Theory – Colum and Dougal

Even though we have 26 weeks until the show returns with the second half of season one, Saturdays are still Outlander day here at my blog.

Today, I’m going to dig into my theories about Colum and Dougal. I’ll talk both about the books and the show.

In the books:

Colum wants Jamie around because he’s hedging his bets. He is the one who called Jamie back from France when they got news of Horrocks. He knows his brother is an impetuous hothead, and he worries about what will happen to the clan under Dougal’s leadership. Jamie may not be a unanimous choice for Laird (Jamie tells Claire that it would split the clan), but Colum thinks Jamie has what it takes to see the MacKenzies through the troubles that are looming. Also, although he’s still very upset with his sister Ellen for leaving him and going away with Brian Fraser, he sees in her son the qualities that would have made her a good laird: intelligence, courage, wisdom, charisma, cunning, and strength.

Another element to this theory is that Colum knows Jamie doesn’t want to be laird. The old adage is that the right person for the job is the one who doesn’t want it (with the caveat that they also need to be good at it). Jamie would be good at it, and he would take the responsibility seriously, but not let the power go to his head. That would make him a good regent for Hamish, until Hamish is old enough to take over the position.

But the most important aspect of this theory is that, if true, Colum’s choice would drive a wedge between Colum and Dougal. They’ve always acted in harmony, in everything they’ve done. So for Dougal, having Colum place even tacit approval on Jamie’s claim is a betrayal. Remember that it is Dougal who tries to kill Jamie with the Lochaber axe. Dougal’s man Rupert shoots Jamie in the back (well, the shoulder) when he makes a break for Fraser lands just before they meet Claire. Dougal sends Jamie to the stables and away from the major goings-on at Leoch. And then it’s Rupert, again, who brings Jamie in to take the oath during the Gathering. Rupert’s motives aren’t entirely clear, but you could say that he was trying to force the issue- either so that Jamie would be killed by angry, drunken clansmen, or so that Dougal would have an excuse to kill Jamie “accidentally” elsewhere.

Colum clearly did not want Jamie to take the oath, for the same reasons. He wanted Jamie to stay clear; even if he’s not a sworn MacKenzie, he is still eligible to become laird. He can swear the oath and change his name when he takes up the position. So, when Jamie walks the knife’s edge and comes out alive and popular on the other side, Dougal has to think of something else. He humiliates Jamie by showing his scars to everyone in the MacKenzie lands. Sure, it helps Dougal raise money for the Jacobites, but it has the nice added benefit of making his rival feel trapped, shamed, and exposed.

Finally, it’s Dougal who arranges for Jamie to marry Claire, neatly removing him from the succession. Colum does not do any of those things, and is actually surprised when the party returns to Leoch and Jamie is married. On the other hand, I think he’s very aware that Dougal hates their nephew and would like to see him dead. In a way, every time Jamie escapes with his life is an affirmation that he’s a better choice to be laird.

Dougal wants to be laird, and there’s a kind of restlessness to him that suggests he thought he would be by now. But more than that, he wants the MacKenzies to rise and support the Stuarts. Jamie would never allow that to happen, and Colum isn’t sure he wants it to happen. Later, Colum actually accepts Jamie and Claire’s advice on whether or not to pledge the clan to the Rising. Unfortunately he dies before he can put that into effect. And I’ve always wondered at that. Is it possible that he and Dougal talked, and Dougal killed him before he could announce that the clan would not join the Jacobites?

Dougal is a complicated character. The only person who has his loyalty for most of the books is his brother. He doesn’t love his wife, and is known to be promiscuous and an adulterer. Case in point: Geillis Duncan and their child, William Buccleigh MacKenzie. He loves Jamie, his foster son, but he is jealous of him at the same time. Because as much as the brothers MacKenzie have always acted in accord, it was Ellen who was Colum’s confidante and advisor. Dougal’s afraid Jamie will take up that same place. Dougal takes after his father, Red Jacob, in temper, and that gets him into trouble. Many of the things he does to Jamie are done impetuously- that’s why most of them don’t work. The one that comes closest to killing him is the axe blow- and that was foiled when other people showed up and he had to flee.

Then Claire shows up, and he develops an immediate attraction for her. That desire comes out at the Gathering, although even while drunk he has enough self-possession to let her go. And we see his malicious digging at Jamie during the events surrounding the wedding. He doesn’t stick to the good-natured insults of the others, but says truly hurtful things. Because, if he were free, and it wouldn’t ruin his chances of becoming Laird, he’d have married her himself.

So how does this theory apply to the show?

One of the things I talked about a couple of times in my episode reviews was the way the Colum/Dougal relationship is different in the show. Dougal seems to hold more of the power, and he is more openly hostile toward Colum and definitely angry at the Gathering. I think that the show is trying to show us all of the things I just talked about from the books. But it’s hard to get all of that subtlety across on screen, and Dougal can’t tell us what he’s thinking the way Claire can. So they’ve given him actions to make his disaffection and jealousy clear. Unfortunately, those actions make it look like he and Colum are more at odds than they are in the books. Of course siblings fight – we get to overhear one of their fights after the return to Leoch – but the bedrock principle of their relationship is absolute, unflagging loyalty.

That’s overshadowed by Dougal giving a begrudging oath and then going off to get stinking drunk. And by Dougal being the one that is clearly in charge of Jamie’s beating at Rupert’s hands in the Hall. And the implication (made by the way the episode was edited and written) that Dougal is the one who convinced Colum that Claire shouldn’t be allowed to leave.

The Dougal we see on the road, collecting rent, is very much like the one in the book. He is comfortable and confident, glad-handing his tacksmen and tenants. In the book, Colum leads inside Castle Leoch, and out in the wilds, Dougal is in charge. The difference in the show is that Dougal took away some of Colum’s thunder at Leoch.

That may change when the show returns, though. Ron Moore said in the podcast for episode 104 that he thought the look for Colum was much better clean-shaven and with his hair pulled back. He looks more like a laird, more like the man in charge and less like an invalid. So what I think is that the show made a couple of missteps with Colum at first. In 102, nearly all of his authority is usurped by Dougal. Sure, he hands out a few judgments about cows, but when there’s real tension, it’s Dougal who takes over.

In 103, we see Colum as menacing and temperamental, but not really “in charge.” Dangerous, for sure, but that’s not the same thing. Finally, in 104, he is allowed to make the important decision to accept Jamie’s vow in place of the Oath. Maybe I’m reading into things, but when Gary Lewis smiled in that scene, I was thinking, “He isn’t smiling at Jamie. He’s smiling at Ellen. He made this decision because Jamie reminds him so much of her.”

So I’m hoping that they’ve turned things around with Colum, not just in looks, but in action. I want to see the cunning, powerful, intelligent, sly, charming man from the books. Because we’ve seen a lot of Dougal, and even though he doesn’t always do things the audience likes, we have a good idea of who and what he is. Now we need to see who Colum really is.

What do you think about my theories? The big extrapolation is that Colum actually wants Jamie, rather than Dougal, to be the next laird. He lets go of that, over the course of the first two books, but at least in the beginning I think he’s absolutely hedging his bets. Do you disagree? Or have another explanation? Leave me a comment and let me know.

9 thoughts on “Theory – Colum and Dougal

  1. Hi! It’s Verity. Came over from the S&S forum and am thoroughly enjoying your blog! I agree with so much that you are saying here about the relationship between Colum and Dougal, although I must admit that in the books I saw Dougal’s bitterness pretty clearly. He was publically loyal to Colum but I think that he highly resented being delegated to being “Colum’s legs, sword arm and c*ck”. In both the books and the show Colum was very subtle, but there was never any question in my mind about who was in control (but, I’ve read the books!). He is very intelligent and superior in strategy, compared to Dougal who was more of a bumbling brute. The scene where Dougal made that sarcastic comment about sending Jamie to the stables showed how bitter he was about Colum’s authority. That, and when he stomped off after giving his oath clearly showing how disgusted he was by the whole thing. As you are, I am hoping that they clarify this conflict over the next 8 episodes. I think that Colum knew that if Dougal got a hold of the clan that Hamish would never be given the chance to become laird. I also think that the clan itself was already divided about Dougal stepping in as laird because he was such a hothead and many saw Jamie as a much more desirable option. Dougal had only one overriding loyalty: to Prince Charles and the Jacobite Cause – Period. And the clan was nothing more than a weapon that he wanted to wield for the Cause. I was left with no doubt at all that Dougal killed Colum so that he could lead the clan into battle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Verity! Nice to see you. 🙂

      I completely agree that the bitterness Dougal feels is present in the novel. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that, in the novel, it is Colum who has the power at Leoch. Dougal absolutely resents that, although he understands the necessity, and long ago decided that loyalty to Colum would achieve his own ends. He is laird in all but name outside of Leoch, and for a while that has sustained him. But I think he is pissed that Colum has lived this long and kept him from becoming laird in fact. And the fact that some part of him knows the clan isn’t ready to follow him wholeheartedly pisses him off, too!

      What I feel happened in the show, is that, in order to have the audience see that resentment, they accidentally skewed some of the power dynamic. It’s harder to show subtlety in a largely visual format. Colum’s power is subtle. It comes from canniness and intelligence. They tried to give us a power scene with him with the tailor, but I don’t think that scene succeeds entirely. It tells us that Colum is dangerous, and that he doesn’t want to hide his legs, but it doesn’t show us that he is subtle. It is, in fact, quite an overreaction to draw the knife. That is a Dougal move. Or, if he’s going to draw the knife, he has to be more mock-playful about it. More cat and less bulldog.

      Colum is more subtle in his interactions with Claire, which is what is saving him so far, for me. And the scene at the Gathering with Jamie’s oath was absolutely Colum’s decision, not Dougal’s. So I feel they’re getting back on track with him. The two scenes I called out in my blog are the ones that stick out for me as “wrong,” and they’re both in 102, so can possibly be forgiven as the show trying to find its feet.

      Thanks your comment! I love talking to people about Outlander, and having to censor myself in other spaces is what inspired me to come here and create my own space. 🙂 Feel free to knock around and make lots of comments about the rest of my ideas. I am totally open to the prospect of being wrong!


  2. Elle here…I came over from TSAS, too. This is a great idea to have a space to discuss the whole of the texts, without fear of spoiling, thanks for creating and alerting me to it.

    Have to say, I’m not so sure that Dougal hates Jamie in the novel, however. That he’s afraid of Jamie’s potential and he resents him (he also hates his father, remember) is pretty clear. Dougal sees Jamie’s sheer existence as a reminder that another family, the Frasers, go the best of the McKenzies, when Ellen went off and married Brian. While for Colum this was a true personal loss, the loss of his favorite sibling and greatest confidant, for Dougal it was more a loss of family honor, just a “loss” in the game of Clan one-upsmanship that is the reality of Highland life.

    One of my very favorite things about the first Outlander novel is the way that it really lets the Dougal/Jamie relationship unfold and how it reveals how very complexly human that relationship is. To me, this relationship is easily as interesting as the Jamie/Claire relationship (but that’s because I find Claire such a tedious character in the later books)

    Yes, Jamie is a threat to Dougal’s ambitions, but Jamie is also Dougal’s foster son, and being a gifted warrior himself, he not only sees that, but values it in Jamie. This is apparent to me in the way he describes Jamie’s behavior during the floggings to Claire at the spring. Dougal doesn’t simply “hate” Jamie, there’s so much more there.

    This is the reason I so lamented the fact that the little scene where Jamie shows off his fighting skills for Claire wasn’t in the TV show; it’s in that scene that the readers are able to see Jamie’s truly mixed feelings about Dougal: he both admires, even loves him, but is also deeply aware of what a “political Scot” Dougal is, and that Dougal covets a great deal about Jamie: his wife, his land, his ability to lead men AND to be a wise leader.

    For me, one of the incredibly interesting subtexts of the first two books is the compare/contrast between Jamie and Dougal: there are some really strong and striking parallels; both of them sire sons that they aren’t allowed to claim, both of them sire children who are taken away and raised by other families (men), and they are never able to experience those children’s chlldhoods (Briana and Buck). Both of them are leader of men (and the relationship Dougal has with his men is echoed throughout Jamie’s life with those that refer to him as “Mac Dubh”. Jamie learns much of what it means to be a ‘leader of men” from Dougal, which makes the scene near the end of DIA so poignant, I believe. They are very similar men in so many ways, but what’s different about them are the choices they make.

    The Dougal/Colum tensions, I’ve always felt have to do with the way that Dougal can’t (and doesn’t) think complexly. He’s rather single-minded: he wants to ensure he will follow his brother as Laird/regent. He wants Geillis Duncan (mostly because she has manipulated him and he’s a sexual being). He is a Jacobite. What I’ve never been completely sure of (and what I hope the TV series will explore to some degree), is how much of Dougal’s Jacobite fervor is his own convictions and how much of it is a product of Geillis Duncan’s longer term scheming. Colum, who both loves his brother and strangely, depends up him deeply, knows this about him. The scene where he takes Dougal to task for impregnating Geillis is a clear illustration of this. Colum (like Ellen, like Brian, like Ned AND like Jamie), can multitask, he can see the surface level issues and think through them, but he can also read the subtext, which is why he is so irritated that Dougal has fallen into Geillis’ trap. And even book Jamie sees the peril that is Geillis. For all the intimations that Dougal is some kind of “player” and a serious “ladies man”, he’s as naive as Claire about Geillis.


    • Hi, Elle, and welcome!

      You make some very astute and lovely points, which I shall respond to in more depth when I get home tonight. One line I’d like to quickly draw is between book Dougal and TV Dougal. I don’t think Jamie ever fostered with Dougal in the show, since there’s no indication that Dougal is married. I don’t think there’s quite the same level of affection between them in the show as there is in the book. They missed an opportunity for that in 108 with the Grant skirmish. We got a quick hug, but not the beauty of them fighting back-to-back.

      In both cases, though, I do think Dougal hates Jamie. I also think he loves Jamie. Hate is a very strong and complicated emotion, but it is not the antithesis of love, and they are not mutually exclusive. The antithesis of love is indifference. One thing Dougal never is toward Jamie is indifferent!

      Thank you so much for your comments! I am squeeing a little at the wonderful and insightful views people are bringing to this blog, because that is exactly why I started it. 🙂


    • Reply #2:

      I love the connections you make between Jamie and Dougal, as fathers and as clan chieftains. And it is so telling to me that Jamie actually invokes Dougal before he goes to battle in The Fiery Cross. He understands who and what Dougal was, and accepts that.

      Which is to say that their relationship is crazy complicated, and full of love, and hate, and jealousy, and suspicion, and loyalty, and envy, and pride, and affection, and trust (sometimes). It is one of the best-drawn relationships in the books, and often one of the subtlest.

      I’ve always thought that saying that Dougal is only single-minded is to give him short shrift. He is certainly the least subtle of the MacKenzie siblings, and his impetuosity and temper get him into trouble. He reacts with his gut, makes sweeping assumptions, and then takes action. Those qualities make him a good warleader, but a bad chief. But none of those qualities imply that he can’t be complex. His relationship with Jamie is the biggest proof of that. Because he does love Jamie, and feels affection and pride for this foster son who he trained and taught to be a warrior. But he is also jealous of Jamie’s skill, and the fact that Jamie surpasses him.

      Then again, that could just be the exception that proves the rule. Who’s to say? He certainly has some understanding of subtleties and subterfuge when we see him again in Paris. Maybe he’s learning from Geillis?

      Speaking of “the witch,” I do think that Dougal was a Jacobite before he met Geillis. It is the kind of thing that makes sense for him in a way that it doesn’t for Colum. Dougal strikes me as a bit of a romantic. Not in the love sense, but in the sense of chivalry and honor. He’s deeply conscious of the injustice of deposing the Stuart line in favor of a king who had not been born in England and didn’t even speak English as his first language. Not to mention the other issues of religion and the persecution of Highlanders under the house of Hanover.

      But Geilis certainly uses his Jacobite leanings for her own purposes, and I’m curious to see how far into that relationship we’ll get to see in the show. It would also be amazing to see Dougal and Melisande in Paris, although that would slightly undercut the tension with Roger’s choice in the 1960s. Choices, choices.


  3. This is awesome! I am so loving this! The complexity of these relationships. I think Dougal is just so eaten up by frustration and impatience that he is doing things at this point that even he doesn’t like. One of the things I love about historical novels set in Scotland is because of the complexity of the politics. You never know from one moment to the next who can be trusted and who is on which side, LOL! Nothing is ever simply black and white.

    Especially love your last paragraph Elle! And I wholeheartedly agree that Geillis has wrapped her own kind of evil around him by this point and is making things worse through her manipulations. His description of the way women bewitch men in that final confrontation shows the level of control that she has over him. I’m remembering that scene from Voyager where she cackles over how men are just slaves to what’s between a woman’s legs and how she uses her womb as a tool to manipulate.

    I once saw a post that Diana wrote on CompuServe where she said that when she first started writing the book she thought Dougal was going to be Claire’s main love interest. Then as things started to unfold she changed her mind and matched her up with Jamie. I keep thinking that the Dougal in her head is still upset about that and resents Jamie for it and that comes out in her writing. (it’s rather entertaining the way she talks about how the characters are living in her head and talking, and sometimes arguing with her).

    It’s going to be interesting to see how they communicate these relationships in the series going forward. The second half of Season 1 is going to be insanely intense!


    • I can totally see how Diana planned Dougal as Claire’s love interest. Several scenes in the early Castle Leoch days play out as though that was supposed to be where the story is heading. Even the bit where he kisses her after the Gathering works- unlike in the show, Claire doesn’t fight him. Several people I’ve talked to said they thought Dougal was the love interest and were surprised to have it suddenly be Jamie.

      I love the idea that the Dougal in her head is mad about getting shafted. 🙂 And yes, the second half of the season is going to be nuts. I can’t wait!


  4. Loved your analysis. Spot on. I have a question…you say in most of the *books*, the one who has Dougal’s loyalty is his brother. I am just finishing book one and haven’t begun Dragonfly in Amber yet but…Dougal and Colum’s tales continue past book one????


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