Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Compare & Contrast

A few years ago a friend turned me on to a historical fiction book series, The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. She loved it with abandon and hoped I would, too. I did, I loved it and continue to love it so much but it's really and truly not for everyone. We Lymond devotees may be few and far between but are rabid in our connection. You can actually see a slightly manic light go on in a fellow lover's eyes when you identify yourself. The series is hard to explain, though. My friend calls it "swashbuckling" and it is. It's written by a Scot about Scots but not nearly all of the action takes place in Scotland. There are mysteries and foreign languages and classical texts I've never encountered and minor historical characters mixed with major fictional ones. There's death and love and torture and adventure and jewels and far off lands and I'm getting a little moist just thinking about it. I could go on to the end of the internet telling you every last thing about it, tripping over my own tongue, but I don't want to spoil the experience for you. If you're going to love it, and you might, there's no way to tell, I don't want to tarnish that adventure for you in even the smallest way.

In the past year or so I've had three or four people who, when I mention Lymond, have said, "Have you read Outlander? It's the best historical fiction I've ever read. I love it!" So I've been wanting to read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon but haven't wanted to know too much about it, I don't like things spoiled for me. Over the last couple of weeks I read the first Outlander book and it made me realize one important thing: The people who are recommending Outlander have never read Lymond. Simple, right? How is this a revelation? I don't know, I just assumed (stupid, I know) it was an apples to apples comparison for some reason and it's not. It's like I said, "I've discovered I really like Asian pears!" and someone has replied, "You do? That sounds fantastic, you must try these heirloom tomatoes." They are both fruit and yet there is pretty much where the resemblance ends. Both series have Scottish characters and some of the action takes place in Scotland...yeah, that's about the size of it.

Yet, since the one was recommended to me, however inadvertently, because of the other I have been thoroughly unable to stop comparing them. (SPOILERS TO COME! But mostly for Outlander.) Outlander is science fiction with its time jumping aspect and is written in a modern language with a lot of the hallmarks of the modern novel. Lymond takes place solely in the 16th century and the language, customs and surroundings remain firmly within its confines. You aren't going to find anyone taking anyone else's throbbing hardness into any slick-as-waterweed caverns in Ms. Dunnett's work. It's just not how she rolls.

Outlander's Jamie is a wonderful character. I fell in love with him right off which is no surprise because he's designed exactly for that. He's no Lymond, though, mostly because he is designed to be adored. How can he not be? He's protective but he loves a strong woman, he's smart but not too smart, he wears a kilt well, he can fight his way out of pretty much any tight corner. He even gets ass raped and cries about it in a charming and deliciously manly way. Gabaldon leaves you no room for doubt, he is the man and you will squirm whenever he is near and in the best possible way. Lymond (Oh Lymond!) is not perfect. He is very nearly designed so that you will not love him. He is complex in a way that is almost 4 dimensional there's so much for one to learn. He is intimidatingly intelligent, protective but not obvious about it, ruthless, scheming, loving, gentle, and deeply, deeply damaged in more ways than a single much ballyhooed ass raping can damage a man. Yet, Dunnet does design him for you to love. She makes you work like a dog for it and when you do finally love him it is the more valuable for the sweat and tears that brought you there.

I should probably have said sooner but I really like Outlander. It's a compelling but not strenuous read and I ran through the first book of well over 600 tall pages in a little under a week, I'd say. I'm not trying to bash the work though I know that in the shadow of my adoration of the other series that it may come across that way. If I have one major quibble with Outlander thus far it's Claire. Good Christ on a hunk of authentic Scottish shortbread that woman can be a fucking idiot. She can set all the tiny bones of a hand, she can kill a young soldier in hand to hand combat, she screws like Venus herself and yet when her arch enemy lies lightly unconscious on the floor and her love of many a lifetime is battling for his health and well being, she can't keep a little eye out to prevent the aforementioned dastardly officer from popping up out of his daze and taking her hostage? Seriously? That's poor play is what that is. It's laziness on someone's part though I won't venture whether it's character or author. I've only just begun reading Dragonfly in Amber, the second Outlander, and I'm not surprised that Jamie doesn't appear thus far because from all the first book taught me he had about 2 more good weeks in him before her inconsistency landed him in a pot of hot tar with a feather pillow on which to rest his thoroughly dead head!

If I may be permitted another comparison the way the stories are told is entirely different as well. The Lymond Chronicles are intricately layered from the intent of each scene to the arc of the entire series. Even when a single interaction may seem off the beaten path you know that if you read it over enough you'll be able to tell how it is integral to the life purpose of the title character which leads him from the first page of Book One to the last 15 harrowing, tear jerking pages of Book Six. I'll be the first to admit that, having only one Outlander under my belt (so to speak) I can't rightly expound on the full arc of the series but going on what I've learned of the way the first book came together that's not how Gabaldon operates and she certainly doesn't need to. Her serial, almost Dickensian, approach to the adventures of her erstwhile time traveler charms and engages the reader with only a few places where you might be tempted to second guess or wander off. I mentioned Outlander over at the Colony a while ago and someone said she'd couldn't get through it because she wished the author would just get on with it already. I could see why she felt that way. I don't completely agree but I absolutely understand. Maybe because I was looking for that when I started out, who knows?

So for everyone who said they love this book like no other, would take it to a desert island and find something new in it every time they read it through I guess I have to say I disagree. Which is cool, there are plenty of favorite books to go around, thank goodness. Just because it's not on my short list, though, doesn't mean I'm not enjoying it and being pulled along by the proverbial plaid waiting on the edge of my seat for what happens next.

Don't spoil it for me, please!


  1. Okay - now I need to get a Lymond book! I'll do it in my next Amazon order...

  2. Agreed Chili! I'd never heard of that series until you did your Colony post awhile back. Slurp. God. I love series. I love big thick dense juicy series with penile movement and buckling of the swashes and all of it. sigh. I'm about 100 pages into the fourth Outlander... and I may put it down. I have about seven scripts to read this week AND a play of my own to start working on...but Oh Jamie. I enjoy. I'm excited about Lymond.

  3. For the record either or both of you may just despise the Lymond books, or they may just bore you to tears. If they don't, though...sigh.

    I heart Lymond.

  4. I tried to read Dunnett when I was younger and just couldn't - don't remember why.

    I read "Outlander" and at least 3 other of the series, back in 2002, and I have mixed feelings about them, not the least because I read them while my Dad was dying and I was marooned in my parent's small hometown and "Outlander" was a good way to escape what was going on around me.

    I think I feel the same way you do about Claire, but OTOH, I am not quite as enamored of Jamie as all that. I dug the concept of Outlander because - confessional moment - as a young girl/woman I actually had daydreams of such plots.

    Are the Lymond books more intellectual? (sorry, haven't opened a flyleaf since 1976).

  5. g, you probably couldn't read Dunnett because it's pretty intricate and there are a lot of super accurate fancy historical names which are hard to keep straight. That and the relatively heavy use of French, Spanish and Latin. It's dense, it's not easy to get rolling on but, for me, once you do it's a hell of a ride.

  6. Anonymous7:11 PM

    My advice on reading the Dunnett books is to ignore the foreign language stuff, and just keep on reading. There's plenty of time to pick up on the minor details during subsequent re-reads if you like the books. www.ddra.org

  7. simhedges, that's exactly what I did. I know a little French and could infer some things and Dunnett never leaves you out in the cold. You can understand the tone even when you don't know the exact content.