Jan 2 2014 4:30pm

Loving Lymond: Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles

The Game of Kings by Dorothy DunnettNews about the upcoming TV series based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series inspired some thought about potentially filming a series based on Dorothy Dunnett’s six-book Lymond Chronicles. Dunnett’s series is also set in Scotland, though it takes place a couple of hundred years before Gabaldon’s series. If I had all the money in the world, I'd hire Tom Stoppard to adapt these novels and Tom Hiddleston in his Prince Hal mode—smug, arrogant, conflicted and charismatic—to play Lymond, but alas, I haven't the cash, so the best I can do is get other people to read this incredible series.

What are the Lymond Chronicles? Think of them as the Scottish love-child of Alexandre Dumas and Dorothy L. Sayers, with an added layer of psychological complexity and political maneuvering that is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Most of all, this compelling historical romance (in which no one, thankfully, has historically accurate pox scars and missing teeth) is the story of Francis Crawford of Lymond, and his long journey to find love, save his country, and live up to his great potential.

Lymond is a heady cocktail of physical beauty, impossible cleverness, tortured nobility, vicious sarcasm, book smartness, emotional imbecility (at least when it comes to himself, though he is very perceptive about others), idealism, cynicism, and smugness, who uses badinage and brilliance as a protective shell for the broken man underneath. He is attractive to men and women, a man-whore who uses sex to get information, to protect others and to hide from himself, convinced that he’s a “hunchback in the gutter” who does not deserve the love he so desperately wants, and convinced that whatever he loves, he destroys. (He has a bad track record with that, so that's understandable!) But when he loves you, he's all in; he'll do anything for you, including giving himself up to certain death. Lymond is infuriating and lovable in equal measure, and neither readers nor the other characters know whether they want to slap him or kiss him or both. While there are a lot of fictional homages to Lymond out there (I would include some of Guy Gavriel Kay’s heroes, Eugenides from Megan Whalen Turners fantastic YA Queen’s Thief series and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series in this lineage), the original Lymond is still the best.

Although the series is always front and center about Lymond, and there’s a lot of bromance (including Lymond’s troubled relationship with his actual brother, Richard, and his relationships with the various soldiers who follow him and idealize him), one of the reasons I keep coming back to these books is because all the female characters in the series are so memorable and differentiated; I'll just mention one example, Lymond's mother Sibylla, who is as formidably intelligent as Lymond himself, and whose relationship with Lymond is what makes him who he is when the series opens.

And then there is the love interest, whose name I will not reveal because of giant spoilers: I love her almost as much as I love Lymond himself. Over the course of the six books, she and he grow together, and she is his equal in every way (except possibly swordfighting): intelligent, loving, brave, open-hearted and adventurous. They connect because of their shared wit, their love of music and poetry, and an idealism that Lymond tries hard to pretend that he’s lost. In fact, she’s, exactly what Lymond needs, only it takes him excruciating ages to figure this out. (In his defense, he’s busy with geopolitics and personal tragedy for a while.)

The moment he realizes that he’s in love with her, and that she is “all that he was not” is one of my favorites in the entire series:

He looked at her. The long, brown hair; the pure skin of youth; the closed brown eyes, their lashes artfully stained; the obstinate chin; the definite nose, its nostrils curled. The lips, lightly tinted, and the corners deepened, even sleeping, with the remembrance of sardonic joy… The soft, severe lips.

And deep within him, missing its accustomed tread, his heart paused, and gave one single stroke, as if on an anvil.

In addition to the incredible romance, the series is highly political (and the chess metaphors turn into actual chess games with live humans at one point.) The first book of the series, A Game of Kings, is set in 1547, during what's known as the “Rough Wooing” when the English, under Lord Protector Somerset, have invaded Scotland to get their hands on four-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, so they can marry her to England's King Edward VI, and thus annex Scotland to England. The Scots are definitely not down with this plan! Enter Lymond, who, along with half the Scottish nobility, was captured at the disastrous battle of Solway Moss five years earlier, and who is believed to have turned his coat and betrayed Scotland (and his own family). He's persona SO non grata with both the Scots and the English; everyone but his mother wants him dead, and we can't figure out why he's come back to Scotland now, and whether he'll accomplish his goal before someone inevitably kills him. (During the course of the first thirty pages, he gets a pig and half of Edinburgh drunk on Bordeaux wine and burns down his brother's castle, so his motives are somewhat opaque.)

A Game of Kings is more or less a standalone, and it was also Dunnett’s first novel, so I’ve always found it a little hard to get into though it picks up steam at about page 150 or so and goes on to an incredible ending that makes the slightly random events at the beginning make perfect sense, just as the seemingly random moves of a chess Grand Master at the opening of a game make sense once you see the entire game.

Later novels move to the court of Henry II and Catherine de Medici in France; still later Lymond travels to Malta, to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul, to Moscow under Ivan the Terrible, and even to England, where the young Elizabeth Tudor is about to take the throne, but the heart of Lymond the character and Lymond the series, is Scotland and much of what Lymond does and endures is based on his need to save his country from turmoil. (And speaking of “endures”, there’s enough hurt/comfort in this series to fullfill all your hurt/comfort needs for a decade!)

Be sure to have a box of tissues next to you if you read this series, because there is at least one moment per book that makes me bawl every time I read it, and that makes me wonder why I'm torturing myself with these novels. But then I remind myself that there is a happy ending—“we have reached the open sea, with some charts; and the firmament”—and it is well worth all the agonies we go through to get there.

The six novels in the series are: A Game of Kings, Queen’s Play, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, The Ringed Castle, and Checkmate.


Regina Thorne is an avid reader of just about everything, an aspiring writer, a lover of old movies and current tv shows, and a hopeless romantic.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Kathryn MacAlister
1. Kathryn MacAlister
Best set of books I've ever read--over and over. The only person I could ever imagine playing Lymond was Peter O'Toole as he was in Lawrence of Arabia!
Lynne Connolly
2. Lynne Connolly
I would fight to stop anyone trying to do anything to these books. No film, no TV. Absolutely not. They are far too wonderful for anyone to mess with them.
We play the casting game from time to time. My person for Lymond is a cleaned-up Kurt Cobain, but that's obviously impossible.
Just no. They mustn't touch these books.
Kathryn MacAlister
3. Kahintenn
Thanks for this great introduction to a series that is new to me! Just checked the first book out from my library's ebook catalog.
Kathryn MacAlister
4. LenoreJ
Last read these in a single 3500 page jag when I was unexpectedly all alone one Thanksgiving overseas. Oh. My. God. Historical Romance at its finest. I concur that only Peter O'Toole in his prime could capture the universe that is Francis Crawford.
Kathryn MacAlister
5. Kaye55
Oh, oh, oh !!! I love these books. They are a deep and complex historical read, but so well written and deeply nuanced ~ a joy to wallow in.

If you want another review, Jo Beverly has a great one in the AAR archieves.
Darlene Marshall
6. DarleneMarshall
I re-read the Lymond Chronicles every few years because reading Dunnett is like taking a master class in writing. That scene you posted? That's the only scene in the entire six books were we're in Lymond's POV. In an age where authors routinely head-hop POV to tell the reader what the characters are thinking and feeling, Dunnett shows us as well rounded and complex a hero as you'll ever see, without pandering to the reader.

They are difficult, complex books and I warn new readers you will have to plow through the first 100 pages without giving up to be rewarded, but the prize of Lymond is worth the effort.
Kathryn MacAlister
7. Caz963
That's one of the best descriptions of Lymond I've ever read - thank you! I'm inclined to agree that TV/filmmakers should leave these books alone. There's so much complexity that I can't imagine any adaptation doing them justice.

It's been a while since I've read the books - this post is making me think it might be time to pick them up again.
Megan Frampton
8. MFrampton
Because of this post, and mentions in the past, I went and snagged the first book in the series. I'm prepared to endure the first 150 pages if all this splendor you describe awaits. Thanks!
Kathryn MacAlister
9. Jx55
@Darlene, some other times we are in Lymond's POV - eg CM in Dieppe, "Some day, he supposed, the faculties by which he lived would not all return to him. It would put a convenient term on many things, and in the meantime he saw no reason to dwell on it." - but in terms of his emotions, I think you're right and they are only seen through others' eyes. These are such rewarding books.
Lynne Connolly
10. Lynne Connolly
There is another moment of Lymond's pov that I recall, but they are so few and far between. You learn about him through others, and I think that's a lot of the magic of the books. You rarely get to be inside his head, and seeing him that way is like seeing all the different facets of a hand-cut jewel--they're all slightly different. Some see his ruthlessness, others his kindness. Some his cleverness, others his warror side.
I just love the way the book starts with him burning his mother's castle down- with his mother in it! (not a spoiler, it's in the first couple of chapters!) From then on it's a ride, and you can't get off until the end.
Dunnett keeps you guessing right up to the end, as to whether things will work out or not, so even saying if it has a happy ending or not, and what kind of ending it is, is a spoiler.
I don't cry when I read, in general. But there is a moment in "Pawn in Frankincense" where I had to put the book down in order to sob. I honestly couldn't see the page for tears.
Lynne Connolly
11. Lynne Connolly
BTW Darlene, the scene I recall is in the last book, a couple of chapters before the end. To say what it involved would be to spoil. There's another place in the fifth book. But so few they're precious.
Kathryn MacAlister
12. Vol Fan
As Kahintenn said, thank you all for this post & introduction to another series that has gotten such incredible reviews. I seemed to have missed it somehow over the years and I love epic historical books!

Also a BIG thanks for the heads up on library ebooks! I had not tried this either (my library just not long ago gave this option to readers) and I downloaded this one. I love learning new options (I also just this week discovered Mobi downloads!) Great start to a hopefully better new year for me!

Thanks again to all!
Kathryn MacAlister
13. Barb in Maryland
Oh, how I love these books!
What I always admired about Dunnett's writing was that she expected the reader to keep up, to be intelligent--she never slowed down to explain things. If she wrote it into the book, it was important; the reader was expected to pay attention. There is no way to skim these books--this is a full immersion reading experience.
Now to track down my copies for a re-read.
Kathryn MacAlister
14. Kittywhacko
OH. MY. GOD. Thank you. This is THE best synopsis of this series, I have ever read. I read the Game of Kings soon after it was first published...I think I was in 6th grade (a very long time ago and I was very precocious). I then read each subsequent book in the series as they were published...which took nearly 14 years, so all were regularly reread before the newest came out. And when I would recommend them, I too would advise to read at least 100 pages before giving up!

I used to wish Masterpiece Theatre would take them on (long before cable, HBO, etc.). I have multiple copies of each book because they would periodically go out of print, and paperbacks only last so long! I strongly recommend these books...they are wonderful! I actually had the privilege of hearing Dame Dorothy read a passage from one of the books about 20 years ago...sheer heaven.

And by the way, she has lots of other books, though I didn't care for the other historicals as much...try the Dolly books for some lighthearted spy capering in the mod '60s and '70s!
Kathryn MacAlister
15. Kat36
Thank you for this! These are my favorite books of ALL TIME. I just want to reiterate to any new readers that the beginning of the series can at times be confusing/frustrating. (I actually thought that Queen's Play was the hardest to get through.) But don't give up! Personally, I didn't really get hooked until the 3rd book. And the real romance doesn't really occur until the 5th and 6th books, but believe me, it is SO WORTH the wait. Simply unforgettable.
Kathryn MacAlister
16. LynnE216
Excellent review of a series I have re-read at least ten times, and enjoy just as much each time. I know lots of reviews say that the book contains characters you will never forget, but in this case, it's actually true.
Darlene Marshall
17. DarleneMarshall
Thanks for the corrections, all. That one scene is so pivotal that it completely blocked the other POV scenes from my consciousness. @LynneConnolly, I always warn people not to read Pawn in public. I was on a treadmill and had to get off for fear I'd have an accident. A friend said she was on the subway and started bawling so hard people were concerned for her.
Kathryn MacAlister
18. lismalo
Oh, yes, agree with all the posts here -- the late great Peter O'Toole in his Lawrence phase is the only actor I think could come close to Lymond, and in any case I say leave em alone -- my imagination is much better than any filmage could be. My hands-down favorite books.
Regina Thorne
19. reginathorn
@Kathryn MacAlister - Oh, yes, I think these books are rare in being equally as rewarding the fifth, sixth, tenth time you read them as they are the first time. (In fact, I recently started a re-read after about ten years, and I'm noticing how wonderfully funny they are in a dry way.) The only problem is that after I finish them, I don't want to read anything else for a while!

As for Peter O'Toole - I know he was Dorothy Dunnett's choice in his younger days, but honestly, I am not sure he would have played the more subtle restrained qualities of Lymond. (He sure did look good drunk, though :D) And I have the opposite reaction which is that I want more people to find and love these books, and given what happened with Game of Thrones, I think a really good adaptation is the one way to ensure they stay in print forever!

@Lynne Connolly - As I said above, I think more people should read these books so they stay in print forever (Lymond is the progenitor of a whole line of romance and other heroes!) and love them, and for me, the way to see that happen is to have a really great adaptation. I was a fan of George R. R. Martin's for years, and while he was certainly a popular author, his fanbase just exploded after HBO adapted the series (which by and large is beautifully done!) So I think with the right cast/crew, it could be a boon for Lymond lovers.

@Kahintenn - Oh, I do hope you enjoy them!! Let us know what you think (and if you read much romance, I think you will see some similarities between Lymond and a lot of romance heroes!!)
Regina Thorne
20. reginathorn
@LenoreJ - They are spectacular books, aren't they? I've actually been putting off re-reading them (for a long time!) because I'm afraid I will have no appetite to read other things for six months after I finish, and will want to languish-locked-in-L(ymond) forever :D

Maybe it's just my knowledge of the later versions of the late Peter O'Toole, but I always thought he lacked the subtlety and nerviness I associate with Francis Crawford, not to mention that I wasn't sure how he'd do with all the quoting in different languages!! (I jumped on the Hiddleston bandwagon after I saw him as Prince Hal, who is very much like Lymond in The Game of Kings. Plus, Hiddleston comes across as genuinely very intelligent and able to speak Shakespeare very naturally, so I think he'd deal fine with all the quoting. Err, this is all, of course, a pipe dream anyway!)

@Kaye55 - I'm noticing on my current reread just how beautifully Dunnett uses language. I've forgotten large chunks of the plot from my last re-read (12 years ago!) so I'm reading all the way through once for plot, and then re-re-reading slowly for the language, some of which is hilarious. I will never forget her description of the loquacious Jonathan Crouch "worrying" away the weeks of his imprisonment by talking!

I will look for the Jo Beverly review!

@darlenemarshall - I absolutely agree that some of why people find these books "too verbose" or whathaveyou is because we're so used to "knowing" characters from the inside out (first-person narratives are really common now too, yes?) and so Lymond is much more of a tough nut to crack. But I love that we get all these shifting perspectives on him and have to figure out what's going on (at the beginning of The Game of Kings, I did NOT like Lymond at all, and now, re-reading, I'm absolutely ridiculously partisan in his favor because I just adore him!) Lymond shuts people out, keeps them at arms' length with his wit and his will - so not knowing him completely is also a huge part of his characterization and I'm always in awe of Dunnett's skill with this.
Regina Thorne
21. reginathorn
@Caz963 - Thank you so much! (It was quite hard to write something that would make the books sound enticing without giving away too many spoilers!!)

As for an adaptation, I think in the right hands, it could be brilliant. George R. R. Martin's books are, though not as linguistically complex as Dunnett's, equally dense in terms of plot and characterization and HBO have done a great job adapting them so I know it can be done (and I would love for Dunnett's books to be more widely known!)

@MFrampton - ooooh, I'm so glad you're starting. There are some really funny parts in the first 150 pages, but Lymond is at his most annoying and opaque in there too - from there things just get better and better and some of the scenes from the end of the book are incredibly haunting and moving.

Also, I think you will see how Lymond influenced a great many other authors and their heroes :D

@Jx55 - "in terms of his emotions, I think you're right and they are only seen through others' eyes. These are such rewarding books."

I think this was actually kind of a genius move on Dunnett's part, putting the readers on the same level as the other characters who are trying to suss out Lymond's motivations and figure out what he's really doing, so the books are both mysteries and romances.
Regina Thorne
22. reginathorn
@Lynne Connolly - "You learn about him through others, and I think that's a lot of the magic of the books. You rarely get to be inside his head, and seeing him that way is like seeing all the different facets of a hand-cut jewel--they're all slightly different."

This is such a wonderful way of describing the narrative technique! And I agree that it adds to the magic of the books, putting the reader in the same place as the other characters. I really disliked Lymond at the beginning of The Game of Kings and was very much on the side of Lord Culter, but once I'd finished the book and figured out what he was really doing, I was hopelessly in love with Lymond and now I'm so partisan on his behalf!! (Which is also what happens to different characters in the series, right?)

@Vol Fan - I hope you enjoy the books!! The first one is a little hard to get into, but well worth it, and I find that once you've finished it, the beginning starts to make much more sense. (And you may quite possibly be hopelessly in love with Lymond :D) He's a character who, I think, has had a lot of influence on other writers - I keep coming across heroes with so many of his traits and realizing that the author is also a Dunnett fan!!

@Barb in Maryland - "full immersion reading experience" - yes indeed!! I have Elspeth Morrison's "Companion" volumes, but honestly, I rarely look things up in them because I think the purpose of the quotes is to put the reader on the same footing as the other characters in the novels. Lymond is hiding behind all the verbal brilliance, and it takes perserverance and patience to figure him out (but oh, how much it's worth it!!) I was very much Will Scott at the beginning of my first pass through the books - fascinated, but generally quite disliking Lymond :D (And by the end, totally loving him.)
Regina Thorne
23. reginathorn
@Kittywhacko - Thank you so much! It was hard to figure out how to talk about these books without massive spoilers.

Wow, I can't imagine reading these books in sixth grade - I read them for the first time in graduate school and even then, I found The Game of Kings hard to get into! You must have been very precocious indeed! (I'm also really glad that I never had to wait between books - because there are some huge cliffhangers in some of the later books.)

I actually read the extant novels of the House of Niccolo series before I read Lymond, and while I really like them (and love King Hereafter, her novel about Macbeth) Lymond is the hero who just stole my heart and never gave it back!! I've never tried the mysteries - they were out of print during my "read everything Dorothy Dunnett wrote" phase.

And I too was lucky enough to hear her read (from Gemini, the last Niccolo book, right after it came out) - after that, I have always imagined Sibylla Crawford as Dorothy Dunnett!

@Kat36 - I think I liked Queen's Play so much because I was so interested in the period/place (I'd become interested in the last Valois kings after watching Isabelle Adjani in "Queen Margot") but I honestly recollect very little of it now. (I'm re-reading after about a dozen years and I was astonished at how much of the plot of The Game of Kings I'd forgotten: I remembered most of the main plot points, but very little of the details, which was delightful because it was almost like reading for the first time.)

@LynnE216 - Yes, Lymond (and his fellows) are absolutely unforgettable to me as well. (And evidently to many, many authors who have Lymond-like characters of their own!)

@lismalo - I know Dorothy Dunnett had mentioned Peter O'Toole as her physical model for Lymond, but ... I don't know, perhaps it's the vicissitudes of his later career, I just don't see him as very Lymond-y. He was always so showy to me, and while Lymond is sometimes a drama queen, he's also sometimes incredibly subtle and reserved (not qualities I associate with O'Toole!) So looks-wise, sure, but acting ... I'm not sold (though obviously, it's a moot point!)

As to whether it would be a good thing to have a TV adaptation - well, of course it's mostly a pipe-dream (I have no idea whether the rights are even available!) but I do think really good TV adaptations can give a new lease of life to great books that may be forgotten because there are so many other, newer books that pile on top of them. (For example, I think a lot of people read Ford Madox Ford's great novel Parade's End because Benedict Cumberbatch played Tietjens in HBO's adaptation, and while George R. R. Martin was certainly successful before the HBO adaptation of his Song of Ice and Fire novels, his readership has grown exponentially since Game of Thrones began to air.) So in the long run, I think an adaptation might bring a new audience - well-deserved - to these fantastic books, and that would make me happy!
Lynn Latimer
24. LynnL
I am so glad to see so many Lymond fans. Over at the Outlander Book Club we are doing a Game of Kings group read. Our site owner quoted your excellent summary of Lymond. Anyone is welcome to join us.
Kim Haynes
25. kahintenn
Regina, you asked in your reply to my comment to come back and write again when I had finished. I finished Checkmate, the final book in the series, about five hours ago. And have been weeping, intermittently, ever since. :)

I am still too moved, on such an emotional high (for the fantastic story, unforgettable characters, and magnificent writing) AND low (because it's all done) to be able to write much that is coherent. I will just say: this is a series that I will read again and again for the rest of my life. And if you were here, I would throw my arms around you and kiss you for making it known to me. I can hardly believe that this masterpiece existed, and I didn't know it. Bless you!
Regina Thorne
26. reginathorn
@kahintenn - You have no idea how incredibly gratifying your comment was for me. Thanks so much for letting me know about your progress - it looks like you read straight through 3000 pages in about 3 weeks? I'm so excited and delighted that you loved these books as much as I do (and absolutely, yes to the "read and re-read" - this is one of the most rewarding pieces of literature to read over and over again, though I have to say that knowing what happens this time around fills me with absolute dread at certain scenes. I think you can probably guess which ones!!)

And thanks for the virtual hugs!! I wish you were close by too, so we could revel in our Lymond feelings and talk spoilery talk that I don't want to include in the comments here!!
Darlene Marshall
27. DarleneMarshall
@kahintenn--Don't you feel now like you belong to a special group, the people who've lived the ups and downs of the Lymond Chronicles, laughed ("Lost in 'L'!") and cried over all-too-real make-believe people?

I was at a party once where I met a world famous surgeon, a rather reserved British gentleman. I figured we had nothing in common...until he quoted Lymond. Then he and I were huddled in a corner over drinks, reliving our favorite moments from the novels.

Welcome to the club.
Kathryn MacAlister
28. RudeJasper
Thanks so much for a fantastic review of this series. I have tried many times to review and adequately recommend this series and it always defeats me. How to adequately express the rewards that await you if you have the perseverence to get through much of the first book which for me was utterly befuddling (until the end brings it all together as you say). The scene you quote above is for me the single most memorable romantic moment I've ever encountered in books - it made such an impression on me. Glad to know I'm not alone:-)
Kathryn MacAlister
29. Joanna ght
Love the thought of Tom Hiddlestone as Lymond, and can quite see the similarities to GOT, I feel that the Lymond chronicles would indeed make a great TVseries. I "met" Lymond first when I was a teenager, and have revisited him many times since, especially as I learn more Scottish history. I remember a great delight on seeing the Voivedia Bolshoia's armour in a German castle museum in the 1990's.
Kathryn MacAlister
30. alliedrogers
Here's where I am. I recently finished the Outlander series and was looking for another historical fiction/romance series. This is where I stumbled upon the Lymond novels--a series I had never heard of. I intend to start reading _The Game of Kings_ tonight, and I'm pretty excited.

This is either a gem of a series, or there is some mass conspiracy amongst you all because I've not yet heard a criticism. (I'm not counting the critics who claim it's too difficult. C'mon, isn't that part of the fun?) Either way, I will post my reactions as soon as I have them to post.

And in the case this is a conspiracy, well done. I am beyond intrigued.
Kathryn MacAlister
31. Elsa Nystrom
The Lymond series is without doubt the best body of historical fiction I have ever read. As a professional historian, I marveled at DD's command of the period. I later learned that she read 600 plus books bout the period before starting to write, and never looked back. Amazing, that she was also an opera singer, portrait painter and loved sailing. What a woman.
However, I didn't like her other books nearly as much Niccolo was no Lymond. EN
Kathryn MacAlister
32. PeggyB
I lost my heart to Lymond at the age of 16. I introduced him to my best friend at university, who, luckily, already had a boyfriend and ended up marrying him. She introduced Lymond to her eldest daughter who, like the rest of us, fell head over heels with him.

No mere, mortal man can ever come close to Francis Crawford - and when you meet him at such a tender and impressionable age, you're completely stymied!
Kathryn MacAlister
33. Jackie Otoole
If anyone, Peter O' Toole...he also had an irreverent attitude with cornflower blue eyes and sardonic smile...RIP. I just finished reading the series and am lost without Lymond now...will have to start at the beginning again. I live in Tasmania and I'm imagining its Scotland...Loving Lymond too....x
Kathryn MacAlister
34. MH
I bought the first book as a paperback in the Seventies and was immediately enthralled. Every time a new book came out I was first in the bookshop. My copies are all tattered from being read so often. I truly thought I was the only one who had read and loved these stories - none of my friends had ever heard of them - and to find so many people who feel just as I do is wonderful. I believe DD to be the best historical novelist ever and these books the most complex, difficult and rewarding books anyone could read. Please don't anyone ever try to film these books - that would utterly destroy the beauty and power of the writing, besides which no actor could do Lymond justice. Peter O'Toole - that drunken wreck? Tom Higginsomething - that callow boy? Leave them all in our imaginations where they work best. Someone here mentioned that there had been no bad reviews - well, I think if you have read this series you could not fail to love them.
Kathryn MacAlister
35. ginapietranera
He Regina Thorne. I don´t know you but as you are Loving Lymond I collect we have all that is needed in common.
So do I (the loving, I mean) . And I think this one is a lasting attachment.
I reckon I am little flighty and I prefer them very dark haired.
But all that have not the small significance anymore.

This is how the things stand.
I have just discovered these books.
I can´t understand what I have done with my life until now:
I almost feel I have wasted 25 years (not counting and allowing for the first five of wandering lost about the earth, when I didn´t know how to read or paint )

Really. Since I met Lymond, when I am not overbusy pulling my hair out with all the might of my upper limbs for my failure as a reader, I am feeling savagely used: I paced up and down the rooms wondering in amazement , labouring under the conviction that this only can have been a plot to ruin me : How can they have done this to me? The parents, the friends, the professors, the libraries, the shops, the magazines, the newspapers, all that people I knew by chance in school, or when I was studying history at the University.
How nobody hinted to me that they even exist!
Words simply fail me.
Words simply doesn´t exist that can expres this kind of wrath: of not have been told. This kind of guilt; of not have discovered (of course the first emotion is most comfortable as I am kept up until the morning reading in bed this ocean of historic poetry, philosophy, erudition , idealism, irony, humour.

Oh well, I am desperately running on, but what can I do? I am now caught in the inebration of those who get drunk with words and can not stop themselves in the infinite pleasure of playing with them or get trapped by them. Like this two: Dunnett and Lymond . Is this simply showing off like many have said? I think I safely can assure is not. It´s even simpler than that, I think . It´s an addiction. An addiction to the game of words, that those who since infancy have been compulsively filling pages with quotes can fully understand. You don´t write them because you want someday to show off. You write them because you love them: how they sound, what they mean, what they are not saying, how they hint things, how they are transformed by your own mind, and grow, and lost themselves in things the author have not even dream. The same when you are not quoting, when your own thoughts are rambling on. You can´t stop yourself; is too much pain, too much pleasure. You are not showing off. You are not even thinking in the ones that listen or read. You are caught in their strength or their beauty. You create phrases and repeat those of others because you are in the grasp of their beauty. Althought they are sometimes saying nasty things. Beauty is also there. Maybe more.

I will agree with you and everybody else if you or everybody else say or think that more than half of my words were not needed here nor elsewhere but I state that all and each of the ones that such honourable people as I have mentioned afore (the lady with the pen and the yellow haired gentleman) have uttered and written are incontestably indispensable. At least; they are so for me.

Many people have hinted or asserted that they did much harm to the narrative, all these precious wanderings of words performed by Lymond and Dunnett. But I think exactly the opposite. For me the narrative will starve without them.
When not the meaning of what was been told it will fail the rhythm and the music, the characterization, oh; what the cutting and the clipping would have done to this kind of poetry? I have feed on all these discursive ramblings , when as anyone that bothers to read these lines (God only would know why)will at first sight understand that english is absolutely not my native tongue: but I could not have loved Dunnett nor fall in love with Lymond without them. ( I realise with mild surprise that I don´t remember having been seriously in love before with a character of a book ; and I don´t want to be misunderstood; it is not because of the heroic figure of Lymond, it is simply because his wonderful stream of words. (Of course, the fact of his beauty and romantic meanderings didn´t precisely ruin my endearment to the character, but that is only the surplus; Stephen Maturin, the greenish-yellow little cirurgean of Patrick O´Brian, is the other character of a book I recall at this time thinking of with REAL affection.)

Oh, well. Maybe I am caught now under the Master of Culter spell and can´t think not remember clearly my past literary affairs. But I am sure of this; I can´t pardon myself for not having sufficiently endeavoured all these years to be acquaincted with him. And with her.

Yes. I will agree. Who cares about what I think and I love and I regret?
But that is not what we are considering here. The question is: what you could think, and love and regret?

I will not miss these two. The lady with the pen. The yellow haired gentleman.
All the poetry they bring about, those two.

This sound exaggerated? Surely it is. Because that is exactly the effect: they aggrandize your feelings. They magnify them. They make you overstate your heart.
It is a very pleasent sensation.
If I were everybody else, I will try it.
Kathryn MacAlister
36. Dairy Maid
I am so glad to read that someone else thinks that Lord Peter is at least a little bit similar to Francis Crawford. I would add that there's perhaps a little bit of Margery Allingham's Albert Campion as well. (Although Lugg is no Bunter!)

I met these books as a teenager and fell oh so hard in love. They are impossibly romantic, in the best sense of the word. The characters are larger than life and yet so believable.
Kathryn MacAlister
38. Jg in Maryland
I first met Lymond as a teen myself. I think Francis ruined me for all other men, sadly. I re-read this series every ten years or so, and each time I pull out something new. To those of you who are on your first read (particularly the reader who mentioned pulling her hair out for her failure as a reader...) sometimes you have to let what is happening flow over you and read on through. As you continue through the series, and on subsequent readings (which you WILL do) the byzantine elements of the plot become clearer. It's part of what make re-reading so much fun.
To Lynne above- Does the other Lymond POV that you recall involve a burning mill wheel? I seem to recall one during that episode, but I don't have my book with me.
Kathryn MacAlister
41. Janis in Manitoba
When I was a very young woman, I was desperate for something to read and the only thing open near me (it was 1 a.m.) was a convenience store. My choices were westerns, books with recently-stabbed women on the cover and what apparently was a historical romance as it had a man and a woman on the cover in period costume. I examined it more closely to see if it satisfied my criteria at the time for a good read. There were a lot of pages (check), the print was gratifyingly small (check) and when I read a few paragraphs I thought that's really not bad for a historical romance. I bought the book, fell in love and loudly proclaimed it was the best book ever. It wasn't till I finished reading it that I realized it was the fifth in a series (the book was The Ringed Castle).

The writing is outstanding and Lymond is the best and most complex protaganist of all time. I have tried numerous times to think of who could play him because I agree with those who think this should be brought to the screen, preferably HBO. A young Leonardo DiCaprio would have had the dramatic ability and the looks (kittenish quality mentioned a number of times in the books), but he's aged out of the running imo.

It's difficult, you need a really outstanding actor who has a specific type of look to carry it off. After numerous searches through young actors working today, I honestly don't know any that have both those qualities. I'd love to see HBO try though. It's possible there's some young acting student at RADA right now who would be quite perfect, or someone who's done a couple of small parts that haven't yet brought them to the public's attention. After all, who knew Kit Harington before Game of Thrones?

I love that you're writing about this, I love your description of Lymond, and living in hope that someone does this and does it right.
Lynne Connolly
42. Lynne Connolly
Ben Whishaw could do it. He has the right build. His hair and eyes are the wrong colour, but eh. And having seen him in the magnificent "Richard II" I can say he has the acting chops.
Kathryn MacAlister
43. Janis in Manitoba
Callum Woodhouse, recent graduate from drama school, going to be appearing in the Durrells tv series playing Leslie Durrell, has the right look, we'll see if he can act.
Kathryn MacAlister
44. Darla R.
Today I finished reading Checkmate for the first time. I've spread the series out over the past 17 months, and I cannot begin to describe how deeply I've enjoyed this incredible journey. I've laughed, cried a lot of tears, and experienced genuine anxiety over the fate of the characters, but the ending made it all worthwhile. I am probably ruined for all other fiction now, but I think I'm okay with that. Lymond has my heart, and I am so very thankful to Dunnett for creating him, as well as so many other characters I ended up falling in love with. The entire world should read these books!!!
Kathryn MacAlister
45. Welsh quilter
Very pleased to find this site, an absolutely excellent summary of why this series is so good. Johnny Depp could play Lymond (but a bit too old now). If you saw him as the Earl of Rochester in The Libertine, you get the same mixture of intelligence, charm and ruthlessness.
I was thrilled to find a portrait in a museum in Bruges of a young woman, aged 19, who could be Philippa There is a google image. It's Adriana de Buck, painted in 1551 by Pieter Pourbus
Kathryn MacAlister
46. Stefanie Magura
According to the Dorothy Dunnett society, it looks like there might be a television show of the Lymond Chronicles.
Kathryn MacAlister
47. Eric Schultz
On my 3rd re-read and still loving Lymond. I have also read the Niccolo series twice and King Hereafter. Queens Play in the most imaginative book ever written IMHO. The rooftop race back to the palace is the best scene Dorothy ever wrote (although I just re-read the blind scene in London in The Ringed Castle and it is amazing). As others have said, the books stay with you forever.

Given the way in which Lord of the Rings was handled I would love to see the chronicles as a TV series. The major reason being introducing this genius to the world at large. I also suspect the costumes, settings and characters will greatly enhance my understanding of Lymond's life.

Thanks for the review and all the comments.
Post a comment