It's Not About the Vase and Other Outlander Life Lessons

Written by: Nikki Gastineau

I’ve got a confession to make. I read too much into things—everything really. That mole on your leg? I’m pretty sure that it has changed color and shape since yesterday and that you need to have it removed stat. Your kid’s runny nose? It’s your town’s first case of measles since 1968. I know they said it would only take three weeks to renovate the kitchen, but my gut tells me it's going to take a lot longer than that. And that waiter was totally just flirting with me. You saw it. Right?

Maybe it comes from my overactive imagination or maybe I’m always looking for a story to tell. Whatever the reason, I usually take more away from conversations, books, and movies than other folks. As I reflected on my first read-through of the Outlander series, I began to see many applicable life lessons. I will share them with you, but only if you promise not to make any actual life decisions based on them. If you promise, then please keep reading. If not, you need to take a few moments and ask yourself why you would accept life advice from a lady writing a blog post from her couch while her kid parades the cat around the house like Simba and Rafiki from the opening scene of The Lion King.

Don’t Buy the Vase
In the opening scenes of the first episode, we see Claire standing at a shop window admiring a vase. Her voice-over says “...I realized I’d never owned a vase. That I’d never lived in any place long enough to justify having such a simple thing and how at that moment I wanted nothing so much in all the world as to have a vase of my very own.” After a nomadic childhood and an equally nomadic few years as a combat nurse, Claire desperately wanted a house and all it represented: stability, a place to be still, a place to set down a vase and let it collect dust. What Claire didn’t realize until she accidentally did the time warp through the stones is that what she truly longed for was a home. She found that home in Jaime and, if you’ve watched Dragonfly in Amber (S2 Episode 13), you saw what the loss of that home meant to her.

What’s my point? Don’t get caught up in the vase. The vase, the house, the mantel will never light your soul on fire like a tall Scottish warrior on mean true love.

If it’s Calling Out to You, Listen

In the first episode Claire returns to Craigh na Dun to pick the flowers that she spotted with Frank the day before. She found the forget-me-nots, but she heard something, too—a buzzing that seemed to be coming from the largest rock. What should have frightened her away actually drew Claire closer until the moment she touched the stone. Had Claire run away, we would have been left with a terribly boring story that alternated between scenes of Frank waxing eloquent on his ancestry and Claire begging him to have sex with her (sorry Frank fans this is personal). Allowing herself to be drawn in changed the course of Claire’s life and lots of other lives, too. Imagine the love and adventure she would have missed out on if she hadn’t let her guard down.

We need to give ourselves permission to be swallowed up by something. You’re reading this and that means there’s a good chance that you got sucked in by Outlander (or you are a member of my family), but what else is out there? If you’ve been ignoring the buzzing rock, maybe it’s time you listened. Who knows what adventure awaits!

Don’t Call Attention to Smallpox on the Comte St. Germain's Ship

Soon after landing in France, Claire diagnoses a man at the docks with smallpox. Did she whisper it into Jamie’s ear? Of course she didn’t! Everyone within earshot heard it. Claire’s heart is in the right place. She knows how deadly and contagious the disease is and she wants to avoid an outbreak. What she didn't know is that the harbor master would order that the Comte’s ship and its cargo be burned. This was a considerable financial cost to the Comte and it triggered a chain of revenge-fueled events that led to the Comte’s death in Season 2 Episode 7.

We sometimes think that everything is our responsibility, and in trying to master everything we do nothing well and quite often make a terrible mess (oh wait, is that just me?). Granted, our over-eagerness usually doesn’t result in the death of a rival, but it sucks the life out of us all the same. The next time you’re tempted to get wrapped up in some business that isn’t yours, ask yourself What Claire Would Do and then, maybe, don’t do anything at all.

Always Take a Murtagh with You

I didn’t count the number of times Murtagh followed Jamie into harm's way or was dispatched by Jamied to protect Claire. We all know it was a lot. Murtagh embodies friendship and loyalty. He is there for the big stuff: beheading a deranged Duke, covering for Jamie after he killed Dougal, and professing his willingness to die beside Jamie on the battlefield. The great thing about Murtagh, though, is that he is there for the little stuff, too. Remember The Gathering when everyone was speaking Gaelic and Claire had no idea what was going on? It was Murtagh who stood beside her and served as interpreter and tour guide. Later, it was Murtagh who suggested to Claire that she stop giving Jamie grief about Leg Hair because what he needed was a woman (hint hint) not a girl. It was also Murtagh who served as best man for the wedding, securing Jamie’s fabulous Highland ensemble and calming Jamie’s pre-ceremony jitters. Murtagh is always there, working behind the scenes to pave the path and make Jamie and Claire’s lives a little more bearable.

If you’ve got a friend like Murtagh, hang on to him/her and nurture that relationship. Those people don’t come around all that often. If you don't have a Murtagh, I’m always available, but I must warn you that I’m not handy with a sword, I’m not willing to die, and murder isn’t really my thing.

The Best Gifts Come from the Unlikeliest of Places

Days after Jamie and Claire’s wedding, they sat atop a hill trying to put words to their feelings. Their verbal gymnastics were interrupted when an incoming arrow landed near them. Apparently, arrows in 1743 were highly personalized and Jamie knew immediately that it originated from the bow of a beggar and friend named Hugh Munro. Hugh greeted Jamie and Claire and, upon hearing of their nuptials, gave Claire a wedding gift of a rock. With the face a woman who had just been given a macaroni necklace by someone not enrolled in a summer camp or a nursery school, Claire managed a smile and a half-hearted thank you.

We all know that it wasn’t just a rock. It was a piece of amber with a dragonfly captured inside. It was the very symbol of Jamie and Claire’s life together. We see the amber again in Dragonfly In Amber [Season 2 Episode 13] when Claire finds it in a display case at the Culloden museum and then again as she recalls the events leading up to her return through the stones. In their last moments together, Claire gives Jamie the amber to take with him into battle. It was all that Jamie would have of Claire as he marched to a certain death. Gulp.

You never know what will be meaningful next year or 20 years from now. Treasure whatever gifts you receive and honor the spirit in which they are given. Time will sort the rest out for you.

When You Can be a Witch, be a Witch

Claire wasn’t altogether comfortable with the witch moniker given how close she came to a date with the stake at Crainsmuir. However, at Wentworth she told Black Jack Randall that she was, indeed, a witch, and she cursed him with the date of his death. That, my friends, is a handy party trick. In Paris, Jamie floated the idea that Claire was a “white witch” to his brothel buddies. Claire wasn’t amused, but as time passed she realized that it might serve her well. It saved her from being raped during the attack on Mary Hawkins, and it saved her again in the Star Chamber scene with the Comte. Claire went all Eminem “I am whatever you say I am” and decided that if people were going to call her a witch she might as well be one.

If someone suggests that you are a witch (or any number of labels), maybe just smile and nod. Alternately, you could quote Claire and say “witch I am" with that creepy, passively violent tone that Claire affects when she's trying to kill someone or save someone from being killed. That should freak them out sufficiently to leave you alone for awhile.

Scars Tell Part of Your Story; the Way You Live Tells the Rest

There is really nothing I can tell you about the scars on Jamie’s back that you don’t already know. On one hand, they are a testament to the depravity and pure evil resident in Black Jack Randall and a visible reminder of the danger faced by the Scots. On the other hand, the scars are a testament to Jamie’s resilience and to his deep sense of honor and compassion. Jamie could have allowed the floggings and torture to turn him into a monster. He didn’t, though. Instead he used those scars as a reminder to be more compassionate and to protect those closest to him even more fiercely. He took a beating from Rupert to spare Leg Hair the embarrassment of public punishment. I don’t really like it either, but it’s what makes Jamie, Jamie. When he rescued Claire from Fort William, Jamie could have killed Black Jack Randall, but he says that he couldn’t kill a defenseless man. Think about that. Even with all the pain and suffering that BJR had already inflicted on Jamie and his family, Jamie still couldn’t kill him when he was unconscious.

Not everyone has a back marred by public floggings, but we all have scars. Some are visible. Some are not. Some are still tender to the touch. Some have toughened with time. When people want to focus on your scars, go ahead and let them. Just make sure they know that your scars are far less important than the lessons you learned from them.

If You Have to Sleep with a King to Free Your Husband, Go Ahead and Take the Orange on Your Way Out.

After Claire had physically recovered from the loss of Faith, her thoughts turned to Jamie and how to free him from the Bastille. She found that she could petition King Louis by offering herself to him. She got a little more than she bargained for in that she also got to kill the Comte and save Master Raymond in the fantastic Star Chamber scene. After Raymond and the Comte meet their various fates, Louis escorts Claire back to his bedroom where he accepts her payment for Jamie's release. On her way out of the room Claire stops, picks up an orange from the bowl, and carries it out with her. We then see her walk the long corridor with her head held high and orange in hand.

In our lives we sometimes have to do terrible/disgusting/immoral/annoying things that we don't want to do. Sometimes it's for ourselves and sometimes it's for the people we love. There are times when we feel belittled by the favors we have to ask or the promises we have to make in order to solve the problem. When you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, go ahead and do whatever you need to do to extricate yourself or your loved one. While you're at it, don't think twice about taking a small bit of pleasure for yourself. You earned that orange.

Wear the Red Dress

This one is for the girls. Guys, I’m sorry but I can’t think of a male equivalent. When I saw Claire descend the staircase in Season 2 Episode 2, all I could think was how much I wanted that red dress. It’s not at all practical and I would love to see the face of an Uber driver as I tried to stuff myself into the backseat of a Prius. The impracticality is kind of the point though, isn’t it? Claire had no intention of doing surgery in that dress. She was wearing it to be noticed, to announce the Frasers' presence at court. And then there were the looks on Jamie's and Murtagh’s faces. They were in awe of Claire’s beauty and probably aghast at the idea of repeatedly trying to defend her honor.

No, you can’t wear the red dress every day. There is more to life than being seen and looking pretty. However, there are times when those are exactly the things we need to do. Don’t be afraid to step out of your yoga pants (I know it’s scary) and put on something a little too short with a neckline down to your navel that will raise eyebrows and turn heads. And if your guy tells you that you’re going to need a larger fan, just smile and reach for his hand.

It seems like life has lessons waiting for us wherever we look. However, it's fun to find them in the stories that have captured our hearts and minds. What about you? Did you find any life lessons in Outlander? I'd love to hear from you!


  1. Such an amazing, inspiring essay! I actually learned a thing or two, even though I'm old. (lol.)

    Great writing, sprinkling in wicked fun humor along with your pearls of wisdom, while feeding us some Outlander bits during droughtlander. Being a writer myself, you inspired me! Thanks for the insights!

  2. A good read, and made me sad all over again about Murtagh, who we won't be seeing in the future. However, I thought Claire was genuinely touched by the gift from Hugh Munro, not half-hearted about it at all. And another point: the orange that Claire picked up was the one that Louis had given her, which she had placed on the table, and wasn't taken from the bowl.

    1. That's a fair point about Claire and Hugh Munro. Like I said in the intro, I read way too much into things. AND, you've caught me on the orange, she is clearly picking it up from the table.

    2. I like Ron's extra touch of the amber being in the Scottish Cullonden-esque museum when Claire went to visit it in 1968!

  3. I see you like Leg Hair as much as I do πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

  4. Wow! I LOVED reading this!! What a wonderfully fresh insightful and unique spin on my favorite book of all time! What wonderful lessons!!
    Thank you!!

  5. So inspiring! I'll miss Murtagh! I also remember his selflessness when he offered to marry Mary Hawkings so that she wouldn't have to marry Black Jack

  6. I recently sent this email to a few friends and family:

    My family knows that I'm an unabashed, true addict/fan of the book and TV series Outlander. The author, Dianna Galbadon, has written 8 books in the series and working on the 9th and last - I've read them all. The books are beautifully written and well developed - not that that's the only reason I enjoy the books and TV show so much. *;) winking

    I was reading one of the books last night, and it's at a low moment in the story, when the heroine is talking to a Priest and confessing all the unbelievable things that have happened in her life up to this point. The Priest tells her:

    "Some individuals are chosen by God to affect the destinies of many."

    Those words got to me, as I reflected on Meredith, this weekend and why we are all still here - left to carry on her mission.

    God bless you all!

    My daughter died of melanoma cancer in October of 2015. We formed the Meredith's Mission for Melanoma foundation to raise funds to further research for treatments and cures and to raise awareness of this horrible disease.

    1. Also I have a Twitter account @camorton47 Meredith's Mission where I share melanoma news. But I could use more followers to spread the awareness Thank you! #meredithsmission #melanoma

    2. I am so sorry for your loss Carole. Your mission to raise money for melanoma research in your daughter's memory is inspiring. Best of luck to you!

  7. Replies
    1. Thank you, as always, for your kind words! :)

  8. Great blog! The last section on the red dress really hit home! I am looking for "the red dress" or something equivalent for my son's wedding. I am going to go for it when I find it. lol

  9. This was a great essay. I enjoyed it, and I would be your Murtaugh, anytime!

  10. This was a great essay. I enjoyed it, and I would be your Murtaugh, anytime!

    1. Thanks Mary! I don't think I would be nearly as difficult to keep up with as Jamie and Claire were, but then again, if I had a Murtagh perhaps I could live a little more dangerously!

  11. Thank you. I did not find Outlander until after my husband had passed away. I could not get enough of it keep me going as both my husband and I are from Scotland.

    1. Thank you Mary. It sounds like finding Outlander was a bit of a salve for you?

  12. I never fail to read a part, section, chapter that I don't admire Claire's courage. Whether it's the courage to go stay with Jamie and not go through the stones; whether it's the courage to have their first child in the 18th century; whether it's the courage to go through the stones to have the second child; whether it's the courage to go back through the stones to realize the continuation of her true love; whether it's the courage to get on a ship so she can be with Jamie when he's searching for Ian; whether it's the courage to stick out the first winter on Fraser's Ridge; whether it's the courage to be all she can be on Fraser's Ridge, even though it may bring extra hardship to her and to those she loves - Claire is continually courageous.

    I also admire how she allows Jamie to be what he was meant to be, even though it may not be the easiest path for her - "he's a man, and that's no small thing," which may mean that he places himself in danger and threat of death, which has to be hard for Claire to accept and come to terms with. Granted Jamie returns the favor and allows Claire to be who she really is and is not afraid of her, which is why (that they both allow and accept the other) their love is so enduring and fulfilling.

    Claire's home is really Jamie and vice versa and they both have the courage to allow it, accept it for what it is and nurture the other, even though that may not make the other feel warm and fuzzy.....which may give us an indication as to how DG is going to put them to rest. Both striving to be all that they could/would/should and allowing the other to make that struggle. I'm sure I'll ball (like I did in DIA - thought I needed some depression-killing drugs after that book!) But it will no doubt be with great love and comfort to the point that they both know they have made a contribution and the world is better for them having been in it.

    I love your comments and all that they bring to each other in these books, and what really amazes me is how these books span differing ages....whether you're pre-marriage young, newly married, married with little ones, married with older ones, married and alone, each stage has an enduring spirit and fulfillment that is remarkably expressed in these books. There is a great sense of accomplishment without notoriety which is the highest form of contribution a person can make.

  13. Loved this blog...simple as that...but powerful to. Thank you.

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  15. Nikki, what a thoughtful reflection on Outlander. As a fan of the series, your words resonated with me. The show is much more than passive entertainment. It's a timeless story about life's struggles and the difficult choices we must make, and you connected it to life in the modern age. I especially liked your thoughts about buying the red dress, and always taking Murta with you. You are spot on. The post is very well done. Thank you!

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  18. Wow, what great insights. Completely point-on observations. Sometimes I struggle with why Outlander makes me feel the way I do about it. Your essay is a giant clue! Thank you, Nikki!

    ps. I’d like to share another essay I found regarding Jamie and Claire and what makes their relationship mean so much to so many:


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