Outlander is a time-traveling romantic fantasy about a World War II nurse and an 18th-century Scottish highlander. Diana Gabaldon’s novels are also historical fiction, as she includes real events and historical figures like Bonnie Prince Charles, King Louis XV, and George Washington. She even made her male lead a member of Clan Fraser because of something that actually happened at the real Battle of Culloden.
The ‘Outlander’ author began with a man in a kilt
When Gabaldon decided to write her first novel in the late 1980s, she was a college professor who had two qualifications — she “understood what a sentence was” and she “knew [her] way around a library.”
These talents made it clear to the author that she should write historical fiction because if it turned out she had no imagination, she could at least “steal things from the historical record.”
The next step in the process was to determine what part of history she wanted to write about, and that’s when she stumbled across an old episode of Dr. Who that featured the battlefield at Culloden and a young Highland Scot named Jamie MacCrimmon. The “fetching” character wore a kilt, and that caught Gabaldon’s attention.
This is what prompted her to set her Outlander novel in 18th-century Scotland, and she created her first character. He would become the male lead of her story, a man named Jamie. But for months, he had no last name.
The reason Jamie is a member of clan Fraser is based on real-life events
Gabaldon confessed to ClanFraser.org that when she started her novel she knew nothing about clan politics in 18th century Scotland. She didn’t want to give Jamie a last name that would limit his actions or involve him in things she didn’t want to deal with.
As she did her research, she decided for various reasons to use the Jacobite Rebellion in her story. This led her to the book The Prince in the Heather by Eric Linklater, which recounts the details of Charles Edward Stuart’s flight to France after his troops are defeated at Culloden.
Gabaldon recalled that the book mentioned the fates of some of the men involved in the battle, and she was struck by a particular passage about 19 Jacobite officers who took refuge in a nearby farmhouse.
“At the end of this time, they were taken out and shot. One man, a Fraser of the Master of Lovat’s regiment, survived the slaughter. The rest are buried in the field nearby,” the passage read.
The ‘Outlander’ author discovered more about the man who escaped Culloden
Gabaldon knew her story would continue past Culloden. So, after reading that passage she decided Fraser was a good last name for her male hero.
“At this point in the writing, I had already realized that the story would continue past Culloden, so I shrugged and said, ‘Well, if I expect him to be around for the next book, I suppose his last name had better be Fraser,” Gabaldon explained.
Several years later, the Outlander author says that she discovered a further account of the man who escaped execution at Culloden. He managed to return to his own land, but being a traitor he was hunted by the English and lived in a cave for several years.
He was known as the “Dunbonnet,” and his first name was James. Gabaldon later included the story of Fraser Dunbonnet in her third Outlander novel, Voyager.
Outlander Season 7 premieres this summer on Starz.