"It's not good enough for anything Scottish to be just an option that pupils or teachers can choose if they like or if they have time. In what other country of Europe would you find such a state of affairs?" #ScotsLanguagehttps://t.co/8MgV9cbA3g
— Àdhamh Ó Broin (@Gaeliconsultant) November 27, 2017
Featured image: Claire & Frank walk Culloden Battlefield, grave markers center, memorial cairn right, Outlander Ep105, “Rent,” credit: STARZ/Sony Pictures Television
Warning: Possible spoilers from Voyager, book #3 in the Outlander series
The Heart asks Pleasure – first –
And then – Excuse from Pain –
And then – those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering –
And then – to go to sleep –
And then – if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor
The privilege to die –
– Emily Dickinson, 1890
On the cusp of our long-awaited Season 3 of Outlander STARZ, starting this Sunday in the U.S., some readers and viewers renew in their minds, if not through talk, the age-old debate over the quality of a show’s adaptation of the book it’s based on. But not me.
Since I have yet to enjoy a book in the series more than the first, this season’s treatment of book 3 matters less to me than those of the previous two books. By re-watching and closely studying Seasons 1 and 2, I’ve become accustomed to expecting improvements, surprising differences, and lackluster elements in adaptation, and I’m prepared to accept the show more fully on its own terms, independent from the books.
Admittedly, I found this easier after reading of Diana Gabaldon’s endorsement of Season 3, particularly in how closely it follows Voyager. But I never needed exactly identical details to cross the format threshold, anyway; the essence and soul of the story are what matter most to this fan. Besides, absolute mimicry would be both impossible and, if it were possible, a detriment to both book and show. The unique entertainment value of each would decline the more alike they became.
So I won’t be re-reading the book for the purpose of comparing and scrutinizing the show’s third season, and I advise both book and show fans to refrain from the activity as well. Any dipping back into the longest of the first three books for me will be piecemeal and most likely to satisfy curiosity or just enjoy reading.
As a fan who returned with her husband from an Outlander-focused Scotland vacation almost a year ago, my interests in the series relate more strongly to Scottish cultural authenticity, the romance of the saga’s milieu, and the richness of history permeating both series. The people, the places, the times.
During the latter half of our trip, we went to the Culloden Visitor Centre and Battlefield near Inverness and purchased a guidebook there. The impressiveness of the museum, enhanced by my familiarity with the Outlander series and Culloden’s role in it, and the sobering experience of walking the battlefield all made a deep impression on me.
Now I’ve been reading the gargantuan Tolstoy novel War and Peace since May, a month after my president bombed war-ravaged Syria. With lesser eruptions of political violence in my own country and North Korea’s recent missile launches escalating Kim Jong-un’s threats of nuclear war, the power and propensities of my government and others naturally darken my thoughts these days.
At the intersection of fiction and cultural history, then, my current and greatest interest in Outlander STARZ Season 3’s first episode, premiering this Sunday night, is their representation of the Battle of Culloden. With the formidable Sam Heughan leading the cast of Jacobite soldiers, making war look sexy is inevitable, but I hope a healthy dose of realism also accompanies the depiction—a rendering of the oft-obscured losing side of history and the consequences of that loss through the season’s first half.
Between the Lines
On the cover of Culloden, the National Trust Scotland’s official guidebook to the battle and field, appear two lines of identical length and thickness. Like railroad ties not on a map but in a picture, they recede at one end, seeming to reach forward and down to the right on the surface, toward some common point of interest—where the pages open. Separated by a word, their other ends point at diverging angles to the sky of the background image.
They nonetheless come from the map, these lines, the red above, the blue diving into the brown straw grass of the funereal field. A blue line, a red line, divided by a clash of cultures, red representing the government, blue the rebels. Blue underscores the beige Gaelic word “Cùil Lodair.” Red upholds the death knell in beige English type: Culloden.
Red rising into the sky, above the fray, above the dead grass of the haunted moor. Blue sinking into the nameless land of burial, of death from final battle in a year-long, lifelong, centuries-long conflict. A conflict said to have been between either English and Scottish, Highland Gaels and Lowland Scots, Jacobites and Hanoverians, or two peoples in a global power struggle for the imperialist upper hand. Shades of each dichotomy fall on the weathered pages of history, but, the guidebook says, none of these alone is strictly true.
So simple, these two little tracks of primary color. So complicated, turbulent, ironic, intriguing, and dark the history they bespeak. Separation, divergence, oppression, progress, strategy, integration, interdiction, imperialism, diaspora—such abstractions are some of the closest we can come to accurately labeling these mysterious, Hydra-headed developments. Mere words, single words, no better than colors, flags, or battle lines for explanation, inadequate to forge understanding.
The causes are many, serial, circuitous, and complex, rendering king, commoner, historian, novelist, and film-maker alike unable to capture fully the why, the how, and, to some degree, even what made this single battle, the Battle of Culloden, what it was. Despite its being the first British battlefield to see archaeological excavation, as with all of history, no one can ever fully know all of what really happened.
Story and History
Do the details matter? All of them? Every last moment, word, object, event, and item? Recorded history is never 100% true, just as works of fiction, even when not historically based, are never 100% untrue. One could also argue that history itself is an art form, not an exact science. Certain things such as names, events, and objects can be objective elements, fact. The rest is nearly, if not in some ways just, as subjective as the politics and fiction surrounding it. All lines blur at the intersection of life and its representation, where writers and readers or viewers connect.
What is war, after all, but a stamp of failure, the failure of people–clans, nations, and their leaders–to solve problems fairly, honestly, and peaceably? At best, it’s a self-serving grab for power and land, glory and good standing. At worst, fratricide, genocide, evil. Occasionally, it is a pure demand for deserved freedom, but that purity is never uniform across the hearts of those who fight. Generally, war is far less romantic than either fiction or history or current events media portrays, though some things do remain worth fighting for.
This was not my war that I should weep for the lost or for those still suffering its reverberations through the collective consciousness. So many conflicts and disasters are not mine, thank God, not ours, yet they merit no fewer tears. I am human and can empathize with my fellow humans.
To paraphrase Tolstoy from War and Peace, which I’m nearly finished reading, history is the habit of focusing on great leaders’ military conflicts as defining lands and their peoples, whereas it is the individual person going about everyday life, both in waging war and in tending to private affairs, that has most influence on a country’s fate. It is discrete human consciousness and conscience that matter most, not the “hive mind” of collectivism, of self-sacrificing glory and patriotic heroism.
In solemn honor, reverent pride, and moist-eyed commemoration of great public figures, military commanders, and extraordinary patriots credited with ingenious tactics, singular vision or instinct, and pivotal acts of bravery and skill, we write books, erect monuments, fill museums, name streets, and conduct ceremonies.
Yet the greatness of great leaders lies not in their human empathy, but in their ruthlessness, singular focus, and emotionless problem-solving skills. Commanders of armies, Tolstoy claims, cannot allow compassion, mercy—in short, human conscience—to cloud their tactical judgment if they are to be effective warriors. His example is Emperor Napoleon, but the principle applies equally to queens, colonels, dukes, generals, and princes.
It is regular people instead, Tolstoy argues, the common man and woman toiling anonymously and focused on their own lives and families—those who fight, suffer, bleed, and die not for a cause but as a matter of course—who deserve greatest praise and emulation. Better that each does for himself than for the public good; as a result, the public is better served.
Based on direct narrative arguments, characterization, and plot in War and Peace, I think Tolstoy’s belief in the importance of these actions lies in how they preserve people’s lives, loves, and souls. Let your life be a beacon so that others avoid the grandiose, power-hungry, cruel, machine-like, nationalistic, and imperialistic ambitions that only ever result in countless acts of evil.
It is this individual human lens on infamous past conflict that Outlander, too, affords us. In short, though it flies in the face of conventional military discipline, be like Jamie Fraser. Follow your prince as far as you can, and then when it’s clear the cause is lost, save your people if not also yourself.
Adoption and Adaptation
Although they’re neither my books nor my monuments, museums, or people, I attend the story. And why? Why do I choose to focus on this history and these people over others, including those one could say are more rightly mine? I cling with a sense of loyalty in having adopted threads of a culture not native to me. Why have I selected Outlander, its stories, and Scotland in which to invest my time, money, energy—in short, my conscious presence as an American?
Why did a science academic from Arizona, with no Scottish heritage and who had never been to Scotland, choose a 250-year-old version of that setting for her first novel? Inspired whimsy as much as anything else. An image of a Highlander in a kilt on an episode of Dr. Who pretty much started it all, along with the desire to learn how to write a novel “for practice,” one that became only the first of an international-bestselling series. In short, because she could, and excelled at it.
Now, in more than 35 posts, my blog explores Diana Gabaldon’s imagined saga and its Scottish origins.
The following can all be found through this blog’s menu tab “Outlander.”
- Scotland’s Burns and Outlander rival Shakespeare’s bawdy
- Adapted Bawdy Lyrics: Outlander TV Series, Episode 114, “The Search”
- Happy Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day!
- Response to Outlander Post, “Episode 115: ‘Wentworth Prison’ (SPOILERS)”
- Review: Outlander Season 1’s Ironic Chilling Effect
- Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
- 3 Quick Book Reviews: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager
- Outlander, 2015 San Diego Comic-Con: Binge On
- Five-Phrase Friday (9): “Slings and Arrows . . .”
- Five-Phrase Friday (10): Outlander Grammar
- Golden Globes for Outlander Starz!
- Outlander “2”: Dragonfly in Amber
- Five-Phrase Friday (36): Comic Relief in Outlander STARZ Ep201
- Five-Phrase Friday (37): No “Callow” Craft
- Outlander STARZ: Season 2 Review, Eps 201 and 202
- Review: Sandringham in Outlander STARZ – Beyond Adaptation
- Live Event Review: Diana Gabaldon Skype Session
- Outlander STARZ: “Faith” and Patience
Posts of our Scotland excursion are linked below and through the far-right, top-menu tab “Scotland” on the Philosofishal home page.
Before the trip:
- Book Review: Fodors Travel Essential Great Britain
- The Labor of Learning to Set Limits
- Five-Phrase Friday (38): Scotland
After the trip:
- Morning Fog, Loch Long, Arrochar – photo, the Trossachs (Oct 11, 2016)
- Scottish Color: A Photo Essay – overview of sensory highlights (Oct 12, 2016)
- The Paps of Jura – sea-and-mountains vista; language lesson (Oct 15, 2016)
- Linlithgow Palace, a.k.a. Wentworth Prison – profile of a lesser-known Outlander STARZ filming site (Oct 20, 2016)
- Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 5: Of Mice, Men and Rabbie Burns – reading “To a Mouse” & The Writers’ Museum (Oct 24, 2016)
- Kurdish in Edinburgh – restaurant review (Nov 4, 2016)
- Dial up the sun – original poem, plus photos, National Museum of Scotland (Nov 9, 2016)
- An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 1 – my take on Outlander tourism, starting with film sites in Central Scotland (Dec 1, 2016)
- An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 2 – Central Scotland cont’d, Glasgow film sites, south to Ayrshire coast, Dumfries & Galloway (Dec 23, 2016)
- An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 3 – wraps up orientation to Highland sites from Perthshire to Ross & Cromarty to Inverness; Outlander STARZ & my museum/field photos of Culloden Visitor Centre, with commentary (Feb 11, 2017)
- An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 4 – story of my trip-planning process, snapshots of our itinerary, our experience, and improvements (Mar 11, 2017)
- Wildlife TV Programs This Week – a heads-up for Wild Scotland on NatGeoWild. See the end section about select Scotland nature and wildlife tourism options with brief descriptions and links to resources. (Mar 27, 2017)
- Review: Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources – (a.k.a. Part 5) our Outlander tour, Slainte Scotland company review, notes on OL sites we visited alone, profiles of most popular OL film sites, list of 40 OL film sites, resources for OL book and inspiration sites, other OL tour co. links, articles on the show, plus how to survive Droughtlander (Apr 11, 2017)
- An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 6 – the final post in the OL tourism series, focused on Scottish and more general travel tips and resources, based on our Scotland trip experiences (Jun 15, 2017)
And I keep coming back to it—because I’m fascinated, captivated, intrigued, provoked in thought and feeling and spirit. It’s Gabaldon’s masterful storytelling that made all this possible and Outlander STARZ that elevates my interest even further. I write because I want to, because I can, and why the hell not? I daresay Tolstoy would approve.
My husband recently informed me that two Icelandic airlines have started direct flights from Cleveland to Reykjavik. “Wanna go to Iceland?” he asked. My coy reply? “Sure, as long as we can stop in Scotland on the way.” We spent our first vacation of any real length and substance since our 2008 honeymoon on a two-week Scottish excursion last fall. Some day, I hope to go back. For our 10th anniversary next year, I cannot think of a better, more romantic way to celebrate than reprising the trip we both so loved.
Outlander Season 3
Until then, there’s the third season journey of the STARZ adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s currently 8-novel series called Outlander. The premiere of the TV show’s return based closely, we have now been told, on Gabaldon’s third book Voyager airs in the United States on Sunday, September 10, 2017. Catch the show on STARZ at 8pm EDT or on the STARZ app.
It’s a 13-episode adventure through 1940s-60s Boston, 1960s and 1740s-60s Scotland, and various parts of the Caribbean Sea in the 1760s after our epic romantic heroes Claire and Jamie reunite in an Edinburgh print shop after 20 years and two centuries apart. I know it’s a lot of numbers to parse. . . . Stay tuned.
That separation, made possible by Claire’s time traveling ability, occurred as a direct result of the Battle of Culloden in 1746. In the Season 2 finale, Claire acknowledges to Jamie her new pregnancy and agrees to keep her promise of going back through the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, taking herself and their unborn child safely back to the future (Sam Heughan’s favorite movie, by the way).
While the battle itself is not part of the book’s plot, the TV show’s premiere features Jamie’s version of recalling the battle. The first several episodes then explore the separate, parallel lives of these time- and ocean-divided lovers, wife Claire and husband Jamie, as they struggle to learn to live and find purpose without one another.
As pivotal as it is to Scottish history, so is the Battle of Culloden to the Outlander STARZ drama. And because occasions for artistic representation of the battle are as rare as a total solar eclipse, I’ve chosen this niche topic as we prepare to watch a fresh rendering of parts of the battle in living color.
Culloden Battlefield, a.k.a. Culloden Moor, Inverness-shire. → “The Outlander action is all leading up to the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. More than 1,200 [Jacobite Army] men were killed [and nearly as many wounded] in the defeat of the Jacobite [side].” Source: photo caption excerpt. This final battle, while not depicted in the book, will be portrayed in the STARZ show during series 3, which is based on the third book Voyager.
Culloden Visitor Centre stewards, battle and Jacobite scholars, descendants of Scotch soldiers and their families, British historians, Outlander fans, Outlander STARZ cast and crew, and Scots citizens–in short, many, many people no doubt all eagerly anticipate this unique project coming to fruition.
I know it will be unforgettable, and I hope it will bring even more people to this historic site that has long been at the center of Scottish cultural identity and its dramatic transformation.
Although this project is unique, the Battle of Culloden has been depicted in film before. Early during the Vietnam War, the 1960s brought us Culloden, Peter Watkins’ 70-minute docudrama, or “mockumentary,” of the battle in black and white, told as if modern TV cameras were present interviewing participants in the battle. Although I have not seen it, the film appears to have garnered some very positive reviews and has been described as “seminal” in its style and substance.
There is also The Great Getaway, a recent film about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s flight from British justice in the wake of the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, a production in which the battle plays a role. Although a trail of articles tracked its development, I was unable to discover whether this project ever saw the light of day or if it is still forthcoming; if you know anything about it, feel free to leave a comment.
Farther back, in the silent film era, 1923’s Culloden Avenged uses that historical turning point as a pretext for a rematch done archery style between the King’s Scottish Archers and the Woodmen of Arden in an International Archery Contest. Black and white, 60 minutes.
Beyond explanations and images in history books, there are available at the Culloden Visitor Centre museum dozens upon dozens of first-person accounts, artifacts, letters, poems, reenactment recordings, songs, artwork, and other representations of the battle in part or whole. I don’t plan to take my expertise on this subject further than reading all the articles in my Sources section at the end of this post. Perhaps I’ll watch Culloden or The Great Getaway at some point in the future, but history books about Culloden I leave to other readers.
Truth in the Balance
If we accept that history is as subjective as fiction, questions about how and how well Outlander, or any production, portrays history pale in importance to other questions focused separately on history and on fiction. We may be tempted to ask whether something has been misrepresented and how that alteration matters, and we are free to do so. The verdict is up to each individual consumer, however, and there should be no criminal indictment, just literary criticism. Art is for everyone to make of what they will.
As long as, and to the extent that, history’s facts, to say nothing of its general aura, remain incompletely known and in dispute by the descendants and scholars of opposing sides in the conflict (as well as of purportedly neutral persuasion), the question of accurate representation proves rather subjective, if not altogether moot.
Acknowledging this lack of necessity for accuracy leads us to ask a different kind of question. Which elements of story have the most impact on reader perspective? Should certain aspects carry more weight than others?
If we grant that readers and viewers of the Outlander series love it primarily for one, a few, or many of the following qualities—and these are all present, in my humble opinion—then historical correctness takes a farther seat back in the stretch limo:
- intriguing premise and sweeping scenery
- engaging plot and dramatic conflicts
- compelling ensemble of characters, including seminal villains
- high-quality writing, with sharp turns of phrase and vividly descriptive details
- 20th-century English combat nurse’s narrative perspective, intelligence, insight, rash courage, ironic wit, loyalty, compassion, sense of justice (Libra), sharp memory, sharper-tongued sauciness, resourcefulness, ingenuity, medical skills, hardiness, sexual confidence, sense of adventure, large heart, steady determination
- 18th-century Scottish Highlander’s physical strength, resilience, hot-headed stubbornness (Taurus), decisive leadership, clever intensity, educated virility, romantic sensibilities, controversial brutishness, forward-thinking adaptability, uncanny intuition, and unimaginable tenderness, i.e., “king of men”
- centuries-spanning heroic couple’s beautiful transcendent love and at-times shocking sexual relationship
- sci-fi/fantasy elements of time travel, folk superstition turned real, and the generally supernatural
At any rate, the best fiction, and the best art more broadly for that matter, sets out first to inspire, entertain, intrigue, or provoke thought. It is not, and should not be, the novelist’s job to “tell the truth” beyond what is true to the essence of the story itself. It’s fine to educate and enlighten, but that’s not the top priority with fiction.
Still, as someone whose interest extends beyond Outlander’s fiction into the culture and history of the Scottish Highlands, as well as Scotland, the UK, and the Scottish diaspora more broadly, I find value in examining the intersection of history and story.
In Good Faith
Besides the numerous, varied aspects listed above and despite our relieving historical fiction authors of the responsibility for absolute factual precision, this kind of accuracy is no less part of Gabaldon’s critical praise. As a former college professor and editor, as well as a keen and tenacious mind, the author has really done her homework. Readers note her extensive, intensive research of settings, customs, clothing, technology, medical expertise, weaponry, household goods, conveyances, animals, plants, and all other specific details she has selected.
In her first volume of The Outlandish Companion, Gabaldon describes her research precepts, what she tells audiences during lectures on the topic of historical fiction, and the process she pursues to balance authenticity with storytelling.
It is true, on the one hand, that a degree of accuracy, plausibility, and internal consistency are essential to author credibility in the telling of a story if the author is going to keep readers interested and not distracted by errors, suspicion, or confusion.
On the other hand, perhaps we should aim to focus our inquiry instead on the fictional representation of historical themes and settings as fiction—how the book series author imagines contextual history in order to serve a fictional story and how the STARZ TV production imagines its own version of Gabaldon’s use of history.
For, in truth, despite their impressive efforts to create an authentic milieu, both Gabaldon and STARZ’s crew would seem to have made some historico-factual errors toward the end of Dragonfly in Amber (DIA) and in Outlander STARZ Season 2’s penultimate episode, “The Hail Mary.” In different ways, they both diverge from what the National Trust Scotland official guidebook Culloden represents as accurate historical fact concerning the events leading immediately up to the battle. I’ll present each creative choice, compare them to fact, and then discuss implications.
Creative License or Misrepresentation?
Gabaldon changed the timing of the night march. STARZ changed the reason for its being aborted.
In DIA‘s Chapter 46, Gabaldon writes that the night march, historically represented to have occurred the night before the Battle of Culloden, happened two days earlier than it actually did. I would like to give this highly experienced, research-skilled author of numerous historical novels the benefit of the doubt, but I am curious to learn her reason or reasons for making this rather noticeable change in historical timing.
While STARZ/Moore got the moment of its occurrence correct, they more than implied that it was primarily lack of sufficient troops leading to the attack’s delay, rather than solely the projected timing of the army’s arrival at the Cumberland encampment in Nairn, that made Lord George Murray turn his troops around and head back to Inverness.
Fact: The night march did occur on April 15, the night before the Battle of Culloden, and those troops that did return came back exhausted, starving (more than they had been), and barely in time to form up for the noon-time battle.
Fact: There was no errant set of lost Prince Charles troops who never showed to meet up with Murray’s troops, as represented by the show (perhaps to give Jamie Fraser a larger role in the action?). By 2am on April 16, Murray’s lot, delayed instead by darkness, rough terrain and weakened bodies, were still four miles from the encampment and would lose all advantage with the sunrise.
Both of these seemingly unnecessary errors for the story or production create alterations that substantially improve neither dramatic effect nor characterization. Furthermore, pacing could have been preserved in the same way it came out if they’d left well enough alone. An aspect of history that was not in dispute has, under each author, become a thing, so to speak, needlessly increasing potential for controversy where before there was none.
It leads one to wonder whether these differences are accidents or intentional deviations, and if the latter, deviation for what purpose. But the key question is, “Whether purposeful or not, is the misrepresentation problematic, in any substantial way, to either history, story, or present society?”
The answer will, of course, depend on whom you speak with about it. For example, perhaps historians, modern-day Jacobites, Culloden-warrior descendants, fans of Bonnie Prince Charlie, today’s nationalistic Scots, and those sympathetic to people they perceive to be oppressed Highland Scots and Gaels will be none too pleased to see even fictional characters and their circumstances casting Prince Charles and his troops in an unfavorable light.
Omitted also from the show and book is the historic fact that, even before the night march, the over-eager prince formed his lines on Culloden Moor on April 15, the day before the battle actually took place, anticipating Cumberland’s forces that never arrived. Adding this fact to the fictionalized representation would legitimately portray the troops as being as thoroughly exhausted and unprepared as they really were.
Combine the two false starts of previous-day non-battle and aborted night march, and in some respects Charles Stuart appears even more foolish and the Jacobites more imperiled in the 24 hours leading up to the battle than either Gabaldon or the STARZ crew conveys.
Specifically with respect to those few days prior to the battle, however, the TV adaptation proves more historically accurate than Gabaldon’s use of history in the book, and in so doing, the show restores some of the pitiable absurdity of those desperate last moments of build-up to combat.
Perspective and Picking Your Battles
Motives aside and changes in detail considered, what are the effects of each creative choice?
For most readers and viewers, probably none. If you never learned (from a scholarly historical text, for instance) the detailed history of Culloden or the Jacobite Rising of 1745, you wouldn’t know what you missed, except that now I’ve told you.
Those who’ve paid a little more attention, perhaps visited Scotland, including the Culloden Visitor Centre, as well as some Scotland- or UK-based fans of the show, may notice a vague dissonance between scenes watched and history lessons recalled. Perhaps a few will “mark me” that those sequential details don’t wash.
We who notice errors, discrepancies, unintended anachronisms, or timescale flubs in film and television productions, and are bothered by them, can take solace in the fact that almost everybody does it at some point. For story’s sake, a production’s budgetary constraints, because they feel like it, or because they simply don’t know any better, mistakes happen in any endeavor involving human action. Culloden itself is, in a large number of respects, a seminal example of that truth.
Yet again, the Battle of Culloden is “merely days away,” as Claire says in ep212 to Black Jack Randall of his day of death, referring to that same fateful date of April 16, 1746. Our first Outlander-filtered experience of the battle will occur on September 10, 2017. Last April marked the 270-year anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, and the final Outlander Season 2 episodes, representing the eve of that battle, aired for the first time last summer.
Now at last come the battle itself and its aftermath through the eyes of our hero Jamie Fraser. His narrative filter replacing Claire’s usual perspective (complete with voice-overs), along with the combined writer-producer lens, greatly erodes the importance of accurately representing the events Jamie “reports.”
Fictional aims take priority. So, while past error may presage future error (or, in a time-travel story, vice versa?), the author can stand confidently at least behind the acceptable claim, if not the essential trait of fiction, that no character’s or narrator’s viewpoint is ever equivalent to the author’s.
Anyone who reads novels on a semi-regular basis also should know that the narrator is never 100% reliable and, in fact, this is even a large measure of the fun of exploring literature. I’d say the thoughts of a severely injured, exhausted, starving, and love-sick survivor of a major battle having flashbacks of said battle slot him neatly in the category of unreliable limited, first-person narrator, at least in that moment. No offense to James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.
Characters, if they are realistically drawn, get lots of things wrong—not only details but also the essence of their experiences—with imperfect, incomplete, biased, and sometimes wholly fabricated remembering. Memory, as I learned recently through my memoir writing class, is at best a reconstruction of partially formulated experiences that change in some way inevitably each and every time the mind revisits them. There are no pure, objective memories, and that’s just in real life.
With a first-person narrative pervading the fictional Outlander series, and given the degree of detail we are meant to imagine that fiery, intelligent, love-driven Claire recalling for the reader, such a saga, even as a work of fiction, must necessarily allow for the main character-narrator’s flawed memory. In other words, yes, sometimes in telling her story, Claire could be almost lying, even to herself, though that’s clearly not Gabaldon’s overall intention.
It’s not only just a story; it’s a tale told by a completely manufactured character, who, as some of the best writers and musicians argue, has a mind of its own. Conversely, in a way, we must suspend our disbelief to allow Claire’s memory to be far too intact for realism, thanks to Diana’s meticulous research and writing.
Lines Blurred and Crossed
Where does all this leave us in our questions on the relationships between history and story in the case of Outlander? Is there a red line on misrepresentation or creative alteration? Has Outlander already crossed that line? In world building, no. In some specific events, actions, and sequences, it’s possible.
So, what is a reader or viewer to do with that? My recommendations follow.
Where the creator’s conscious intentions of a certain type of portrayal of a historical figure, event, period, or atmosphere are evident, it comes down to a simple choice. As a consumer, you either accept it or withdraw support by refusing to read or watch.
Where accident seems more prominent than purposefulness, you can criticize or chalk it up to fallible humanity. If it’s unclear and not easily learned one way or another, then be confused if you must, but reserve harsh judgment for greater, more obvious crimes. With Outlander, Gabaldon and STARZ/Moore got the vast majority of things right.
Truly accurate nonfiction representation of history would mean that the red and blue lines on the battle maps of Culloden (and of most conflicts) should in fact both appear as rainbows, multicolored pixel grids, or gradient color bars with mildly contrasting shade tendencies, rather than starkly contrasting, completely separate, solid, single-color areas. In the end, complete accuracy might be both rare and indecipherable and, thus, practically pointless.
And, besides, if you’re already an Outlander fan for any or all the aforementioned non-historical reasons, and some of the historical ones, how likely are you, really, to throw the baby out with the bathwater now?
If I am to keep reading a book or watching a show, you could say my only hard-and-fast rule for soundness beyond good narrative grammar and general readability is internal consistency. By this measure, Gabaldon definitely has a leg up on STARZ and Ron Moore, due to their series of time-scale errors bridging the second half of Season 1 through the opening of Season 2. (The one I don’t discuss in the above-linked post is the “typo” on the screen caption to ep201 when Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh land in France: it would have to be 1744, not 1745, folks.)
Producers of the STARZ adaptation chose a different seasonal starting point of autumn instead of spring of the respective years of 1945 and 1743 to start the series, which in itself might not have been problematic. However, perhaps for this reason but probably also others, the time line chips fell (apart a little) from there. But again, just check the IMDB.com entry of your favorite movie or TV show, and you’re sure to find errors in the “goofs” section of the page.
Even knowing all that I’ve learned through close examination and a little research about both the timescale issues and the pre-Culloden discrepancies, and feeling troubled by them, I don’t plan to stop watching the show or reading the books (I’m on book 5 of 8, soon to be 9). That’s just how good it all is.
As an English teacher and a student of philosophy, I’ve always believed in the power of fiction to reveal truths of human nature and to raise valuable life questions. Both book and show of the Outlander saga have proven their worth to me by excelling in this art. I’m also curious to see how closely the story follows the battle in this first Outlander representation of scenes from it. Note that Gabaldon chose not to depict the battle, probably to keep focused on Claire’s perspective and to emphasize Jamie’s individual story over the larger context, as is fitting.
The book and TV series have made us laugh, gasp, hold our breath, stare in horror or fascination or infatuation, cringe, look away, and generally become obsessed with the story and its characters. Perhaps most of all, Outlander makes us weep, and the battle depiction may indeed prove to be another major trigger for tears–and cringing.
The infamous Battle of Culloden has been talked about in the script since the first season. It is the reason for our heroic couple’s separation, and it changed the course of history.
The real, horrific general slaughter of Jacobites in battle, their defeat, and that of the rebellion precipitated the great suffering of Scottish survivors and innocent civilians alike. As part of a campaign of punishing traitors, the Duke of Cumberland allowed government soldiers to hunt down fleeing Jacobites, pillage and burn property, torture, rape, and murder in the hours and days after battle.
Later that year, rebel leaders were executed, others including Prince Charles fled the country, and mass exodus followed. New British laws brought more formal economic and cultural suppression of Highland Gaels, and even Scots who had fought for the government, through decades of humiliating, famine-stricken aftermath. Culloden was the last battle fought on British soil.
Inevitably, then, Culloden in Outlander STARZ will be the ultimate tragedy of the entire series so far, a series that has delivered multiple, regular nightmares and personal tragedies, as well as the most hair-raising encounters, rescues, reunions, and journeys.
Till next time, enjoy—and endure in solidarity—the journeys of mind, heart, and soul that these Outlandish art forms, in their peculiar cross-dialogue, give us all. They fuel our obsession and reward our curiosity with such overarching respect, dedication, talent, hard work, and passion for the Outlander story and its cultural and historical inspirations.
I hope this post has offered fans, those on the fence, and those about to jump off some meaningful perspective on the nexus of culture, history, historical fiction, and artistic adaptation. Perhaps Outlander can teach us something about the nature of truth and fact, the variable gap between efforts and results, the wonder of resilience, the supreme importance of love, or the inescapable folly of war. In art as in life, you cannot control all the outcomes, but the choice of which most valuable lessons or beautiful impressions to take with you is no one’s but yours.
And Happy Season 3, Sassenachs! We made it—we conquered the longest Droughtlander yet. Catch the show’s return September 10 on STARZ at 8pm EDT or on the STARZ app.
Sampling of Sources Consulted or Considered, a.k.a. Almost a Bibliography
Wandering Educators, Dr. Jessie Voigts, 2009: Culloden: From Battle To Exile
BBC News, 2011: Apology sought for “war crimes” in Culloden’s aftermath
I wonder if the show’s success (2015-17) at all contributed to their story selections:
History Scotland, June 2016: The Battle of Culloden – new research dispels three long-held myths. This article reviews a scholarly publication addressing myths about (1) the choice of battleground, (2) types of weapons the Jacobites used, and (3) identities of the opposing sides involved. Includes video of the professor’s views on his findings. The book is Culloden. By Murray Pittock. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Works by Pittock on Stuart and Jacobite myths listed in NTS’s Culloden.
Daily Mail, Richard Gray, April 2016: Holey skull gives a glimpse at the brutality of the Battle of Culloden: 3D model of soldier’s remains shows he was shot in the top of the head in 1746 | Daily Mail Online
Daily Mail, Mark Duell, July 2016: Bonny Prince Charlie’s vanquished troops were NOT an army of Highland savages | Daily Mail Online
Daily Record, Carla Callaghan, June 2015: Outlander’s Sam Heughan on his excitement over Battle of Culloden plot and what writer Diana Gabaldon emails him
Cinemablend, Jessica Rawden, August 2016: Why You Should Be Excited About Outlander Season 3’s Battle of Culloden
IGN, Terri Schwartz, April 2016: Outlander: The History vs. Fiction of Bonnie Prince Charlie
Culloden, National Trust Scotland, 2016, official guidebook on sale at Culloden Visitor Centre. Writers/contributors: Lyndsey Bowditch, Dr. Andrew Mackillop, Dr. Tony Pollard. Edited by Hilary Horrocks. See also the “Further reading” section opposite the inside back flap of the guidebook.
The Tears of Scotland, Tobias Smollett, 1746 (referenced in the NTS guidebook).
Culloden, John Prebble, 1961. Pimlico, 2002.
The Outlandish Companion, Diana Gabaldon, 1999. Delacorte Press, Random House.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
Novels of the Eighteenth Century, Historicalnovels.info/Eighteenth-Century.html lists 1700s novels in English, including all of Diana’s. Sections include British and Irish, Continental Europe, North America, and mysteries in thrillers from these settings.
Scholarly Articles and Books
Joseph Knight: Scotland and the Black Atlantic. Michael Morris. International Journal of Scottish Literature, Issue Four, Spring/Summer 2008. ISSN 1751-2808. Terms used to find this source: “books battle of culloden fiction nonfiction history depictions descriptions explanation”
The “Outlander” Experience: Time-Travel, Literary Tourism and North American Perceptions of the Scottish Highlands, Dr Amy Clarke, (N.d.), University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Retrieved on Academia.edu. Good bibliography with some selections below.
Bueltmann, T., Hinson, A. and Morton, G. (2013). The Scottish diaspora. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP.
Currie, H. (1997). Diana Gabaldon breaks the rules: best-selling author knew nothing about Scotland before writing Outlander series. Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 31 January.
Devine, T. M. (2004). Scotland’s empire, 1600-1815. London: Penguin.
Finlay, R. J. (1994). Controlling the past: Scottish historiography and Scottish identity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Scottish Affairs 9, 124-140.
Gold, J. R. and Gold, M. M. (1995). Imagining Scotland: tradition, representation and promotion in Scottish tourism since 1750. Aldershot: Scolar.
McCrone, D. (1992). Understanding Scotland: the sociology of a stateless nation. London: Routledge.
Painting: An incident in the rebellion of 1745, by David Morier
Culloden Avenged, 1923
Epic battle to star in Bonnie Prince Charlie film – The Scotsman (The Great Getaway, 2016)
Historical Movies in Chronological Order. Patrick L. Cooney PhD, Rise Education Resource Center.
Episode 212, “The Hail Mary,” Outlander STARZ TV series
Aggregate of Season 1 and 2 episodes
I thought I could fit it all in one final 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. This post, a.k.a. part 5, includes a succinct list of 40 Outlander filming sites. Read on for more!
Table of Contents
- All Our Outlander Tourist Destinations in Scotland
- Our Outlander Day Tour Experience
- Special Visit to Glencorse Old Kirk
- Other Outlander-Related Sites We Visited
- Our Outlander Tour Company: Slainte Scotland
- Day Tours with Slainte Scotland
- Outlander Tour with Special Guests
- 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)
- Tour Companies’ Tour Advertisements, including those of Slainte Scotland
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:
- Midhope Castle (Lallybroch) on the property of Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian,
- 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
- Falkland, in central Fife (1940s Inverness), including lunch at the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s B&B), then westward to Stirling for the famous
- 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,
- 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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 Tours – Outlander 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 Tours – Outlander Tours of Scotland. Be your own Claire Randall searching for your very own Jamie Fraser.
Inverness Tours (Hugh Allison and co.)
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.
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)
- LBP Outlander Ltd. (Outlander studios), Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire, east of Glasgow, central Scotland – all STARZ series interior sets
- Torbrex Farm, near Cumbernauld and greater Glasgow – s2 foggy, tent-contained Battle of Prestonpans
- George Square, Glasgow city centre – s1 flashback of Claire and Frank marriage, Westminster register office
- Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow east city centre – s2 l’Hopital des Anges, Paris
- Pollok Country Park, Pollok, south Glasgow – Castle Leod grounds, s2 BJR-Jamie duel
- Hunterston House, West Kilbride, North Ayrshire – Rev. Wakefield house interiors
- Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire – s2 seat of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, a.k.a. the Old Fox, Beaufort Castle, Beauly, Highlands
- Dunure Harbour, Firth of Clyde, South Ayrshire – s3 filming based on Voyager
- Troon coast, South Ayrshire – s1 end, departing Scotland for France
- Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill, Mid Nithsdale, Dumfries & Galloway – s2 exteriors, living rooms & bedrooms of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor, England
- Glencorse Old Kirk, Milton Bridge, near Penicuik, southern Midlothian – s1 Jamie & Claire wedding
- Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot, East Lothian – s1 Lallybroch broken mill
- Gosford House gardens/woodlands, Gosford Bay, near Longniddry, East Lothian – s2 Stable Building at Palace of Versailles, France
- Old Town, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh – s3 Jamie-Claire reunion, adventures
- Bo’ness and Kinneil Rail Station, on Firth of Forth, Midlothian – s1 flashback of Frank-Claire WWII good-bye on train platform
- Hopetoun House, near Queensferry, West Lothian – s1 Sandringham residence in Highland, Scotland
- Midhope Castle, Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian – Lallybroch estate & grounds
- Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian – s1 Wentworth Prison exteriors and corridors
- Muiravonside Country Park, West Lothian & Falkirk, near Linlithgow – s2 Battle of Prestonpans, British encampment, and English countryside
- Callendar House, Falkirk – s2 used as part of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor
- Dunmore Park, Dunmore, Falkirk – s1 Claire and VE-Day, end of WWII
- Blackness Castle, Blackness, on Firth of Forth, Falkirk – s1 Fort William
- Culross, royal burgh of; southwestern Fife – s1 Crainsmuir village, Geillis Duncan’s house, & Castle Leod herb garden; s2 Jacobite camps and buildings
- Aberdour Castle, Firth of Forth, southern Fife – s1 Scottish abbey of Jamie’s convalescence after Wentworth
- Dysart Harbour, Dysart, Firth of Forth, Fife – s2 port of Le Havre, where Jamie, Claire & Murtagh arrive in France, 1740s
- 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
- Balgonie Castle, near Markinch, central Fife – s1 Eldridge Manor, MacRannoch’s home near Wentworth Prison
- Falkland, royal burgh of; central Fife – Inverness 1940s, 1960s
- Doune Castle, Doune, Stirling, Perthshire border – s1 Castle Leod castle, grounds & surrounding land
- Touch House, NE edge of Touch Hills, Stirling – s2 Culloden House before battle
- 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
- Loch Katrine, Trossachs National Park, east of Loch Lomond, Stirling – s2 Roger Wakefield driving Brianna Randall through countryside around Inverness
- Tullibardine Chapel, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 Jamie & Claire small group’s hideout chapel after pursuit by Redcoats
- Drummond Castle gardens, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 park & orchard of Palace of Versailles, France
- Deanston Distillery, former cotton mill, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Perth & Kinross – s2 Jared Fraser’s wine warehouse, docks of Le Havre
- Tibbermore Parish Church, Tibbermore, Perth & Kinross – s1 Crainsmuir witch trial church interior
- Dunalastair Estate, Loch Rannoch, Perth & Kinross – Craigh na Dun standing stones circle through which Claire time travels
- Glencoe, Ballachulish, Highland – long shots in credits and transition scenes
- Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland – s1 Clan Mackenzie rents collection, wool waulking
- 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
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
Specific Filming Locations in Depth
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
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.
Falkland Palace & Garden – National Trust Scotland (NTS)
Doune Castle (HES)
Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust | Pages | Perthshire Big Tree Country
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
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
Info about Outlander Book Locations
Lochaber, Fort William
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
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 Bute – Between 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 Arran – 3 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 Galloway – Off 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 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)
Fairy Hills, Fairies, Witches & Legends
Fairy Hills, Biodiversity & Heritage
Fairies – TOMNAHURICH CEMETERY (Historic Environment Scotland profile)
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.
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.
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
Castle Fraser | VisitScotland – Aberdeenshire (just north of Royal Deeside)
Lovat Castle (site of) | Castle in Kirkhill, Inverness-shire | Scottish castles | Stravaiging around Scotland
Places Mentioned on Series 1 of the Show
Inverness/Nairn (searching for Claire in Ep108, “Both Sides Now”)
Highland (searching for Jamie in Ep114, “The Search”)
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
In the true final post of this series, the official Part 6 to An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, I 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!
Again, for details about Outlander book and filming locations we sampled, see the start of An Outlander Tourist in Scotland series, sorted by region:
- 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.
My commentary–updated with corrections 2/6/17–and a reblogged post (at bottom).
Many have been saying the following and then launching new campaigns of activism. As always, I launch only my considered opinions, research-based (the one statistic I did use and cite needed correcting afterwards–my apologies) views, and best advice, leaving each person to do as conscience dictates.
It has been my aim to avoid politics in large part on my blog, focusing on pre-chosen themes that put art and beauty and positivity first. However, those themes include freedom of expression and opposing censorship, I’m still putting positivity first, and I’ll offer content according to my conscience regardless of trends, mine or others.
We all have choices to make. Wouldn’t it be great if we all kept the freedom to make them?
When executive orders forbid, for instance, federal workers from discussing federal policy, conditions at work, or opinions at all related to their jobs, it is a form of corporate practice as lawful as the conditions of security clearance or signing a confidentiality agreement. It goes with the job. That’s why it’s called an executive branch rather than just “the president”; there’s the Cabinet with 15 departments including Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, State, Justice, Agriculture, Interior, Environment, Education, Energy, etc., each with subsets of dozens of other organizations such as the FBI, the EPA, and the CIA.
The unreasonable suddenness, logistical difficulty, and accumulation of such orders amounting to a moving target that creates confusion and chaos is another matter for the company to work out within itself, lest its efforts to comply break a host of laws and fracture the Constitution. Even as they comply, federal workers must be cognizant of the consequences of their actions and weigh the risks and benefits of continuing to comply, keeping the conversation open amongst themselves if nothing else.
But there is more to consider in a climate in which the default impulse of the executive–whether he chooses to act on that impulse each time or not–is to rule by unexpected direct order, absolute silencing, intimidation, bullying, bribery, general dismissive belligerence or a combination of these. We must consider that non-federal employees with legitimate, rights-based objections to those or other orders have an even greater obligation than previously, and than their federal fellow citizens, to voice or also enact their objections.
Those included under such an obligation are state-level law enforcement leadership, whose duty it is to oppose, countermand, and, if necessary, arrest federal agents who have little choice but to carry out federal orders regardless of state-level legality or moral rightness. Where refusal to comply is truly untenable, blockage of compliance becomes essential.
The power of the executive branch of the federal government has expanded dangerously over the last several decades, for nearly a century in fact.
Now we see (because we finally choose to pay attention), in more vivid and alarming detail than under previous administrations who also wielded such power with various degrees and kinds of impunity, the threats that unchallenged executive mandates and manipulation pose to a panoply of basic freedoms–to pursue work or education, movement, trade, speech, religion, decisions about one’s own physical body and property, including land, and the ability to ask our State and military leader challenging (or any) questions. The legislative branch, the judicial branch, the states, and everyday citizens all have the obligation to check and nullify those threats.
Speak on, ask on, petition on, fund, litigate, assemble, enjoin, fight for what’s yours, relinquish what is not, pray or abstain, and don’t be intimidated. You’re not alone. No persecuted American left behind. Liberty and justice for all. Keep the conversation going. Debate, question, and prioritize your engagements.
No one has the right not to be offended, but you can choose not to take offense by ignoring non-threats to your freedom and focusing on those things that actually threaten it. In a society in which it has become far too easy to get distracted by inflammatory language and pursue useless tangents, the first order of business in making positive change in your country is to restrain yourself so that your energy is not spent before it can apply to what matters.
To that end, speak but don’t just speak. Think before you speak, choose your words wisely, and move from speech to action to protect your liberty and your neighbor’s. Don’t fight each other; fight the unlawful and abhorrent actions of your government. Show each other the respect, but not without adherence to Constitutional law, that your executive chooses not to show as he flouts the Constitution.
Be brave enough not to panic but to question, find facts, learn, engage, think, object, reconsider, seek alternative views, train your mind, open your heart, think critically, understand, decide, and, when necessary, dissent. That’s freedom. That’s patriotism.
What is not freeing or patriotic is terrorism, which comes in many forms. Since 9/11, we have scared ourselves into creating a less secure and far less free society. Now we are seeing the culmination of that extended, misguided, and misapplied paranoia.
From the Patriot Act forward, starting with Bush Jr., we have made incremental choices to excel at being our own most effective terrorists. We have looked the other way while our government implemented ineffectual laws and programs, and devastating military operations, and continued them under Obama:
the counterproductive bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act’s negation of habeas corpus and due process, Guantanamo Bay’s remaining open with the resulting unjust detentions, NSA snooping on American citizens, the TSA’s invasive blunders, Benghazi’s wrongful deaths, lack of transparency in leadership, Afghanistan, and drone strikes amounting to undeclared war in Syria and now troops in Yemen, for just the more obvious examples.
The effects–of both these government actions and the people’s acceptance of them–have been gradually eroding our basic freedoms and rights, and increasing our enemies’ hostility towards us, as well as abilities and determination to harm us.
Nothing brings that fact into sharper relief than the election of this president, who now perfectly embodies our terror. The fear has merely been disguised as anger. We must eventually learn and might as well start now: The only response with any chance to reverse this freedom-hating trend is calm, reasoned, organized, and well-applied resistance–first and foremost, to our own worst impulses.
Resist. But: Know why you resist, be clear about what you’re resisting, prioritize what is most important to resist, and learn how to do it more effectively than the government does anything.
Stop looking to centralized government to fix everything. They have proven repeatedly, in both parties, from all angles, that they are unfit to do so. A new executive won’t resolve this; the system itself is unfit, and the wisdom of term limits supports this notion. Being “unfit” may seem unfortunate, but it is not the tragedy. The real misfortune is our continued gullibility in believing they can fix it all as we passively await our deliverance. The corrupt, powerful godheads have led by fear and kept us afraid. In this respect, the federal government is a modern god for those no longer beholden to the earthly bonds of organized religion, a secondary one for those still trapped by it.
Start being responsible for the state of your own citizenship; the least of the actions demonstrating this is voting for a leader or simply attending church regularly. Each of us is the first, best, and only leader of ourselves. Set yourself free, and become the best kind of advocate for fellow citizens without the power to do so. Grow your worth, moral and monetary, to apply to the community in discerning, uncompromised benefit. Transform your anger into loving, positive, freedom-expanding action.
Real liberty is scary, but it is worth everything. Jesus, who sacrificed himself for everyone, understood that. So did Stalin, who sacrificed everyone for himself. Neither way is right or practical for the citizen who must remain strong and vital to serve as a thread in the societal tapestry, lest it all unravel. Neither absolute equality, nor absolute deference, nor totalitarianism will serve. Only generous spirit for uncommonly meaningful and inclusive purpose combined with an educated, well-reasoned will can defeat the frightened sheep–in this externalized form of a stingy, insecure egomaniac–that lives in us all.
Liberty is that inclusive purpose. Liberation is that will enacted. Actual security is an illusion. Actual equality is an illusion. We can choose to put first either freedom or safety, either freedom or equality, but not both. Put safety first, and freedom dies. Put equality first, and freedom dies. In seeking freedom first, we welcome safety and equality; we open the door for both. We can and must choose whether we are our own worst enemies or our own best friends, whether we will stay fearful and overly self-sacrificing or calm and wise.
Protectionism is fearful and unwise–bad for the economy and global relations. Discriminatory application of basic rights by sex, religion or politics is fearful and wrongheaded. Targeting things and people to ban by a scary-sounding name or traditionally suspect nationality is cowardly and stupid. But if you’re going to be that way, at least be consistent. Targeting those things and people while at the same time allowing even more actually suspect ones to travel freely is asinine and completely counterproductive. We seem to have a Joseph McCarthy-like character in the highest office.
However, the illogic of this seemingly arbitrary discrimination is nothing new. Obama’s “higher deportation numbers than those of all 20th-century presidents combined” (questionable claim) at least partly targeted those illegals previously convicted of a crime, though non-criminal ejections (whether mostly returns or removals) have exceeded criminal ones consistently since 2001.¹ See updates to this footnote (in purple). Ousting peaceful but illegal Mexican farmers with non-violent criminal records, and peaceful but legal Shiite Muslim Iranian academics, when the real problem is legal Sunni Muslim Saudi immigrants learning to fly planes into iconic American buildings, is pure bald-faced, idiotic cruelty in the guise of tough do-something-ness.
Furthermore, behaving like an absolute monarch or dictator is fearful, malicious behavior. Supporting only like-minded advisers is infantile and short sighted. Gag orders are fascist–fearful and growth stunting. Acting without thinking, without warning, and without remorse is profoundly malignant, distrusting (fearful), and incredibly foolish. Whether cunning steamroller or bold imbecile, and at times he seems to be both, this president may well be insane. Signs of schizophrenia would not be more disorienting to the observer. (Well, maybe that’s insulting to schizophrenics.) What is certain is that the man is a frightened rabbit with a nest for hair. It would be funny if he were not so dangerous to freedom.
He either doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or both. But even if he were a better leader, it would still be up to the people to lead. To each person. Freedom is not free. For free speech, free religion, free choice, freedom over our bodily person, free assembly, free expression, free enterprise, free trade, and free pursuit of happiness, freedom to have a sense of humor or none whatsoever, we have the responsibility to control ourselves: to avoid fraud and falsehood, assemble peacefully and lawfully, invest wisely, refrain from censorship, interact only by mutual consent, permit individuals’ free use of their own minds and bodies, and defend the rights of everyone else to do the same. Live and let live.
Not just Uncle Sam but the people of your country want you. Need you. Facts are indisputable, and this is the plainest fact: Only you can make things better.
¹ Corrected, 2/6/17: See the Pew Research Center’s August 2016 article “U.S. immigrant deportations declined in 2014, but remain near record high,” The Economist‘s February 2014 article “America’s Deportation Machine: The Great Expulsion,” and ABC’s August 2016 article “Obama Has Deported More People Than Any Other President.”
Pew’s chart does not distinguish illegal immigrant returns from removals, both of which have
increasedfluctuated since the late 90s but together have steadily decreased, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), since 2004; see the Center for Immigration Studies’ chart spanning 1982-2011.
The CIS reports directly cite the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s own “internal” records as opposed to “packaged press kits.” CIS’s claim is that the DHS numbers used by other sources (such as the 3 above) to report record highs in expulsions were manipulated in unprecedented ways under the Obama administration. Some of this has to do with which agency is doing the ousting (ICE vs. Border Patrol), the actual departed vs. ordered gone status of illegals (order vs. enforcement), and how returns and removals have traditionally been counted.
The Reuters blog reported a total of 414,481 deportations in fiscal year 2014, citing DHS, closer to the annual downward trend shared by CIS. According to their chart referenced above, it appears that President Clinton was the expulsion winner among two-term presidents in recent decades (including Reagan, Bush Jr. and Obama).
I encourage you to seek additional sources beyond those above, to take few things at face value, to challenge the media not to swallow whole everything authority figures tell them, even when quantified and packaged well, and to take this example of the unclear state of reported facts as a lesson in the value of general skepticism, if not that of deeper, nuanced investigation few of us have time to conduct personally. And, thus, to understand the futility and folly of rash, precipitous action based on sound bites taken out of context, half truths that ignore equally relevant truths, and distortions of fact that breed further distortion.
What politician does not spin the facts for his or her own purposes? And, ultimately, what is the government if not political?
Often, our reactions and overreactions prove that we can be puppets in their hands. Take great care and consider that sometimes on certain issues, just maybe, we really do not need to do anything, except wait for the fog to clear. Abstinence, restraint, and calm but alert, steady work make the best, most effective kinds of resistance to the seductive call to chaos.
The annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is in D.C. this year, and in fact, it is next week, and this year is starting to look a bit different. Yes there will be books, and yes there will be beer, and chances are good someone at some panel is going to sound pretentious, but in keeping with the times, we have this:
On Saturday, February 11, during the last evening of the AWP Conference & Bookfair, a Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression will be held in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, which faces the north side of the White House. The vigil is set to begin at 6:15 p.m.
The gathering will include several speakers: Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson.
The group organizing the event writes on their Facebook page: “This basic freedom is threatened in…
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Reblogged from my friends at Assholes Watching Movies.
Here’s my comment on their post and the discussion (spoilers included).
Agreed about Jyn’s underdevelopment, along with that of Cassian (Diego Luna), and how unconvincing her 180 shift was. Not clear where she gets her fearlessness. Hubby thought this was more of a real story than the others–not just a bunch of explosions–but I think that’s unfair to eps 4-7. I agree with him Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens, but not by much. Tone is slightly different in a good way, but I found this early plot a little unclear, and the darkness felt more bleak due to insufficient character development.
Great K2-SO. Loved the nods to fans, even fighter pilot leaders. Unhappy with the Tarkin CG, I found it distracting, but, yes, a bit inevitable. The Director was a sort of blah as a villain, but high stakes really did come across more strongly for the Rebels than in the other films, except A New Hope. Also, refreshingly, this was the only film in which the question of tolerating oppression arose. As Jyn says, it’s not so bad “if you don’t look up.” It drives home the point that it’s no picnic for anyone under the Empire, not just for the Rebel Alliance.
Cinematically, I loved the shield gate battle on Scarif, like a blend of the space part of the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, with Akbar-like characters, and assault on the Death Star in A New Hope, with the theme of getting into tight spaces to save the day (Jyn and Cassian, and Princess Leia’s officers with the plans). I found what the Empire chose to do on Scarif at the end to be a bit shocking, which stressed their evilness. The battle was a great, complex assault with multiple heroics on the beach, in the tower, and at the planet’s gate.
Yes, as a prequel into A New Hope, Rogue One was seamless and nearly flawless. Key things are explained that we never learn about anywhere else, like energy sources for Death Star and light sabers. Interesting that the Empire uses the Death Star in other, “smaller” ways prior to erasing Alderaan. The only connective improvement might have been a re-showing of the droids on Leia’s vessel to remind us they’d be there. Their single appearance without that felt forced. Darth Vader, yes. More Darth Vader, please. Loved it overall.
Rogue One is the movie the prequels should have been. It is fresh, entertaining, and necessary. Rogue One’s humour works for adults as well as five year olds (though any self-aware Star Wars fan must acknowledge that the gap there for us is not all that wide). Rogue One links to what we’ve seen before in a way that feels natural and rewards fans who are familiar with every scene of the original trilogy, and leads into the known end point of A New Hope without any trouble whatsoever.
Rogue One is also a movie that could never have been made under George Lucas’ watch. I do not even want to imagine how he would have approached this story, but tonally Rogue One is entirely different than all the movies that have come before, and better for it. This is not a classic adventure serial, it is a war movie…
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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.
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.
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).
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!)