Written by: Anne Gavin
Neither one of the MacKenzie brothers are what I would call warm and fuzzy. They are Highlanders through and through. Both are tough, gruff, extremely intelligent and, in different ways, singularly ambitious. But, it is Dougal MacKenzie who plays an integral role in Jamie Fraser’s life from a very young age. And, one could argue, he plays quite a large part in Claire’s 18th century life almost from the moment she falls through time. Throughout the early novels in the Outlander series, Dougal remains a puzzling character. At once loyal, caring and fiercely protective of his Clan family – including his nephew, Jamie – but at the same time ruthlessly ambitious, brutal, cruel and calculating. So, who is the real Dougal MacKenzie and what lies at the essence of this complicated man? Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of the question of whether Clan MacKenzie’s War Chief is a good guy or a bad guy…
And, then, I really get to thinking that perhaps Dougal isn’t really a bad guy because after all, he saved Claire from Black Jack Randall’s brutal interrogation even after harboring his own suspicions about Claire and her loyalties to the British. Very chivalrous, indeed, given he could have just as easily left her to suffer an unknown and likely, highly unpleasant fate, at the hands of Black Jack. And, really…wasn’t it nice of Dougal to offer to save Claire from being delivered back to Black Jack by having her marry his young and strapping nephew, Jamie? Yes, this act conformed to his plan of world domination of Clan MacKenzie, but he could have accomplished this without the marriage proposal. And, then again, Claire would never have known about Jamie being in Wentworth Prison if Dougal had not sent for her, told her and then lent her his men to mount a rescue. Book Dougal is much more sympathetic in this particular scene in the cave than TV Dougal. Read it again. He laments the loss of Jamie as much as Claire and is genuinely upset that the lad was captured and faces death.
So, is in fact, Jamie Fraser a younger version of his Uncle? Maybe without the influence of Claire, Jamie could have gone on to become as ruthless and single minded as Dougal. The apple falls not far from the tree, as the saying goes. But, to steal a line from Jenny Murray, “love forces a person to choose.” Jamie’s love of Claire and love of family make many decisions for him during the Outlander series. Jamie could have taken a different path, a path similar to his Uncle’s but he chose differently on many occasions – motivated by a selflessness that Dougal never felt. Perhaps Dougal’s biggest problem is that the only real love he felt was to a notion – a tilting windmill – that would never, ever succeed. This all sets us up for the clash between the two men in Book 2, “Dragonfly in Amber” and Season 2 of the STARZ series. I predict it will, in fact, be EPIC! And, then we may ask ourselves if all of Dougal’s chess moves were really worth it for him in the end.
So, I am going to give Dougal a pass on all of his distasteful and heinous acts throughout the early novels. These MacKenzie men are passionate and powerful – qualities I admire. While Dougal is capable of altruism, he chose that path but only a few times. However, I believe he is at his core, a good guy just blinded by loyalty to a lost cause that for him, represented the only way he could see to preserve his family and his heritage. When you think of it that way, my heart softens a bit for Dougal despite some of his more malevolent qualities. And, if you love Jamie, I think you must love and appreciate Dougal as well. For indeed, they are cast from the same mold.
Are Jamie and Dougal two sides of the same coin? Which heinous act of Dougal’s do you dislike (or like!) the most?