Is Elspeth Cunningham friend or foe in Outlander?

Elspeth Cunningham will arrive in Outlander Season 8, and I can't wait. She's one of the more intriguing, human characters in the series.
Outlander Season 7 -- Courtesy of Robert Wilson/STARZ
Outlander Season 7 -- Courtesy of Robert Wilson/STARZ /

When it comes to characters in Outlander, making them three-dimensional is important. Even the books can have a problem with that at time, but that’s not the case when it comes to Elspeth Cunningham.

Elspeth initially looks to be a stereotypical older woman of her time. We’ve seen plenty of them throughout the books and the show. The good news is Elspeth has much more depth, and I come to love her as a character that shows off her humanity.

The question is whether she is friend or foe in the world of Outlander. Is she a threat to the Frasers?

Elspeth initially seems like the Wicked Witch of the West

Claire describes Elspeth as the Wicked Witch of the West at first. That’s because the first impressions aren’t great. This is a woman who is staunchly Protestant, and she doesn’t like Claire because she is a Catholic. At the same time, Claire is viewed as a witch by many people on the Ridge.

So we, as readers, view Elspeth in this way. It’s a flaw in the first-person POV for me. We only get to know people through the way our main characters describe them. Claire views her as the Wicked Witch of the West, and so do we.

Things change with the death of Amy Higgins. Claire and Elspeth have some time to spend together, and they realize that they’re not all that different. They just happen to be on the opposite sides of the same war. That means they can never be friends, but they can be civil and respect each other.

Elspeth is in the middle in Outlander

I wouldn’t say Elspeth is a true foe in the world of Outlander. She’s not a friend, either. Not fully. This is a woman who understands the world of conflict and what it can mean for those around her.

She doesn’t try to discourage Claire and the others from their fight as Rebels. Nor does she try to force her religious views on them. She doesn’t even go against Claire as a healer. In fact, she knows that Claire is good at what she can do and seeks medical help from the woman—making it clear that they could be friends if they were on the same side.

In the end, Elspeth and Claire know that Charles and Jamie will be against each other in a fight at some point. When that does happen, Elspeth turns to Claire for some comfort. They don’t hate each other because of the different sides that they are on, and it becomes a beautiful bit of the story for me. When it comes to Claire helping Charles after his injury, Elspeth doesn’t go on the attack when Claire can’t fully “fix” him. Claire has saved Charles’s life, and for that, Elspeth is grateful.

I hope the series is able to show the nuance in Elspeth’s character when she’s brought into the story. We need to see the humanity in her to know that just because someone is on the other side of a war doesn’t make them a full antagonist in the story.

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