Mammoth Bones and Toilet Paper

Although Outlander will always be Jamie’s and Claire’s story, the series is so richly populated that occasionally DG lets someone else take center stage for a while. One of my favorite non-Jamie/Claire moments comes in chs. 69 – 70 of ABOSAA, and it features Brianna and Young Ian, with flashbacks to Frank Randall and Ian’s Indian family—his wife Emily, in particular. These two chapters are among my favorites in the series.

A brief summary, to remind you if you haven’t read this bit in a while (better still, go re-read those chapters, then skip this summary):

Ian takes Brianna with him on what she believes is a hunting trip. As they walk farther, she realizes that hunting is not their objective, but when she questions her cousin, he indicates that he’ll reveal what’s going on when they get there. He talks a little bit on the way, touching on both Scots and Indian spirituality, and readers are given a brief flashback to Ian’s life among the Mohawk during the happy times of his marriage to Emily. There’s even more conversation on the second day of their trek, giving us this humorous exchange:

toilet_paper_by_superawesomevectors-d847omx“…I dream about toilet paper all the time,” [Brianna said]. “That’s a thin, soft kind of paper that you use to wipe your, er, behind with,” she explained, seeing his incomprehension.

            “Ye wipe your arse with paper?” He stared at her, jaw dropped in horror. “Jesus God, Brianna!”

Ian tells Brianna more about his Mohawk life, including his rivalry with Sun Elk and his and Emily’s inability to have a child. Finally, they reach their destination: a gorge in which reside the ancient bones of a mammoth. Ian has questions about these bones which he hopes Brianna can answer; it’s all tied to his crisis of faith and his grief over the end of his marriage to Emily.

mammoth

At the end of the scene, Ian has reached a tentative truce with the Mohawk and Scots beliefs battling within him, and he and Brianna have a new closeness. It’s a truly beautiful few chapters, and I’d like to examine a few reasons why I appreciate them so much.

Characterization

At this point in the series, both Brianna and Young Ian need a bit of reader attention. Ian spent most of the previous book off-page, living with the Mohawk. He returned at the end of TFC, but when we last saw him before that, he was just barely a man—only 17 years old. He’s twenty when he returns, and the mammoth incident takes place two years later, but it’s the longest bit of Ian-centered writing that we’ve had in a good long time—certainly since he’s reached full manhood. We learn, through this incident, some of the events that transpired when he was a Mohawk, and how being a Mohawk and a husband has changed him.

Brianna is a character who often presents with prickly edges. Even DG has acknowledged that Brianna is difficult to write and difficult to like. But in this interlude with her cousin, we get to know Brianna more deeply, and we see more of her tender side. To comfort Ian in his grief over his dead daughter, she calls out to the spirit of Frank Randall, asking him to find Ian’s little girl in heaven and make sure that she’s safe. This is tricky, given that Frank technically isn’t born yet, but it’s exactly the right thing for her to say. She weeps with Ian, then spends a few peaceful moments with her memories of her daddy and with the trees and water all around. Just for these few chapters, we see that Brianna can be soft and vulnerable and nurturing, and it’s quite lovely.

Long-Range Plot Considerations

Toward the end of this scene, Ian asks for Brianna’s advice: should he go back to Emily? He still loves her, and he feels that she probably loves him—it was their infertility that forced him to leave the Mohawk, not a lack of marital affection.

Brianna answers quickly, giving him several compelling reasons why he should stay. He accepts her advice, and this opens the door to developments in books 7 and 8 that could not happen if he were to return. These developments are significant, centering largely around Rachel Hunter, but touching on many other characters and events as well. Young Ian is at the top of nearly everyone’s list of favorite Outlander characters, and it was necessary to keep him in the forefront, not back among the Mohawk.

Just Darn Good Writing

Ian knows about the time travelers, but he’s unclear how time travel works, and his understanding of it is tied strongly to Highland stories of the Old Folk. So when Brianna tells him that she’s seen similar mammoth bones in a museum, in her own time, we get this exchange:

“A museum? So it’s not a thing ye’ve got where—when”—he stumbled a bit—“where ye come from? Not alive then, I mean?” He seemed rather disappointed.

            She wanted to laugh at the picture of mammoths roaming Boston Common…

Another bit, as fine a description of love as I’ve seen, in just a dozen words:

“My soul didna wander while I slept—when I slept wi’ her.”

And this, just one of the thousands of examples of exquisite writing that perfectly captures a moment:

Brianna felt sleep come, the waves of it gentle, lifting her toward peace, and did not resist. The last thing she recalled was Ian’s face, cheek heavy on her shoulder, his eyes still open, watching the fire.

These interludes away from Jamie and Claire help us to realize that the characters in the world DG has given us are all interconnected. A few moments away from our main characters gives us a little thrill when we turn the page and there they are again. The Outlander universe is very wide, but scenes like this reveal its depth as well.

[Got any ideas for future blog posts? I prefer to write about the books: themes, characters, events. I welcome your input!]

***

Jan Ackerson is a retired teacher, a writer and editor, and an absolute cuckoo about all things Outlander. You can find her on a much-neglected Twitter account (she’s mostly there to follow the Outlander gang) @janackerson1, or on Facebook (Jan Worgul Ackerson). Her book of micro-fiction, Stolen Postcards, is available at Amazon or https://bofapress.com/collections/all.

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The Outlander book series is written by Diana Gabaldon. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

Picture attribution –  Creative Commons

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2 thoughts on “Mammoth Bones and Toilet Paper

  1. such a tender time for these two to truly find their filial and “forever allies” bond. Thank you, Jan, for reminding me how much I loved this scene of them together and how it deepened my understanding of them both. Emily

    Like

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