- Outlander -The Cunninghams Made For Surprising Neighbors In 'Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone,' Even To Diana Gabaldon
Major spoilers ahead for Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone.
When it comes to the Cunninghams in Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, the line, "Good fences make good neighbors," springs to mind. Because who would want neighbors (well, technically tenants) like Captain Charles Cunningham and his mother Elspeth? But somehow, despite Captain Cunningham plotting against Jamie on his very own land, Mrs. Cunningham went from Wicked Witch of the West to Claire's witchy kindred spirit... a neighborly evolution that even author Diana Gabaldon hadn't planned.
"That was a surprise. I didn't expect that to happen at all," Gabaldon says of Mrs. Cunningham and Claire's friendship. "I thought they would be antagonists, and there would be ... accusations directed at Claire of witchcraft."
The Cunninghams settled on Fraser's Ridge while Claire and Jamie were away and Gabaldon admits she introduced Mrs. Cunningham "as being an upright religious sort of person, figuring that's the sort of person who would have an animus toward Claire." (She initially wasn't too keen on Mandy either.) But tragedy brought Claire and Elspeth together and an "unspoken bond" between the two women changed the author's plans.
"It was during the aftermath of Amy Higgins's death when Mrs. Cunningham comes to help lay her out," Gabaldon says of the devastating bear attack. "That chemistry between her and Claire [just happened] as they were laying out the body and going about it. They suddenly recognize each other — that they know these things about humans and bodies and death."
"I was expecting animosity throughout, and it wasn't that way at all," she says. "Between Claire and Elspeth is pretty much bedrock."
So even when Elspeth's son plots to capture Jamie at the Masonic Lodge, these women find companionship in one another in Claire's surgery. "They both acknowledge that their men are trying to kill each other and there's nothing they can do to stop it," Gabaldon says. "They're just sitting there waiting to cope with whatever happens — as, in fact, it does happen to both Jamie and the captain, though much more to the captain in this instance."
Gabaldon says that the captain was "basically just a means to an end to get [the Cunninghams] to settle on the Ridge." But his Loyalist plans made him a significant threat to Jamie and Claire. Before that, he was an antagonist to Roger, too, as they were the dueling ministers of the Ridge. "I was reading a lot of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series ... and it has a lot of stuff about British naval captains and touches frequently on blue light captains and evangelicals in the fleet," Gabaldon says. "And I was thinking, 'Well, if he is one of those, then we would have conflict between him and Roger as well.'"
"[I'd been] thinking that the Cunninghams are, by and large, a good source of conflict on the Ridge, which indeed they are," Gabaldon says. "But it turned out to be more sympathetic than anticipated." (Not entirely unlike some other past problematic tenants of Jamie's, the Christies.)
With Charles Cunningham severely injured with a spinal cord injury and his mother sailing him back to England, Bees seems like the beginning and end of the Cunninghams' impact on Claire and Jamie's lives. Especially if you believe the dying words of Captain Cunningham's son that he only has a handful of years to live. Yet, considering how often characters can return out of nowhere in the Outlander universe (Ulysses in Bees being just one example), is their story finished?
"Well, I think it is," Gabaldon says, before adding with a laugh, "But, as you say, people often do come back when you don't expect them."
If the Cunninghams do pop up again, at least Elspeth will have far more neighborly feelings toward her fellow witch. And if Gabaldon's considering more Outlander spinoffs, this is my formal vote for an Elspeth origin story.