- Outlander -8 Burning ‘Outlander’ Questions, Answered By Author Diana Gabaldon
Outlander author Diana Gabaldon knows how to hook in readers. And it's not just through the many plot twists in her novels. Steadfastly, Gabaldon has answered questions about the Outlander series from original fans and new fans alike for years. So even though she is currently in the thick of finishing her highly-anticipated ninth novel about Jamie and Claire, reviewing scripts for Season 6 of the Starz adaptation, and signing copies of Clanlands, she still managed to carve out a chunk of time — 40 minutes in fact — to answer all my burning Outlander questions.
If you follow Gabaldon on Twitter, visit her page on TheLitForum.com, or attend panels, you've seen her give some insight into her Outlander book series. But that doesn't mean she can give the most concrete answers. After all, with two more "Big, Enormous Books" on the way (her term, not mine), she can't divulge all the secrets of time travel, Claire's powers, and Jamie's ghost.
But it's notable that of all the questions we covered in our phone interview — many of which have spawned Outlander theories — Gabaldon didn't shut down a single one. As she gets "quite close" to finishing the ninth book, here's what the author can reveal about the future of her series.
Major spoilers for Outlander Books 1-8 follow.
Question #1: Will Readers Discover More About How Time Travel Works?
Eight books in and how time travel in the Outlander universe works is still a pretty big mystery. Will readers ever understand it? Actually, forget the readers understanding it — even the time travelers themselves, Claire, Brianna, Roger, and the time-traveling tots of Jemmy and Mandy, don't understand it all. Though that may change, soon, in the forthcoming ninth book, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone.
"You'll certainly learn a lot more about time travel in this book," Gabaldon says. "The thing is, there is no such thing as a manual for time travelers. There's not a Rosetta Stone for it. In other words, nobody knows except the people who have done it — and they only know from their limited personal experience."
Although Gabaldon confirms that she fully knows how time travel works (they are her books after all), she notes that, as in books past, readers will only learn information as the main time travelers of Claire, Roger, Brianna, Jemmy, and Mandy do.
Thankfully, Gabaldon says the characters will continue making observations and doing experiments to further understand their abilities in Bees — particularly the MIT grad Brianna. "They begin to learn more and try to use logic to figure out more about how it works, what works, etc."
"We're experiencing the explanation of time travel the same way that the characters are — trial and error and sporadic observations that they try to fit into their structure of logic," Gabaldon says. The author, who holds a Ph.D. in quantitative behavioral ecology, says this is simply how science works — you come up with hypotheses and conduct tests to see if your hypotheses are supported. If they aren't, back to the drawing board.
"Our time travelers are constantly developing hypotheses as to: How the heck does this work? And so they're getting little bits of information, some of which supports their hypotheses, some of which doesn't or won't," she says. "And so we probably won't get a complete answer [about how time travel works], but we might get a more complete answer."
Question #2: How Do Gemstones Impact Time Travel?
In the TV adaptation, gemstones are required to time travel. But that's not the case in the books. Sure, they help, but exactly how they help isn't entirely clear.
Gabaldon in the past has tweeted, "Gems have a protective influence, which lets the traveler keep their wits and 'steer' more effectively." But the author reveals that Brianna is working on figuring out how gemstones connect to time travel in the future books.
"They know gemstones are important, but some people manage it without a gemstone. So obviously, it's not totally vital, but it seems to be a help. Why is that?" Gabaldon says. "Well, Brianna has a theory about that and so we'll hear about that in the new book, I think." Brianna may be back in the past in Bees, but it seems she'll be putting her 20th-century scientific knowledge to good use.
Question #3: How Can Mandy & Jem Hear One Another?
In the books, Brianna's children can sense each other's presence, as well as their parents. Gabaldon notes that this "radar" indicates that "there seems to be a bond of some sort between genetically-connected time travelers." Brianna conducted an experiment with Joe Abernathy in Written in My Own Heart's Blood to see how physical location impacts Jemmy and Mandy's abilities. "There is actually a correlation between the distance," Gabaldon says. "Also, it's different for the two kids. Mandy seems to be much stronger than Jem with that regard. She can hear him farther than he can hear her. So we'll see how that works out."
So far, Bree was only able to deduce that her time-traveling family can mind-meld. But what about other people who travel through time?
"She can't tell whether [Jem] can hear any other time travelers because we haven't met any as yet," Gabaldon says. Which leads us to our next question...
Question #4: Are There Secret Time Travelers?
The number of time travelers that Claire and family come across increases as the book series goes on. Some people, like Wendigo Donner, reveal themselves fairly quickly, but are there characters Gabaldon has already introduced who haven't made their time-traveling status known? For instance, Dorianne Panich of Outlander Homepage wonders if Claire's Uncle Lamb could be a time traveler.
When I ask if she'll eventually reveal any previously-introduced characters as time travelers, Gabaldon replies, "That's a possibility." Does that mean that these characters will learn they have the ability to time travel after hanging with the Fraser-MacKenzies? Or were they intentionally hiding the truth from the main characters all along? Only time (ahem) will tell.
Question #5: What Exactly Did Frank Know?
Book readers know that Frank knew way more about time travel and Claire's fate than he let on. The show nodded at this in Season 4's "Down the Rabbit Hole" when, in Brianna's flashback, viewers see that Frank had discovered the newspaper clipping about Jamie and Claire's death by a house fire in the 1770s — indicating that Frank knew Claire would eventually go back in time to her true soulmate.
In Written in My Own Heart's Blood, Brianna discovers a letter from Frank where he reveals Claire's time-traveling past. He warns Bree that she may be a target of people who believe in the Brahan Seer prophecy and tells her that if she has the ability to time travel like her mom, "... then the past may be your best avenue of escape. I hope I may have given you a few tools to help, if that should be necessary."
If Frank discovered documents about a Brianna Randall Fraser MacKenzie in the past, then it's very possible that Frank knew for sure that his daughter could time travel. "How far into the past's future did he go as a historian?" Panich asks. "There is a reason he trains Bree in her youth to live off the land, shoot a gun, and defend herself. ... Did he find her in history with Roger, and her children?"
Panich also points out that Frank was in MI6 and in the novella A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows, Frank is involved in the disappearance of Roger's father Jerry... who is also a time traveler. "After Frank interviews Roger's mother about Jerry's disappearance, did Frank go on a reconnaissance mission about time traveling?" Panich wonders.
When I ask Gabaldon if readers will learn more about what Frank knew in Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, she replies, "As a matter of fact, you will."
This isn't the first time she confirmed that Frank intel is coming our way. During a 2016 Random House event (around the 25-minute mark), she teased that the details may come courtesy of one of Frank's books... which none of his family members have ever bothered to read before. Panich thinks the "large bag" Brianna has at the end of Written in My Own Heart's Blood could contain Frank's research and books.
During that Random House event, Gabaldon also said she would eventually be writing a small book called What Frank Knew. The author tells me that to go over everything that Frank knew, "It would have to be" a separate book. And she still plans to write it. "Oh, yeah. I'll definitely do it sooner or later," she says. "It just may be later." Add that to the list of future spinoffs.
Question #6: What Does It Mean That Claire Will Have Her "Full Power" When Her Hair Turns White?
In Drums of Autumn, the Tuscarora woman Gabrielle translates a dream that her grandmother-in-law Nayawenne had about Claire. "My husband's grandmother says that you have medicine now, but you will have more. When your hair is white like hers, that is when you will find your full power," she says. (On the show, the character Adawehi has this premonition.) This simple quote has led to a lot of speculation about what Claire's full scope of power could be when she's in her old age.
When I ask Gabaldon, she replies, "Well, she doesn't yet know so we'll have to find out when she does." When I ask if that's something Claire will actually find out, Gabaldon replies in the affirmative. "Oh, yeah. Mhmm," she says before adding, "Probably not in this book." So Claire and the power of her white hair could be a big deal in Book 10.
Question #7: What's The Significance Of Jamie's Dreams?
In a show full of time travelers, Jamie Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser gets the shaft. But in Gabaldon's books, Jamie has had a number of dreams where he can see things that are happening in the future related to Claire. Except for when Jamie mentioned he saw Brianna and her birthmark in a dream in Season 4's "Savages," the show hasn't really delved into Jamie's supernatural abilities. But these dreams have led book readers to speculate about their connection to his ghost appearing in the 1940s.
Gabaldon pretty much confirms that Jamie has the supernatural ability of "Second Sight," something she notes is a "well-established phenomenon" in Celtic cultures. "Second Sight is seeing stuff that has not yet come to pass. Or seeing stuff that is happening, but not where you are," Gabaldon says. "So it's possible that he has a touch of that."
Unfortunately, she didn't elaborate on what Jamie's Second Sight could mean for the books... or if it would have anything to do with his ghost. But hey, even though Jamie can't time travel with the best of them, he's pretty special too.
Question #8: Will Jamie Live In Purgatory For 200 Years? Does That Explain His Ghost?
Gabaldon and I had previously talked All Things Jamie's Ghost, so I knew it was a long shot to get much else out of her on the subject. But I couldn't pass up on asking about Jamie's Dragonfly in Amber purgatory quote. I ask if Jamie's proclamation that he'd endure 200 years of purgatory could be related to his ghost... and, knowing she's unlikely to answer that, I hedge my bets by asking if purgatory will be revisited.
"Hm, well it might be on both grounds," Gabaldon replies. "Bear in mind that there's stuff that I don't know yet, because I'm not there yet." Because as she wraps up Bees, there's still an entire final book for her to begin and "there's a lot that needs to be figured out."
Whether Gabaldon knows how purgatory will come into play or not, she didn't deny that "200 years of purgatory" has some significance. That's reason enough to keep the flames of those purgatory theories burning.