and evolution give us hope for higher numbers of fertile years and higher survival rates amidst high-risk pregnancies and complications of childbirth. Risk is always there, and danger still increases with age, but the 21st century is patient with late bloomers, whereas even as recently as 150 years ago, unmarried women past their twenties were already doomed to spinsterhood.

Risks and rewards come in many forms, and mean different things for different people. We as a society seem to believe we have no right to seek, let alone expect, healthy challenge or happiness in work or marriage itself or travel or the arts, especially not instead of in reproducing. Shouldn’t we take growth and joy everywhere we can get them?

You might think it depends on whether you’re passive or active in the “getting.” Actively seeking seems more honorable somehow, more adult, more enlightened than waiting for manna from heaven, as if we’re helpless, inert, ineffectual, and faithfully convinced of it. I.e., sheep.

Two movies intercede here. The Sound of Music and She’s Having a Baby, another 80s gem. “The Reverend Mother says you have to look for your life,” Maria tells Captain Von Trapp. And: “What I was looking for was not to be found but to be made,” says Jefferson Edward (“Jake”) Briggs of his wife and newborn son. Love that John Hughes.

Yet, even when we look for and make a life, nothing that results is absolutely great or horrible. Just as important as the issue of seeking actively or passively is to weigh the potential risks and rewards together.

For me, added risks come with carrying and birthing a child. Greatest of these besides age is that, due to inflammatory arthritis, any pregnancy would be considered by clinicians to be “high risk” from the start. I can imagine, have imagined the possible rewards as I watched my friends expand their families and now watch their eldest become teenagers. I’ve made my mental pros and cons lists and thought about all the right and wrong reasons and good and bad ways to have children. I’ve assessed our suitableness for parenthood and the question of passing on hereditary health conditions. Most important, after all that careful consideration and consultation, though, is to feel the desire rise above fear and doubt.

But whatever ends up touching us, however strangely or improbably it happens, however deliberately, desperately, or passionately we reach for it, there it is. It can either be good or bad for us, or both. We receive the good with the bad whether or not we want either of them.

The universe presents good, bad, worse, and better to us sometimes as options from an à la carte menu. The tongs grab the casual sex instead of the terrifying emotional chemistry that means risking great loss. Single woman will take slavery to meddling, co-dependent mother with side of slaw, instead of daunting freedom of looking for life, with unsweetened iced tea. But we always get a full plate. Another memorized movie brings the idea to a head:

“I have this theory of convergence that good things always happen with bad things, and I mean, I know you have to deal with them at the same time, but I don’t know why . . . . I just wish I could work out some sort of schedule. Am I babbling? Do you know what I mean?”

An enamored Lloyd Dobler replies, “No.”

But I got it perfectly! “Diane Court, whoa.” Genius of 1988, valedictorian of the class in Say Anything . . . Weren’t the 80s golden for rom-coms? She finds love just when her father’s life is falling apart. She can’t pick and choose. They both descend unbidden, and neither is going away any time soon. So she does the logical thing and pushes away the good out of loyalty to her lying, thieving father.

We do that sometimes—make self-sabotaging choices, afraid of happiness, scared of the sin of it, especially as others suffer, whether we play any role in their suffering or not. It feels wrong to be happy when loved ones are not. Fortunately . . . perhaps, Diane rights herself, rejecting Dad for Lloyd. The ending is open ended.

Love does not guarantee happiness; the opposite is more likely. But that doesn’t mean we should shun love. Pain is a powerful teacher. Once in a while, we learn something valuable to apply to the future.

Oh so much wisdom can be found in film. Our movie and TV heroes show us how we stumble and how to recover. They demonstrate how it’s done. The best stories at least hint at the fact that it’s an ongoing process, until it’s not.

If we’re lucky, we get to choose to embrace life or embrace death. “Get busy living, or get busy dying,” says Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. Even more fortunate is the blessing of joy in this life. We may make our own happiness. We can certainly try.

Failing that, we can preserve our sense of wonder, mystery, beauty, or hope, even when rapture is out of reach. Even when disability, disease, injury, mistakes, conflict, or loss seems to mock our reaching.

In truth, fortune is fickle, and navigating it takes effort and patience, of initiative and waiting and recovery, and, for some, of praying. It really does seem to be all about the balance.

Whether equilibrium or tipped scales, the balance holds all. A 40-year-old can wobble like a toddler in heart or mind or body. A six-year-old can dispense ancient wisdom effortlessly. A 90-year-old can cut through the bullshit with razor sharpness. Nothing is completely as we might assume. Expect to have your expectations defied.

When you do, the likelihood of it may just increase. Sometimes a taste of the possibilities outside convention opens up the horizon like a star exploding. It’s messy, destructive even, but creative, too. We are all more resilient than we suppose, more capable of renewal and starting fresh after a fall or fallout or the numbing effects of time. I must remember this.

I think about death a lot, particularly my own, and not just because it’s my birthday. I expect to be struck down at any moment, much of the time. Especially any time I get in a car. I don’t really fixate; I just let the thoughts meander through. There’s little to stop them. Sometimes, I think I focus on death as a way to force myself to embrace life more vehemently. Losing grandparents, aunts, uncles, former classmates, and friends hasn’t done the trick. The terror does not yield to carpe diem, and some darkness lingers.

Losing the dog last February, however, brought new emptiness, which I greedily filled with guilty pleasures and renewed ambitions. Seen another way, I dusted myself off and kept going. However, along with vigorous effort and focus comes not just hope, but expectation.

We have no right to expect positive outcomes just because we are open to them or want them or reach for them or demand them. But while we’re here, we might as well try to build and enjoy something that is ours. Few will remember us for long after we’re gone, and eons from now, no one will.

Nowadays, almost as much as I think about death, I wonder about having kids, and my husband and I discuss it periodically (no, not monthly). The questions arise, along with the concerns. Answers are few and indefinite. In short, neither desire nor aversion has yet won.

People like to say, “It’s never too late,” but frankly, for everything, one day it will be. The line cavalierly sanctions procrastination of major life decisions. It’s little different from “There’s always tomorrow,” but that may truly never come, and one day, it just won’t. Do now, be now. All we know for sure is now. Do what, you ask? What is most true to yourself. This notion has become a trend and may now be somewhat out of fashion.

I’ve read my share of self-help books, most before the age of 30, and some have pearls of wisdom I’ve tucked away. You may know one that says, “Your mission in life is where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (I won’t say which one; I’m promoting movies, not books, today.) In reading these, and favoring this quote, I’ve trained myself to be alert to my inner truth and its expression, and it seems to be working as I work. I don’t seek out those kinds of books anymore; too many better options await my attention.

If we all cop out or settle to some degree and at some point, or even if only most of us do, it’s no great tragedy. On the other hand, if we ignore our soul’s longing completely, it may not be a mortal sin, but it could become a terminal regret. My fear of regret keeps me asking important questions such as, How can I make the most of my life? What am I meant to do?

Like today, even tomorrow may be nothing but a dream. In that case, I choose to embrace the dream, and the dreams within it. I’ve made it this far. I survived. I fulfilled the dream of turning 40. It’s a milestone, a benchmark, a signpost, a weigh station (I try not to stop at those). As if life is an aging contest or some sort of race to the finish, as if the finish line were not death itself.

Age is a sort of accomplishment in our culture. For people with, say, a terminal illness or violent household, this may well be true. Obviously, war-torn countries are so described because of death and maiming, where celebrating survival may become almost necessity. Still, in places and times of relative peace, we celebrate birthdays from year one forward, and in weeks and months before that. When birthdays are used to celebrate life and becoming, it makes sense to add some hoopla.

Otherwise, encountering another year really isn’t much of an achievement. This time, a song borrows the old adage: “Wisdom doesn’t follow just because you’ve aged.” Experience doesn’t guarantee learning. “Been there, done that” doesn’t mean you’re really any better off than someone who hasn’t. So don’t gloat so much, old fogie.

I’m certainly not done yet, not done trying to “fulfill” my “potential.” At some point, you’ve got to deliver, Dodo-head, or find yourself going the way of the dodo. And who would mourn the loss? The inability to evolve, to persevere, maintain a foothold on earth, on behalf of your species? To represent! I always feel that pressure to achieve, to make a difference, to leave a legacy, but with long-term pressure, I risk overcooking.

One side of you is saying, “And so you should.” And perhaps: “How selfish of you, how typical, to lament the inevitable passage of time, to make excuses for not using yours wisely. More selfish still, just spending (wasting) the time thinking about it because you ‘have the time’ to do so.” That’s my projected criticism from all those busy family people my age who don’t have such a “luxury,” the disapproval from the other voices in my head.

Why do I choose to look at it this way? Is that motivating? Even with these last quote marks, my defiance comes through. “I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” says Popeye. It’s a defiance to convention, conformity, being ordinary. It’s an insistence on forgiving myself for not being perfectly healthy, at my ideal weight, in shape, and bursting with energy while also juggling two jobs, a home, and children. Besides, I do juggle many parts of a busy life.

I defy contempt for privilege, I defy the progressive insistence that moral rightness means impoverishing oneself in the name of equality, and I defy the stigma and misconceptions about writers’ and artists’ lives. I could do office work, and I have done lots of it. I could do manual labor if I really, really had to, but I don’t. Now I work to be an artist, I teach for some income, and, thanks to my husband, I’m not starving. There, I said it.

Of course I would consider writing about, which requires dwelling upon, turning 40. I am a writer. And what’s more, a writer in a culture accustomed to celebrating and obsessing about birthdays. I’ve often thought that I am better suited to life as a free-wheeling scholar from the Age of Enlightenment or something than to traditional, modern-era work. Rather than snub the blessing, I embrace the chance to be just that kind of scholar and writer, while still working toward greater individual contributions to our income.

I usually try to keep my defiance in check in my writing, never wanting to seem too selfish, self-righteous, self-absorbed, too forthright, feminist, emotional, emotionalist, or otherwise stereotypically female, except in jest. But also because I claim a cherished penchant for reason and logic. True, the suppression is a bit neurotic, but, hey, awareness is the first step.

I really like that first step. I walk it all the time. It’s an infinite loop, as though I have one leg much shorter than the other and am walking in circles. Selfish –> anxious about it –> neurotic about anxiety –> selfishly neurotic. It’s oh so productive.

Suppressing defiance or anger, though, just comes across as being cold, rigid, emotionally distant, or, perhaps worse, dishonest. Unlikely I’m fooling anyone but me.

Defiance leaks out, anyway, eventually, in other contexts, the rest that I have—tutoring, friends, family. I’m human and American. Overall, I like to think my students and loved ones are pleased with me despite my egocentric leanings. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard to defy expectation and to be different. The effort has become its own sort of tedious convention. Those who know me have come to expect it. Who, in the end, is truly 100 percent original? We are creatures of habit, pattern, and imitation. Relax a little when faced with things you really can’t change. Do everything in moderation, even moderation. Let loose on occasion. Balance.

And so, I revel in the riches of imagination, in all its forms, mediums, shapes, and colors. “God is in the rain,” says Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta. In nature, in reverie, in reflection. That’s where God lives for me. Where I can find something of grace, of beauty, of serenity, invigoration, balance. It is my universe. I can touch it, see it, hear it, taste it, examine it, love or hate it, reject or accept it.

We all need ways to shelter ourselves from the certainty of death, at least long enough to invest in our lives and to dream new dreams. The only soul I have to live with is this living, sensing one. I mean to do right by it. Invest in the balance, and then, “wait and hope,” as the Count of Monte Cristo says. And smile.

My new dream? Only one of many: the chance to see how I feel about all this at age 50. What of effort, deepest joy, money, ego, pain, employment, God, imagination, kids, limits, convention, neurosis, the world’s hunger, potential, balance, or wisdom then? I hope I’ll see–and hear those movie lines calling.


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graduate school graduation, age 31, or “ten and 21”

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Live Event Review: Diana Gabaldon Skype Session

Barring some spotty transmission of sound, tonight’s Skype session with Outlander author Diana Gabaldon was a treat–and free! Connecting from her Santa Fe, NM, getaway house (lives in Scottsdale, AZ) to our own Lake High School Performing Arts Hall in Uniontown, Ohio, the Goddess of Jamie and Claire Fraser chatted to upwards of 200 people.

To start the presentation, Diana skipped the most common questions avid fans know the answers to, such as how she started writing the first book. Instead, she shared highlights about book 9’s progress (Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone–finish date still unknown), her writing, research, and editing processes, her three main types of characters (“mushrooms, onions, and hard nuts”–see Part 2 of her reference book The Outlandish Companion for full details), and impressions from consulting on the STARZ TV show adaptation.

In her explanation of character types, she used the case of Mr. Willoughby in Voyager to illustrate how a character springs up like a mushroom. Jamie and Claire are onion characters, with layers that keep revealing more depth. Then, some characters she is “stuck with,” hard nuts such as history’s George Washington, as she writes her current book during the American Revolutionary War, and Brianna Randall, Claire and Jamie’s daughter who had to be born for the long-haul story to work.

Diana has to get to know such characters gradually as they reveal themselves to her. She also noted that she doesn’t “kill” characters; they just die and she, too, finds those events “distressing.” She depicts her role as more of a conduit or vessel through which her stories create themselves. While it is not a passive, or by any means easy, process, she works intuitively and must remain receptive. She uses the senses to pose questions that her imagination then helps her answer.

True to her science background, (former) Professor Gabaldon described her writing in terms of natural processes. She revealed how her scenes start from “kernels” (a vivid image, a line of dialogue, a certain ambiance, a physical object) and proceed by an organic process that she compared to both “growing crystals in the basement” and “a slow game of Tetris.” She “fiddles” until the pieces fit together just right.

Perhaps unusual for a novelist, Diana doesn’t write in a straight line or plan her books in advance; she works wherever the images come from and cobbles or, as some have said, “quilts” scenes together. From the beginning of her book making, she has combined the research and writing processes, toggling back and forth to learn more and make corrections as needed. Her research prowess has become legendary among fans. She also shared how each book ultimately forms a geometric shape. Dragonfly in Amber is like a barbell, anchored by a framing story on both ends, and Outlander has a series of three pyramids or triangles where tensions rise and fall.

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Diana Gabaldon, San Diego Comicon 2015

During the Q&A, I was blessed enough to be able to ask Diana a direct question about how the show is adapting the Jamie-Claire relationship. I talked to HERSELF face to face sort of! Whoa. Happy Birthday (week) to me indeed. She agreed with my view that the core bond of these central characters needs some attention and further development on screen, and she indicated the producers think so, too. Diana assured us that the first six episodes she has seen of season 3 are “great,” which brought cheers from several attendees including me.

Just turned 65 last week, Diana Gabaldon is an endearing blend of erudite, friendly, and oddball. This was my second experience of a live Diana Gabaldon video session. She’s very generous and engaged with her fans, a wonderful writer and natural speaker.

Our hosts ran a solid event, the lights and audience mics worked well, and, though we were dram-dry, there was ample, delicious homemade Scottish shortbread laid out near the exit. Mmm . . . buttery, flaky goodness.

In sum, read these awesome Outlander books, people, and if you can, catch a video chat session with Herself. (Preaching to the choir?) The STARZ show really is pretty great, and season 3’s coming up. Even more impressive, though, the books are an endless fount of riches with an essence that even the very talented team of show producers and writers is hard pressed to capture in a visual medium. Books and TV are distinctly different species of animal, but in the case of this timeless, time-driven story, each is fierce and beautiful in its own way, with something for just about everyone.

Sláinte mhath from this balmy winter’s night in northeast Ohio’s Outlander fan land.

The event was hosted by the Stark County District Library, sponsored by Lake Community Friends of the Library, and buoyed by Diana’s two signed book copies for two lucky trivia game winners (not me which was a-okay).

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas, père

Warning: This review and analysis include several spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Style and Substance

The writing in Alexandre Dumas’ historical French novel, relating a 19th-century tale of injustice and revenge, can be long winded. Readers might expect this when noting that an “unabridged” version ranges between 1100 and 1400 pages. With so much space consumed, we might suppose this writer who loved his craft was tempted into ostentation. Perhaps he was.

However, I wouldn’t call his style flowery; a tempted Dumas exhibits self-control. Understated and enticing, the author’s abundant wit, along with great storytelling and readable prose, justify the length of the text. Truly.

I finished this book club selection more than a month before our February meeting, quite the feat considering how often I don’t finish on time. Yes, I started before our last meeting about a single Agatha Christie short story, but never mind.

A suspenseful page-turner for most of its fecund pages, The Count of Monte Cristo kept me reading steadily to learn the fates of characters set aside for long, overlapping periods. My circumstances helped, but Dumas helped more.

Rooted in European history, the settings span a 25-year period of the early 1800s and explore diverse locations from sea and prison to Rome, Paris, and the French countryside. At the story’s fulcrum is the question of political loyalties and their implications. Early shifts in power between Royalists and Bonapartists animate the lever that decides the ground on which central characters begin their journeys.

The plot is intricate and well organized, and the story proves emotionally dynamic, replete with dramatic irony. Rhythmic flow springs from engaging dialogue, which, beside measured descriptive text, renders Monte Cristo a delightful, theatrical melodrama. Its film adaptations attest to this strength with their number.

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“Dantes Cast into the Sea” by French artist Dumont. George Routledge and Sons edition, 1888

Genre, or Who This Book Is For

My first, unspoiled reading never brought tears, drew audible gasps (maybe some silent ones), shocked me, or provoked any wild laughter. In that way, I see it as a steady, well-written, well-told yarn composed of entertaining threads. It is more dark, sweeping Romance in the Gothic tradition than affecting, relatable human drama. This fact tempered my enthusiasm somewhat, as I tend to prefer the latter.

Intrigue, mystery, crime, adventure–all in the particular context of early 1800s Continental politics and cultures–overshadow character complexity and intimacy despite dozens of highly emotional moments. Sadly, there are no kisses lip to lip, let alone sex scenes; sexual suggestiveness is rare and subtle.

Perhaps Victorian in those respects, the book offers some extreme violence, ample cold-blooded murder, and one instance where an unconscious maiden signifies rape. Several incidents are told as stories within the story, but such elements serve to emphasize the grisly tragedies and grotesque fascinations comprising the tale.

Specific Critiques and Praise

Among its flaws, The Count of Monte Cristo tends to telegraph plot points. Thus, prolonged suspense meets the anticlimax of predictable, but satisfying, outcomes. We could attribute this forecasting effect in part to the amount of space and time provided for the reader to guess results correctly, but it is noticeable.

[Second warning: If you’ve never read this book but think you might want to, leave this post now and go read it!]

Still, I felt great moral and literary satisfaction in anticipating the villains’ comeuppance. Then, the collateral damage is realistic and heart rending, dispelling any notion of a surgically precise wrath of God. Lingering questions about the fates of key characters also felt appropriate, particularly concerning Benedetto. As we leave him, we suspect he just might get away with his crimes.

The reader gains significant insight into more than half a dozen characters, sympathizing with their situations. By this method, Dumas succeeds in conveying the imperfect nature of vigilante justice (or any justice) as each major villain meets a punishment that may not match the severity or nature if his crime. The costs of vengeance are dear. Given the paths before these ends, the final choices and turns the antagonists make seem to befit their personalities, also well developed.

By contrast, I found the main character surprisingly underdeveloped for so long a work and despite, or perhaps because of, the different characters he embodies. Edmond Dantès’ journey is remarkable early on and leading into his manifold vengeance. The changes starting to take shape in the climax also work well, but the ending felt rushed. Dantès’ reflections seem insufficient, his remorse and renewed questing half hearted, and his love for his ward lukewarm and a bit convenient.

[Third and final warning: I really mean it this time – Turn back now or skip to the summary below, or suffer the consequences!]

One can imagine Dantès’ moral education continuing beyond the fifth volume of the story, along with the revival of his will to live and start again. I don’t personally need a neatly wrapped ending. Yet, if that emphasis on waiting and hoping was the author’s intent for Dantès as much as for other characters, I would have preferred hints of a more precarious future happiness for our primary hero, more of a sense that the next climb may be just as long and steep as the last.

For Love of Money

Other trouble comes in the author’s apparent emphasis on needing a seemingly limitless fortune to possess true, full freedom and happiness. This notion meets no significant challenge anywhere in the story, which I found strange, if not quite disappointing. Reinforcing this sentiment is the unmitigated misery associated with every example of poverty or even humble means. Dumas might look upon the poor as inherently noble creatures, morally superior, a Romantic vision, but he leaves no doubt that everyone from prince to pauper prefers, and even needs, substantial wealth. Such assumptions irritate.

The exceptions are the slaves the Count owns; Dumas portrays the happiness of Ali and Haydée to be as incandescent as their devotion is supreme. They hardly count, for they are completely dependent, without their own money, and thus without authentic agency. The author seems to doubt that even a single, independent Frenchman could be happy in this time and place without one of the following conditions: possessing great fortune or knowing the security of directly and loyally serving (or being a beneficiary of) a person of great fortune and benevolence, such as the Count of Monte Cristo.

Evidence accrues of the author’s money love. The vast majority of focus characters are members of high society and the wealthy elite, many of superior education, notable beauty, close royal connections, or distinguishing experience. Yet nowhere do riches serve as an obvious corrupting force, except in the most obvious, a priori cases of the antagonists.

The young people cradled in luxury from birth–Albert, Eugénie–adapt swiftly to financial uncertainty, if not to real or projected financial loss. Each is strong of mind, and each charges ahead with definitive plans. Their apparent lack of greed seems plausible, but how long will they last? On the contrary, how will the two most worthy, noble, and innocent characters (hint: not Albert or Eugénie) avoid their lives’ ruination upon acquiring an incalculable fortune?

Currency for the Count

During the rising action, as he operates like some other-worldly creature, at least the Count’s near immunity to the ill effects of being filthy rich seems reasonable. The immensity of the treasure he acquires coupled with the depth of the misery he has suffered accounts for it. There is no room for covetousness, for there is no need. His vision is fixed not on indulging his chosen life of opulence–for his jaded soul can hardly enjoy it–but on using it for convoluted, comprehensive payback.

It is in the name of this sophisticated vengeance for genuine wrongs against him that the Count wields his fortune, education, disguises, and cunning like a four-flanged mace of justice. It is only after his perceived atonement for such absolute revenge that the Count is finally ready to relinquish his wealth and the power and esteem it awarded him. As a result, he believes he needed the money only for the scores he had to settle, but without money going forward, his status and influence will fade.

The question is, Can he indeed adjust to this new reality? For an author whose characters so unilaterally and fervently depend upon prolific capitalism for their happiness, it would seem doubtful. It makes me curious to learn about the life of Alexandre Dumas (of which I currently know nothing), to seek a reason for this.

Revenge? What’s That?

Since the reader never has the chance to observe the changes in either the man who gives away his “first-rate” fortune or those who receive it–changes either in those who lose all they had or in those who squirrel away a buffer against such loss–the consequences of these shifts remain open ended. Despite the age difference between the Count and the younger people, all seem to be of a more flexible generation than their parents are regarding money, status, and survival.

What may be most telling is that none of the villains (1 of the 3 perhaps) truly suffers for very long the consequences of their greed and evil. Each escapes a traditional punishment the reader might think they deserve, whether doing so by their own free will or decidedly not. We never get to see them struggle for any notable duration without money, without status, without family.

They suffer in other ways, many established without the Count’s interference long before he catches up with them; most of it they have done to themselves. The prospect of loss terrifies them and they sustain heavy blows. However, no one reaches, before story’s end, the degree or longevity of deprivation and sorrow that Edmond Dantès has known at their hands.

An epilogue assuring the reader that the evildoers will all receive and experience what they deserve–whether in life or in death–might have been soothing. Without it, we can only guess, “wait and hope” that at least one of them does.

Mercédès

As to patriarchal double standards, I found the Count, if not Dumas, to be harsh in accusing and punishing Mercédès, Edmond’s betrothed before his imprisonment. She is also harsh in judging herself. The woman who becomes Countess de Morcerf, though marrying Edmond’s rival and persecutor, was technically as innocent as Valentine and Maximilien. Disgraced and poor in the end, she is convent bound as her son leaves for military service. The weight of having lost and again losing Edmond is her greatest regret, and rightly so, but it is through no fault of her own in either instance.

Her ignorance and naive perspective of wrongdoing matches Edmond’s as he begins his time in jail, and Mercédès does what she can to atone in the end. Yet the reader is left with the sense that her punishment is deserved, she has not done enough, and she was even a sort of prostitute under the circumstances–all of which is hyperbole. First, how could she have known? Second, what should she have done differently while kept in ignorance?

Mercédès nursed Edmond’s ailing father to his dying day, continued to appeal to the government for news of Edmond, and then made the best of loss and a loveless marriage, sought continuously to better herself, raised a worthy child, and finally relinquished all her ill-gotten gains.

Among all central characters, as Countess de Morcerf, Mercédès alone never seeks to harm anyone, only to save them. More than Haydée, who avenges her father, if not more than Valentine, who avenges no one directly, Mercédès is in fact among the most saintly of the story’s women. Also, because she is so very far superior to both Baroness Danglars and Madame de Villefort, the Countess de Morcerf receives more than unjust treatment.

The unwarranted nature and degree of Mercédès’ eventual suffering approach those of Edmond’s initial suffering. What is that one saying about those we love most? With nothing but vengeful hatred in Edmond’s heart as he enacts his plans, he has doomed his first love, Mercédès, from the start. Perhaps instead of “Frailty, thy name is woman” (Hamlet), the Shakespeare quotation Edmond should have studied and remembered is “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” (Merchant of Venice).

Summary Review

The Count of Monte Cristo is a robust, culturally observant work that explores the mysteries and ironies of destiny. Absorbing characters take shape at a good pace for the story’s length. There is clear, abundant evidence of the skill, the care–in short, the investment–applied by author Alexandre Dumas, père (senior). Although I would have preferred a more detailed look into the title character’s mind and the lessons he learns, the novel, like the Count himself, has earned its place among the classics. I doubt I’ll ever re-read the book entirely, but I imagine returning on occasion to dip into its turbulent, colorful, and ambitious pages.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Translation and Abridgement (No Spoilers)

À propos of length and language, I found no fully reliable, consistently clear, and high-quality English translation among the five versions I sampled while first reading and listening to the story. The Robin Buss translation published by Penguin Classics, though widely preferred and lauded, may be more complete than other unabridged editions, but I found the diction too contemporary, the phrasing overwrought, and the writing generally less elegant than in other editions.

Furthermore, while at times wrinkling my forehead in puzzlement at the Buss translation, I found the text of the Oxford World’s Classics 2008 edition–and even more so of the David Clarke Librivox recording and very similar Gutenberg Project epub ebook–to be more accurate, more logical and appropriate to story context, and more understandable in several instances.

I doubt this divergent assessment has anything to do with my having studied French for 8 years. It probably has more to do with my preferences for archaic diction, unusual syntax, and general clarity. A treasured French study background increased my enjoyment in part due to my understanding of the untranslated French expressions, such as “Pardieu!” (literally “By God” but meaning “Of course!” or “Indeed!”), but any astute reader can gather meaning from context.

Incidentally, David Clarke does a fabulous job with theatricality, French and Italian accents, male and female registers of voice, distinguishing main character voices, clear and consistent projection, and excellent articulation. Aside from occasional mispronunciations, Clarke may have stumbled once or twice in 117 chapters in the Librivox recording. Highly recommended. My having blended listening to recordings with reading ebooks and print copies is largely what allowed me to keep my momentum and finish this massive book quickly.

The Gutenberg file uses the 1888 illustrated (and non-illustrated) George Routledge and Sons edition. I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations by various French artists of the period provided in the .html version of that file. The claim of Robin Buss’s work in the Penguin Classics translation is the supposed recovery of and return to nuances of the original text that had been lost in earlier editions, and I can see some of that happening as well.

The comparable heft of the Modern Library Classics edition suggests little to no abridgement, but I found it makes noticeable, unnecessary cuts, at least to descriptive text in the few parts I bothered to read.

At any rate, we must allow that some flaws resulting from translation could be due to the original author’s style and diction in French as well. I recommend reading an unabridged edition if you read the book at all. Furthermore, if you are fluent, I feel confident, without having read it myself, in advising you to read the original French instead of a translation into English or other languages. Bien sur! (Pardieu!)

Novel excerpt: Song meets Alice

I’m still working on my next Outlander tourism blog post. Meanwhile, our writing group meets today, and I plan to share this scene draft from my novel-in-progress, Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land. Enjoy.

Posts related to this novel’s journey include Last Week of Camp: Ready to Start (April 2016), Packing for Camp (July 2016), The Labor of Learning to Set Limits (September 2016), and This Hunted Story (October 2016).


Scene: Song and Alice meet for the first time as Alice leaves Humpty Dumpty’s estate.  From Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land by C. L. Tangenberg. Draft 11/5/16, revisions 11/22, 12/15

“Little girl!” called Song as Alice began to pass, heading away from her.

It was not the smoothest of introductions.

Alice looked up and screamed, beginning to run the way she was already going before she received such a fright.

“Wait! It is all right. I am not going to hurt you.”

Alice, too scared to listen, did not stop, but it only took a few strides for Song to catch up.

She had no choice. She grasped Alice’s side and shoulder with her right claw, but she did not lift her. Song held the girl in place and tried to shush her. It was not working, so to avoid attracting unwanted attention, Song spread a finger from the same claw over Alice’s lips and said, “I promise, I am not going to hurt you, but I must speak with you as a matter of some urgency.”

She paused but briefly.

“My name is Song, and I am going to take my hand off you now and back away so you can turn freely. Please do not run. I need to talk to you about how you got here. It is a matter of life and death for those I love.”

Alice had begun listening at first because she could hardly do otherwise, and then, something about the creature’s voice, though deep and tremulous with excitement, seemed calming to her. She stopped struggling, and as soon as she did, Song gently let go of her. Still afraid and shivering, Alice did not turn right away. When she finally did turn, her head moved first, followed by her body.

“Wha– I mean, who – are you?” Alice asked in a voice that squeaked in spite of her. She swallowed, hoping to strengthen it. She was now fully turned and facing Song.

The young Jabberwock breathed an internal sigh of relief and decided not to press her luck. She slowly sat down so as not to tower over the girl. Instinctively, she closed her hands into tighter balls than was comfortable, knowing that her claws might easily seem to be reaching for Alice if she were not careful about how she held them. She dropped her hands to her sides, making fists into the ground, which also helped her relieve some tension and feel more grounded.

Now that Song had Alice’s attention, it seemed impossible to know just where to begin. The wind was whipping up, and a few stray leaves in full green dipped and dived across the clearing in which the two very different girls sat. There was a chill that went with this wind, and the sun seemed to grow shy in the face of such a meeting as this. Song looked around and up, then, behind them toward Humpty Dumpty’s stone wall. She wanted to be sure no one had heard Alice scream or seen Song chase her.

“My name is Song Warber,” she began. “I am of the Wock race that lives, well, that used to live, here in Looking-Glass Land. My parents, my brother, and my sister are nearly all that is left of us. The Nobles have—” She stopped. No. Too much too soon. “Let me back up. I live in the Tulgey Wood by the Knights’ Forest. Do you know either of those places?”

“No,” said Alice, growing calmer with each breath. “No I do not. I have meet the Tweedles—”

“Yes, I know.”

“You know?” Alice’s eyes widened. “How . . . do you know?” Alice’s speech became strained and tentative again.

“Oh, I was passing through there. It is actually not far from the path I usually take to get home from my chores. And I have heard of you,” she added quickly, “from around the land. Your coming here has raised some . . . interest.”

She paused again. All of this was changing so fast, it was hard to know how to represent everyday life. Everyday life was effectively extinct for Song.

“Your name is Alice, is not it?”

“Yes, that is right.”

“Forgive me. I stopped out of curiosity and watched you with the twins for a while. I heard how they frightened you about the Red King. I’m sorry for that. For what it’s worth, I believe you are real.”

Song attempted a smile, but she knew it would not be received as anything more friendly than a grimace. It was not in the Wocks’ custom to smile as an expression of happiness. They expressed their joy with the instruments nearer to hand—their arms, their wings, their antennae. Their lips were not much, and not much for flexible movement. It had taken an accelerated adaptation to learn English as a spoken language. One could almost liken their speaking to ventriloquism; they were able to pronounce English words very well without much lip motion.

Alice tried to smile back, perceiving that Song had tried, too.

Song looked down in mild embarrassment upon noticing this gesture. “The thing is,” she began again, “it is because you are real that they feel threatened by you. The Nobles, I mean.”

“Threatened? How?” This was news to Alice.

“Well, I do not want to alarm you, but they have employed sentinels, a kind of guard, to watch the portals for forbidden species and humans trying to enter Looking-Glass Land. My father is one of those guards. Or, at least he was until the Nobles found out about you. Now, he has been punished for letting you in. You see, human children are among those not allowed here. I don’t suppose anyone has mentioned that to you yet.”

“No, they haven’t.” Alice was beginning to feel quite uncomfortable indeed. It was also odd to her that her fear was not coming directly from beholding this creature before her, but from warnings, of what seemed a friendly sort, that the creature was sharing. But then she remembered.

“Then why do they not escort me out? I have met several of the chess pieces already—the Red Queen, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the White Queen, and Humpty Dumpty just now.”

“Well, technically, the Tweedles and Humpty are more like pawns, but never mind. That is not important. Yes, the queens might well have seemed tolerant of you, acted out of politeness. The truth is, I think they are afraid of human little girls.” Song opened a questioning claw while adding, “I do not know why. So many things about the Nobles and Royals are not to be explained.

“Afraid? Of me?” This notion seemed quite silly to Alice. She chuckled, but it quickly turned to hurt. “Why, I would not hurt anyone! I hardly can.”

“Yes, there seems to be some hidden reason for their fear, which is why they try so hard to act normal around you.” Song was pensive, searching.

“Normal? I would not say that.” Alice reflected on what passed for normal around here. “No, I wouldn’t say their behavior is normal at all.”

“Well, still, it is a bit of a mystery, as if there is something they chose not to tell Looking-Glass citizens about the blacklisted creatures. It really seems as if more and more beings are getting to be off limits. It becomes sort of . . . tight around here, if that makes any sense. Kind of pinched. I do not know quite how to explain it.”

“You mean stressful? Like everyone’s afraid of upsetting the king?” Alice offered.

“Yes, just so! They keep adding more and more rules and restrictions all the time, of all sorts, until it is hard to know how to behave or where to go or what you are allowed to say, or even be, after a while. The Wocks have long been restricted terribly much, in many ways, by the Nobles. For us, too, things are getting worse, very fast actually.”

Song looked up to see if Alice understood. She was fully attentive, but her expression had changed little. Wide eyes and a sympathetic brow accompanied rosy cheeks and a petite set of pink lips. Suddenly, Alice sat down where she was, with growing interest in what Song had to say. This was encouraging to the Jabberwock youth. At least this human girl wanted to hear more, even if she could not understand everything. Song continued.

“This is why I came to find you. It was mere luck that I happened to hear you and Humpty Dumpty talking. I needed to tell you about this, about my situation because I thought you might be able to help.”

Song took a deep breath and went for it.

“Would you be willing to help me?” Her tone was almost shy.

“I suppose so,” Alice said simply. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I guess that is the real question. I want to get my father back, for starters. He has been banished to the Sleef Mountains off to the west. That was his punishment for what they said was ‘not doing his job.’”

Song decided to keep things simple by not telling Alice about the mysterious additional penalty, the details of which Song herself did not yet know. It seemed pointless to add this wrinkle to the present complications. She needed to gain momentum now that she had Alice’s ear.

The wind picked up again, but the sun came out this time, light scattering across Song’s antennae as if across tree limbs. Alice was watching, wondering what the creature was thinking. “Are you really sure I can help?” she asked finally.

“Honestly, I do not know,” Song admitted. “I was hoping you would come with me to the White Palace in order to petition to the King for my father’s return. You see, I know my father. He is a good worker. He would not shirk his duties. He has never had a mark against his record. I know he could not have let you in.” Song blushed suddenly.

Not missing a beat, Alice said, “Wait, how can that be? Does he not guard the looking-glass above the hearth in the house in the 1st Square?”

“No, he does not. Wait, the house?”

“Then how—”

“You said it was a house?” Song just realized Alice was describing a portal she did not know about.

“Yes, why?”

“Oh, there is more than one portal in and out of Looking-Glass Land, but there is no portal at any house in the land. At least I have never heard of it. My father worked the one nearest the Reed-Wallow, not at a house.”

“There are supposed to be only four portals.” Song opened her lips again to say which ones were where but then thought better of it. She did not want Alice escaping the land without at least coming with her to the palace, if possible. Song settled on “Yours would make five.”

“Well, it is not mine,” Alice replied bashfully, but the feeling turned into pondering, with scrunched eyebrows and a finger to her mouth. “At least I do not think so.”

Alice began to have a strange feeling that maybe she had created the portal on her own somehow, that it was not there until she put it there. Curiouser and curiouser, she thought to herself.

“This is very strange,” Song said, echoing Alice’s thoughts. “Why do you suppose— Well, no, how would you know, right? I mean, do you come from a place with many portals in it?”

“Not exactly. We can walk through open doors and cross borders and such, but those are all clear and visible. You know what you are about to do by how it looks from the side you start from.” Alice secretly believed she was still dreaming, and that, perhaps, it was possible her dream was a kind of portal into this world. “No, we do not have portals like the one I went through, usually. But then, I did go through it . . . This is all so confusing.”

“Yes, it is,” Song conceded. “But maybe, if you come with me to the White Palace, we can both get some answers. If you can tell them about what you did, then maybe they will see my father is innocent.”

“But I thought you said they do not like little girls. Will I not get into trouble just for showing up?” Alice brought her arms in toward her chest, folding them with her fists resting under her chin in apprehension, and then she began to scramble up on to her hands and knees from the seated position she had been in. “I— You have told me—”

“Yes. Yes, it is possible things will not go very well, for either of us. But I guarantee my fate will be worse than yours. You, they will most likely send back to your own world, if they find the courage to deal with you directly, that is. But something about their rules and behavior regarding little girls makes me think they might not be brave enough to do much of anything with you. It is a risk, I know, but honestly Alice, I am desperate. I think you’ll be okay. And you see that I am also strong.” She paused, working diligently on more ways to convince the girl to go with her.

Finally, Song said, “What if we were to make a deal, you and I? You agree to come help me get my father back, and I agree to protect you if anyone at all should try to harm you. As I hope you have learned by now, I have nothing against little girls. In fact, I think I am starting to like you.” Song smiled. “Even with all the craziness in my life that is making it hard to like anything or anybody. You might just be something really special, Alice. All these strange things. I do not know.” She shook her head in wonderment.

“I think I know what you mean. You have proven that you are not bad yourself.” Alice chuckled nervously, not quite convinced of her own declaration. She thought for a moment about Song’s proposal. This was not exactly how she had pictured her adventures in Looking-Glass Land going. But it was an adventure, even if it was one she had not chosen herself.

“Why not? Let us strike hands on the bargain.” Alice gradually held out her right hand to Song.

“Oh, okay,” Song said slowly, reaching out her hand equally slowly. She did not want to hurt the girl with her ungainly claws, so she held her large hand out still, nodding to Alice to strike it.

“It is a deal,” said Alice, with a pat of her hand on the claw, which felt a bit dry and scaly.

“All right. This way.”

And Song led them off to the east toward the seat of power in Looking-Glass Land, on what would seem to be a hunch and the smallest hope, but she felt lighter somehow. Now they had each other. Alice was a good girl, she could tell. Song decided she would do her best to do what she had promised, to protect Alice from harm, no matter what else may happen.

Who might you be otherwise?

“I was reflecting, in the first place,” replied Dantès, “upon the enormous degree of intelligence and ability you must have employed to reach the high perfection to which you have attained. What would you not have accomplished if you had been free?”

[The abbé replies] “Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced—from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination.”

– from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Vol. 1, Ch. 17, “The Abbé’s Chamber”


True or false?