Outlander, Sexuality, and the “Character” of Black Jack Randall

BlackJack

First of all, I’m going to say SPOILERS if you haven’t read the book or watched the last episode of the television series.

I came across an interesting post on Facebook from Diana Gabaldon, the author of the Outlander book series.

She says:

Well, we seem to be getting a lot of interesting reviews on Episode 12–which is All Good, to be sure. I just want to make _one_ thing clear, before drawing your attention to a couple of interesting ones: To wit, Black Jack Randall is _not_ a homosexual.

He’s a pervert. He’s a sadist. He derives sexual pleasure from hurting people, but he’s not particular about the gender of a victim. (Personality, yes–gender, no.)

I see reviewers assuming that he told Jenny repeatedly to turn around, during their encounter in a flashback–and they assume it was because he’s gay. Actually (and obviously, I would have thought…), it’s because she’s looking at him and laughing, and he finds this unnerving.

If you look at his behavior throughout the book (and I emphasize book, though it’s almost the same in the show), he’s shown as attacking four people: Jenny, Jamie, Claire, and another prisoner at Fort William (who we don’t hear about in the show) named Alex.

Two men, two women–he’s an equal-opportunity sadist. However, given his position (garrison commander) and the structure of the culture he’s in, he has much easier access to male prisoners, whom he can torture at leisure. But he’ll take women when he can get them–_vide_ his reaction to finding Claire wandering around by herself.

At the risk of angering Outlander fans–though it wouldn’t be the first time–I’m going to have to disagree.

I wrote about the “Outlander” TV series back in 2013, shortly after Starz announced it would be producing a television series based on the books, and one of the things I cited as a potential obstacle for adapting the books to screen was the depictions of homosexuality.

There are only two characters in the first book who demonstrate same-gendered sexual attraction: Black Jack Randall, and Lord Sandringham. Sandringham’s sexuality has been downplayed in the show (although I’m a few episodes behind), but in the book, one of the “amusing” anecdotes is about how a teenaged Jamie barely escapes being raped by Sandringham by inducing a bout of diarrhea. So funny! Ha, ha…er…*cough.* Guess I don’t have that 18th century Highlander humor down.

Black Jack Randall is another kettle of fish altogether. Gabaldon calls him a “sadist,” and he is certainly that. But the book itself belies the idea that he’s an “equal opportunity sadist.” When he attempts to rape Claire, and in Jenny’s recollection of her attempted rape, both women state that Randall did not/could not become erect. Meanwhile, he doesn’t have this problem later when his sadism is turned against a male character. If there’s confusion about Black Jack’s sexuality, it’s a confusion rooted in the text.

For what it’s worth, I think “Outlander” is an amazing show, and an amazing book. Watching a show with a strong, well-developed female lead, told from the female perspective, has been great. But just because you enjoy a show, or a book, doesn’t mean it’s beyond criticism. I’m glad that the show is generating this conversation about sexuality, because it shows that we’re seeing things that would have flown largely under the radar in 1991 when the book was first published.

A Farewell to Jonathan Crombie, a.k.a. Gilbert Blythe

Gilbert

I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time when I was 11.

I was the same age as the titular heroine, and I identified with her quite a bit: imaginative, stubborn, temperamental, with a tendency to use a lot of big words. In fact, it’s fair to say that Anne is probably the main reason I have red hair today.

So when Anne met her nemesis, Gilbert Blythe and broke a slate over his head, I hated him too. And when Anne—finally!—fell in love with him, I fell in love with him, too.

It was probably a year or so after I first read the book that I watched the Kevin Sullivan film adaptations. I never liked the liberties Sullivan took with the books, and I never felt like Megan Follows was my Anne. (Probably because, not so deep down, I wanted to be Anne.) But Jonathan Crombie…Jonathan Crombie was always my Gilbert.

Those curls, those twinkly eyes, that chivalrous streak that never went away, even in the face of Anne’s disdain…if ever there was an actor who, in my mind, so perfectly captured the character he played, it was him.

And so, when I heard Jonathan Crombie had died, it felt like a small part of my childhood had died. It felt like Gilbert had died, even though I know Gilbert was a fictional character who, if he had lived at all, would have passed decades ago.

Jonathan Crombie-as-Gilbert Blythe was one of my first character-crushes, the embodiment of the kind of guy I would daydream about as a 12-year-old girl. And let’s just face it: Gilbert Blythe is the kind of guy you should dream about as an adult. Someone who would do anything for you. Someone who loves you despite your faults, or maybe because of them. Someone who can make you smile even when you’re angry. Someone you love as much as he loves you.

I knew it at 12, but somehow I forgot it for a long time as an adult: everyone deserves their Gilbert.

I’ve found my Gilbert, and he’s all those things and more. Still, I can’t help but mourn a little for Jonathan Crombie, the man-who-would-be-Gilbert.

We’ve got DVDs, online streaming, those never-ending pledge drives on PBS. Still, the world feels like a little bit less without my first Gilbert Blythe.

New Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser

I know I’m very behind on posting. I’ve been busy trying to finish up the rewrites on The Demon Within. But they’re done now, yay!!! Now I’m waiting for feedback from my editor. But we are on track for a December 2015 release.

At any rate, I promise I will write more soon…but for right now, I will leave you with this:

OMG OMG OMG OMG SQUEEEEEE!!!!!!!!! I am so fangirling out right now.

We don’t know very much about it yet, but based on the two teasers we’ve seen so far, I’m guessing John Boyega is the male lead, and Daisy Ridley is the female lead. Ridley looks a hell of a lot like a young Carrie Fisher. Could Ridley’s character be the daughter of Leia and Han Solo?

Is Boyega’s character really a Storm Trooper, or is this merely a convenient disguise?

Looks like we’re going to spend some time back on Tantooine.

Darth Vader’s burned-out mask…I got chills. And upon rewatch, I noticed the sound of Vader breathing in the background. Interesting. Also interesting how Luke uses present tense to describe his father. Hmmm.

Mark Hamill’s voice over…Hamill has aged physically since Return of the Jedi, but man, he sounds exactly the same.

“Chewie…we’re home.” AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Sometimes the Joke’s On You

Warlords-Price-333x500

One of my favorite urban fantasy writers, Ilona Andrews, posted this yesterday, announcing a spinoff novel of the popular Kate Daniels series starring fan favorite villain, Hugh D’Ambray. Here’s the blurb, pulled directly from Andrews’ site:

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, bowed to only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master is gone and Hugh must carve a new place for himself and his people in the post-apocalyptic world where magic comes and goes in waves. With former allies ready to tear him apart, Hugh is forced to make alliances to preserve the Order of Iron Dogs, warriors who would follow him anywhere.

Serafina Price is the head witch of the Midwestern Covens. She is powerful, devious, and smart. Her people think she is a goddess, her enemies call her Snake. Tasked with protection of her people, she is trapped between the magical heavy weights about to collide and plunge the entire region into war that human authorities have no power to stop. Desperate to preserve the covens, she would accept help from the devil himself.

They detest each other, yet they need each other to survive. How can two people famous for betraying their former allies cement their agreement without a shadow of a doubt?

They marry.

It turned out to be an April Fool’s joke. Eagle-eyed fans noticed that one of the “blurbs” came from a fictional romance writer who had been mentioned within the series. How meta.

But maybe the joke’s on Andrews. Fan reaction to the fake book was largely positive, and largely disappointed when they realized it was a joke. The fans want this book. I want this book, because it sounds completely amazing.

Redemption stories are a common trope within the romance genre. One of my personal favorites is The Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas. At the end of the previous book in the series, the hero, Sebastian, is a womanizer and a kidnapper who threatens to rape the heroine. By the end of his own book, he’s a devoted husband head-over-heels in love with his wife. You can’t help but root for him. So yes: it can be done.

Let’s just ignore the fact that Hugh D’Ambray is probably a sociopath. That can all be cured with the love of a good woman, right? He’s probably just misunderstood.

(Who am I kidding? I still totally want this book.)

I’d probably be able to come up with more examples of romance redemption, except this:

I’ve been working my butt off, and I’m almost done. I’ve officially passed the point on my rewrites where my editor has said, “This is how long I want it to be.” And I’m still going. This was a challenging, and exhausting, process to me in so many ways. Because of changes I made to the plot, I have basically had to rewrite about 90% of the book.

I’m almost there. Just need one final push.