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« Football is meant to be played by 300 pound men wearing helmets | Main | Wonderful Wellies »

Finally - Culloden

I've tried to write a post about Culloden a few times now. Every time I put it away again, because I start sounding like a history teacher, and I'm certainly not qualified, nor am I interested, in teaching anything.

The truth is that I came to know about Culloden under the least high-minded of ways - through historical fiction. When reading historical fiction, I always try to keep in mind that what I'm reading isn't history - it's fiction. I'm putting a lot of trust in the author to do the research, and stay faithful to the facts, but it's not a history book.

Still - a good novel will stay with you, and the characters in a novel that really touches you seem to find a place to reside inside. Especially when a certain reader has read six books, at a total of 6464 pages, all staring the same family. That's enough to make you really feel like you know somebody! I mean - some fictional character.

It was the book Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (the first in her series), that first introduced me to Culloden. The family that the books were built around, the Frasier Clan, was very involved with Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the Cause in general. And here is a perfect example of the hair-thin line we historical fiction readers walk. The Frasier Clan was real. I stood on the Culloden battlefield, exactly where they stood to start the charge. Bonnie Prince Charlie was real. I looked at little 18th century lockets with portraits of him inside the Culloden Center. Culloden was real - and unimaginable in it's carnage and brutality. Jamie Frasier, on the other hand, is not real. Neither is Claire Frasier, or any member of the Frasier clan, written about so vividly in the Outlander books.

Is it disrespectful somehow to the real men who fought there to hang emotion and empathy on a fictional framework? I don't know.

Culloden, even though a small and quick battle by any standards, had resounding repercussions, and not only throughout Scotland. When the Jacobites fell, so soundly, for the last time, everything changed for the Scots. The government started a campaign to destroy the Clan system and the power Clan Chiefs wielded. Estates were taken away from Clan leaders, and given to Government supporters. Clergy were forced to swear allegiance to the Government. It became illegal to wear plaid or play bagpipes. In the face of this oppression, many Scots left. They went to Colonial America, and a few years later many fought in the Revolutionary War, the great majority on the side of the Colonies. How extraordinary!

So, here's what I'll say about Culloden: We spent the entire day there, letting all other plans go. It was a cold, sunny, quiet day. We wandered the expansive battleground with an audio-guide to their ears, imagining a day of thundering cannon and screaming, charging Scots in kilts. We wandered through the Center, looking at maps and artifacts, reading accounts written by witnesses - willing and unwilling - who survived that day, and went home to live through the aftermath.

I have a prejudice against war. I don't really buy into the whole noble duty and honor line. Maybe I'm a wrong. Maybe my smug surety in my point of view is born of a lack of personal experience. I'll be pondering it.

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Reader Comments (6)

Jamie Frasier's not real?

Nov 23, 2009 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered Commenternoho1960

That was an inspiring non-history lesson, very thought provoking.

Nov 23, 2009 at 8:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I'm going to buy Outlander. You are such a terrific story teller, I'm going to read it! Keep up the history or not too history lessons, OK?

Nov 23, 2009 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterKim

more grocery anxieties, more car sickness, more COWBELL.

i do appreciate the insight on the movie i mean book.

Nov 24, 2009 at 6:08 AM | Unregistered Commentertravis

I love Jamie & Claire Fraser, and I loved Culloden when I visited. An interesting part of the books is the error in judgement in choosing the venue for the battle. The fighting Scots were Highlanders - i.e. hilly, with places to hide, with many guerilla tactics used. However the Culloden battlefield is completely flat. A politician chose the venue that was played a key part in their downfall. It may only be fiction, but I've learnt a lot from Diana Gabaldon and her ilk.

Nov 25, 2009 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterKanga_Rue

I am in the middle of the Gabaldon books right now (#4) and to answer your question about whether it is disrespectful to the real men who fought at Culloden to place your emotions on fictional characters, I say no. Gabaldon has brought Culloden alive, has given new attention to a part of history that might otherwise pass by unnoticed in the 21st century. I was thrilled to see your photos and hear of your experiences on the battlefield. -- even a nearly year after you wrote it!

Sep 5, 2010 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBev

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