Drums of Autumn: The Convoluted MacGuffin!

Welcome back, novel2screeners, as we dissect more of Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in her Outlander series and the source material for season four of the STARZ series this fall!

Okay, so those of you who read The Stephen Bonnet Conundrum last week know that, in my humble opinion (which you always entitled to disagree with, of course) Stephen Bonnet is a problematic character. I am not suggesting, by the way, as some readers inferred, that I do not think he will be in season four of Outlander. He absolutely will be. I just had some suggestions for how to flesh him out a bit.

I should probably state at this point that I always read each novel in the Outlander series one at a time, and I analyze them as stand-alone books. Many people helpfully informed me that Mr. Bonnet’s actions will come into play later in the series, which is not surprising. But my suggestions regarding his rape of Brianna in Drums still stand.

Suffice it to say that Diana really wanted Brianna to get raped so that she could create a storyline of Roger raising a child that is (probably) not his own, paralleling the previous storyline where Frank had to do the same thing with Brianna.

You recall:

Outlander Season 3
Frank, Claire and Brianna: One Big Happy Family

Okay, cool. I like thematic parallels, and I appreciate why Diana wanted to add this element to the story at this point.

But now we get down to…


“Here Rebecca goes again. Blah blah blah, ‘non-traditional structure.’ Blah blah blah, obscure literary and/or film reference. Blah blah blah, hero’s journey.” I know, I know, I’m sorry. I can’t help myself.

So a MacGuffin, as I’m sure many readers know, is a phrase popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, and it refers to some thing–gold in them there hills; a fancy glass egg; a Maltese Falcon–you know, a thing, that the hero must pursue, thus setting the plot in motion.

In Drums of Autumn, the “thing(s)” are the jewels and wedding ring that Stephen Bonnet steals from Claire and Jamie, and which both Roger and Brianna will later pursue.

Now here’s where things get a bit crazy. In order to get Brianna raped by Bonnet, Diana makes us jump through the following somersaults:

A partial list:

-She has Bonnet steal Claire and Jamie’s jewels (which he later exposes to Roger on the ship to America because, you know, when you steal jewels and stuff you make no effort to keep them hidden).

-She then has Bonnet steal Claire’s wedding ring, although to be honest, that scene is so confusingly written, with Claire choking and spitting and rings clattering, that it’s not clear until later that Bonnet actually retrieved the ring and that it didn’t end up at the bottom of the river.

-She has Roger abandon Brianna after finally finding her and becoming handfast in order to go steal said jewels from some nearby town where Bonnet is supposed to be (but actually isn’t), because Roger absolutely has to go get these jewels that they “might” need someday (or maybe they won’t; nobody really knows) right this second and can’t possibly wait a few days to see that Brianna, who he’s just crossed time and space to protect, actually makes it to safety.

-She has Brianna waltz through a pub where she encounters a drunken, gambling, swarthy louse playing poker. Even casually, and from a distance, Brianna immediately recognizes the tiny gold band he’s using as an ante as being her mother’s wedding ring. She confronts this drunken heathen, who promptly declares his intention to fuck her as soon as he gets a chance. And so Brianna, who’s been a fairly bright girl up to this point, decides to… that’s right, meet him alone, unarmed, with no protection, husband off God knows where, in his cabin aboard his ship where everybody works for him and nobody would care if she screamed.

Now, guys, I hate to blame the victim. I really do. And I know I’ll probably get some hate mail over this one, but… Oh. My. God. WTF???

-And then, the pièce de résistance, she has Brianna successfully retrieve the ring after being raped, and because of that… what? She didn’t actually need the ring for anything. She gives it back to her mother, and Claire debates whether or not to wear it for a few hundred pages, and then eventually does.

That’s it. All that juggling around to get Brianna on that ship to retrieve that ring… which in no way, shape, or form actually affects the story.

And what kills me about all of this is, if Diana was really this hellbent on getting Brianna raped (and apparently she was, because, you know, what I said before), it could have been so simple, and it could have actually been plot-driven.

Imagine this scenario:

Roger arrives in America and finds Brianna in the pub. He’s relieved as hell, but he’s aghast to discover that she’s been traipsing around in men’s pants. For while this may have seemed like a good idea to Brianna at the time (if people think she’s a man, she’ll be left alone), Roger immediately realizes that it’s a bad idea. Why? Because the pants, which show off the curve of Brianna’s thighs, will be seen as an invitation by 18th century men.

So Roger, that evening, after their fight, demands that she begin wearing dresses instead. So far, all of this is in the story, right?

But all Diana had to do at this point was have Brianna, headstrong and stubborn (ah! An Achilles’ heel!), refuse to obey her new handfast husband, since she’s mad at him anyway, and insist on continuing to wear pants.

And it is that hubris—that Achilles’ heel—which causes her to be attacked and raped. It almost doesn’t matter who does the raping, or where it occurs. What matters is that it is Brianna’s character flaw which gets her into trouble, and which causes the tension with her new husband which will come into play later in the story.

All that other rigmarole, implausible and frustrating as it is, could have been skipped for something that actually fed into the character arcs of these young people and moved the story forward in a way that didn’t require anyone to act like zombies from outer space who just arrived on the planet yesterday.

Sophie Skelton as Brianna, about to take a big leap.

Now some of these issues will be resolved in the STARZ series simply by telling the story in sequence (in the book, Brianna’s rape is a flashback, frustratingly told well AFTER she arrives at her parents’ cabin, pregnant, and yet for reasons unknown to us, refusing to inform her parents that she’s basically married–which would have been the first words out of my mouth).

Also in the book, we lose Roger for a long chunk after he goes to “find the jewels,” so we have no idea why he’s missing for MONTHS while running an errand that probably should have taken days. (And that’s BEFORE he finally shows up and gets mistaken by Jamie for Brianna’s rapist, and subsequently sold to the Indians.)

To sum up, what I’d really like to see in the TV show with regard to all this complicated plot is just more of an understanding of WHY these people make these choices. As readers/viewers, we can’t really like people if we don’t understand or agree with their decision-making.

Give us more compelling reasons why their actions are INEVITABLE, and we might like Roger and Brianna a heck of a lot more.

And now I lob it to you guys. What do you think? Agree with me about the jewel plot, or think I’m way off base? As always, I love to read your comments!

Till next week, when we’ll touch upon the elephant in the room of Drums of Autumn: Jamie and the “R” Word.


Keep an eye out for DOWN WORLD, my original sci-fi novel, which will be available on Kindle this summer! More info to come.

To catch up on my Outlander reviews and exclusive content, be sure to click HERE. And don’t forget to follow Rebecca Phelps on Twitter @DownWorldNovel, “like” us on Facebook at Novel2Screen, or just follow this blog.

To read my Voyager mock-episode series in its entirety, click here. Also, be sure to check out my writing on TV Topik.

And if you’re looking for Outlander-themed jewelry, here’s the link:  Sassenach Jewelry

*Photos courtesy of Sony


22 thoughts on “Drums of Autumn: The Convoluted MacGuffin!

  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! I couldn’t put my finger on it… why I don’t really like Brianna and Roger! It’s becasue they do stupid stuff!


    1. Carolyn, I agree with your sentiments. I never liked the character of Brianna and I found myself less interested in the book Drums of Autumn because of the personality Dianna gave her. She is suppose to be so smart but she is not. Also, her interaction with her father is very lackluster and disappointing.


  2. DOA is not my favorite by any means. I have to agree with you about it all. Why is the rape necessary and why dwell on that gold wedding ring.


    1. The rape was necessary because without it you would not have Jamie mistaking Roger for Bonnet, beating him and sending him off to live with the Indians. then you wouldn’t have Ian living with the Indians which causes his total life-style change. Those are two of many reasons why it had to happen. I do agree with the author’s comments about showing the events sequentially. It would make more sense…she has some good suggestions.


  3. I wonder what it would feel like to have your work picked apart in such a flippant manner? I would think, one author to another, might have a different perspective on said picking. It certainly lacks a certain level of respect.


    1. Hi Alaine. Thank you for reading my blog. As I’ve said before, novel2screen is a site dedicated to analyzing works of fiction, which sometimes means mentioning plot points that we don’t think worked very well. My intention is never to be flippant. Over the years, I have discussed many elements of Diana’s books which I think are extraordinary, but I believe she probably has thick enough skin to withstand some legitimate criticism. I know I have to have thick skin as a writer all the time. It isn’t easy, but it’s part of doing what we love.


    2. The picking apart is or can be a healthy development and some writers want the reaction and statements. The process let’s the authors know their character and story is developed. It does not suggest a wrongness or a right side. It is an interest of explosion that is very common.


  4. Sorry, but your re-writes are so boring, this wonderful series would have the same popularity of so many other run-of-the-mill romance novels and never made it to Starz or anywhere else.


    1. That’s very possible, and you are certainly not alone in that opinion, Kathleen. Diana’s unique style has millions of fans for a reason. Thanks for reading!


  5. I also was bored with the amount of “bad luck” that drives the Roger & Brianna storylines. Life is hard enough in 1770s back woods Carolina, why SOOOOOO much dreadful drama??? Especial with what’s to come in Rogers near future. And the main reason for the mix-up is a miscommunication of names and description that could simply be resolved by a conversation upon her arrival! (Facepalm) We’ve read about much more dramatic “leaps of faith” concluded happily in other storylines, so why the pothole with Roger and Bonnet?? Here’s hoping the show takes a better twist on this, or at least gives better, more realistic reasons for the conflict! (But, why fool myself, the realism went out the window with the time travel plot & the awesome sex life of two 50 year olds)
    Thanks for your take! Love reading your blog.


      1. Rebecca, keep your fantasies. Sex can be great, well after 50. Celebrating 51st anniversary next week!!


      2. Do you really doubt that? If you lived near me, I’d tell you some secrets in private. Remember, a woman at 50 cannot get pregnant any more (normally). Which is a huge advantage 🙂


      3. If we go to a far time away land and travel by singing rocks anything is possible. It is all so dramatically ponderous and I say why not the timeless magnetic rock your kilt at any age. Let’s dream.


  6. I agree,Bree went to college, you would think she would be smarter than to put herself in harms way. She was brought up in the sixties, the beginning of the woman’s movement. To bad she didn’t put that knowledge to good use.


  7. Your right rape is never necessary or good, if there would have been some communication between the whole Fraser family a lot of the bad things that happened to Bree and especially Roger wouldn’t have happened. But that’s what drives the story.


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