Our sense of belonging, to place, to time, to our clan or social group, to our country, our religion, or our culture is intensely personal but can often be deeply influenced by the relationships we form with others. Like every other creature on this wonderful planet we feel the need to connect, but beyond the purely biological imperative, we need attachments – our sense of belonging – to better understand ourselves, our history, and our place in the world.
The ties that bind us to each other are invisible and powerful. They weave together to form the fabric of our lives, like threads combining to make cloth. Waft and wend, each thread – each tie – binds to another, the pattern forming slowly. Some threads break – a parting of the ways either permanent or temporary – and others are added; the pattern evolves and changes over time.
I was thinking about this whilst watching an episode of “Outlander” called “All Debts Paid”, when Jamie Fraser and his godfather Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser were held in Ardsmuir Prison. Murtagh, dejected from the failures and losses of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and gradually succumbing to illness in the damp prison confines, clutches at a scrap of tartan like a lifeline. Knowing that the discovery of this forbidden cloth (outlawed by the government after the battle) would mean severe punishment, Murtagh secretes it in a nook carved in the brick wall of his cell, daring to uncover it only when the guards turn the other way. The vital importance of this woven thread is worth risking his life for. His sense of belonging – in this case to his clan, culture and country, represented by the ragged piece of tartan – defines his identity, and gives him hope when all seems lost.
For me, apart from the dynamic, passionate and spellbinding central relationship between the two lead characters in “Outlander”, which keeps me constantly turning the pages of the novels and tuning in each week the show airs, the relationships that have helped forged my devotion to the story – my sense of belonging to “Outlander” - have been those of Murtagh and Jamie, and Murtagh and Claire.
Irascible, blunt, violent, and dishevelled he may be but its Murtagh’s fervent attachment to Jamie, and subsequently to Claire, that has endeared him to me as the story has progressed. He is the catalyst for Jamie and Claire meeting each other in the first place and is instrumental in reuniting our lovers as season one draws to a close. He remains steadfastly at their side in France in season two as they battle to prevent the Jacobite uprising from occurring – trusting and unquestioning in the wake of the revelation about Claire travelling through time. He is loyal, patriotic, a man that won’t hesitate to place himself in harm’s way for the sake of honour, and truthful no matter what the consequence. He’s a man of deep emotions, with a skin so thick they will never show.
Murtagh has long been a fan favourite in Diana Gabaldon’s epic story, and with the casting of Duncan Lacroix as Murtagh in the TV adaptation of “Outlander”, his popularity was given an added boost, so fans steeled themselves for the inevitable as Season 3 aired – as the beginning of “Voyager” foretold;
“Murtagh. He had a terrible feeling about his godfather, but no memory to give it shape. Murtagh was dead; he knew that must be it, but didn’t know why or how he knew."
Except, the inevitable never happened - Murtagh, was alive!
In the novel “Voyager” the fabric of Jamie’s life is irreparably changed by Murtagh’s death. Jamie’s sense of belonging is altered; the pattern of his life begins to change as he is set adrift by his godfather’s passing. Jamie has lost the love of his life – his pregnant wife, Claire – and though he is freed from prison he cannot countenance returning to his family in Lallybroch in disgrace and poverty. His sense of belonging is fractured.
In the TV adaptation of the novel the fabric of the characters’ lives is wending and wafting to form a brand new pattern, that diverges from the pattern set by the book. Though Jamie and Murtagh are separated on screen – forever they believe by the latter’s transportation to some colonial outpost, and the former’s transport to England – keeping Jamie’s godfather alive in the TV version of the story has presented the viewer with the hope – much like clutching at a scrap of tartan - that the two men may yet be reunited and that the threads that once forged their sense of belonging to each other can weave through the pattern of their lives again.
Free of the confines of his print fate, the possibilities for this fabulous character on screen are now limitless. Much like the previous tumultuous ocean journeys taken by Claire and Jamie – which have now washed them up on the shores of pre-Revolutionary America - Murtagh has been cast out on to an uncharted sea, destination unknown, companions unseen, adventures yet unexplained. I for one cannot wait to see what patterns will emerge as the story continues.
After all, where would we be without #MurtaghMonday? 😊