Somewhere in Time
In 1980, the movie Somewhere in Time became one of the classic romantic films of its era, with a timeless theme and gorgeous musical score. Christopher Reeve plays a young Chicago playwright intrigued by an elegant older lady who comes up to him at a party, asking him to return in time to her. Upon finding pictures of her as a beautiful young woman at a hotel in Michigan, he finds a way to go back in time to meet her, played by Jane Seymour, in 1912. Author Diana Gabaldon uses a different technique with her first historical novel, Outlander, and the many sequels she has written to continue the adventures of her main characters, Claire and Jamie. They also meet, as if by fate, somewhere in time. She expands on this idea in multifaceted ways with these sequels, using it to create a series worth any reader’s time.
While Gabaldon’s atmosphere and methods are not the full-blown romance of the aforementioned film, she is successful in creating a historical romance that is down-to-earth, funny, lovely, and at times poetic. Some may call these books fantasy, but they are definitely not aimed at a hard-core fantasy market. Thoroughly enjoyable, this historical fiction suspends disbelief and whisks readers away from mundane existence while helping them feel they know these people, or would even like them as friends.
Claire Beauchamp Randall is a practical former nurse back from France after World War II, having recently rejoined her husband, Frank, an historian who worked for the British spy agency MI6 during the war and has taken up an appointment at Oxford. In Scotland on a working holiday, she collects botanical specimens while her husband researches his six-times great-grandfather, a British officer in charge of keeping savage Scottish clans in line. While on a trip collecting herbs that heal near a Neolithic circle of stones reminiscent of Stonehenge, she accidentally leans upon a tall stone, only to find herself whirled two centuries into the past, from 1946 to a small battle in 1743 in the Scottish Highlands.
As if this turn of events is not sufficiently bizarre, she quickly encounters a man who looks like her husband, the English dragoon Jonathan Randall, his ancestor. Quickly kidnapped from him by a band of Scottish cattle rustlers, Claire’s intelligence, natural courage and presence of mind lead her to create a temporary story that will help her pass in this strange society as a type of healer. In the process, she helps heal Jamie Fraser, a tall young red-headed warrior who is loathe to reveal his true identity to her and even others at the Scottish castle of the MacKenzie clan, since he is suspected of murder. All the while she tries to defray suspicions that she is either an English or French spy while taking stock of her surroundings and trying to get back to the standing stones that brought her to the eighteenth century.
Gabaldon is a wonderful natural storyteller, who indulges in a richness of detail that seams together historical, anthropological, medicinal, botanical, socioeconomic, and other well-researched facts about the places and people who overflow her books. In telling Claire and Jamie’s story, she makes them the consummate travelers, able to adapt to environments as diverse as the open Highlands, Edinburgh, a Scottish castle, seamy seaports, or a townhouse in aristocratic Paris where Bonnie Prince Charlie seeks to gather funds and an army to retake his throne from the English.
In addition, she gives them possession of an unexpected love that surpasses mundane realities and terrors while allowing the two to survive them. There is a touch of a ghostly quality to their bond and the way it manages to survive across centuries. Also, while a few they encounter are themselves eerie, evil, or mystic, they are never anything but full-blooded, adventurous, ardently loving or angry, and humorous towards one another.
Gabaldon shows her skill in the way Jamie and Claire’s conversation alters subtly when they meet again after real time has passed, their more mature romantic conversation conveying the fear, terrible loneliness, and hardship they have experienced away from one another, and their renewed appreciation for what they have. A bodice may rip here or there in this romance, but not without an accompanying joke or believable passion. Gabaldon’s books do not easily fit into any category such as historical fiction, romance, fantasy, or ghost story, since they are their own unique amalgam of those genres.
In Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager, the second and third in the Outlander series, Gabaldon expands on the promise of the first book, advancing in time while covering other geographies and peoples encountered by the pair, as well as involving others from Claire’s twentieth century. To avoid plot spoilers, I will cease my comments on all three books here. Gabaldon’s plotting skill keeps readers attentive to details in her books, as one character from one book may easily appear again like a jack-in-the-box in another. Luckily finding a dull second in her writing is difficult, but truthful moments of beauty and humanity emerge at unexpected moments, along with the wistfulness that accompanies the passage of time.
I anticipate finishing this eight-book series myself, as I was only able to start and to read these three books this month. The cable network Starz features a televised series of Outlander, and I look forward to it now that I have drawn my own mental picture of the characters.
In short, readers with imagination will suspend disbelief for not only Gabaldon, but also her characters and their stories, however highly colored and prone toward constant adventure and misadventure. These works are popular, blood-stirring fiction at its best, the way adventure novels like The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas were in their day.
Written by: Miriam R. Kramer