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"He is Immortal. Born four hundred years ago in the Highlands of Scotland, he is not alone. There are others like him -- some good, some evil. For centuries he has battled the forces of darkness, with holy ground his only refuge. He cannot die unless you take his head, and with it his power. In the end, there can be only one. He is Duncan MacLeod: The Highlander."

-- 2nd season opening narration from Highlander: The Series

Highlander is something unique in media SF/F. It started as a movie released in 1985, which was panned by critics and did poorly in theaters, but found a new life on video and television. A very bad sequel movie was made in 1989 and rapidly (and correctly) forgotten. A somewhat better third movie was made in 1994. In 1992, a syndicated series was started based on the same premise as the movie, but with a different lead character. I discovered the series when it was in its third season. The series ran a total of five and a half seasons, ending in 1998. A spinoff series, Highlander: The Raven, ran for one season in 1998-99, but didn't do very well and was canceled. A fourth movie, released in 2000, wasn't very good (at least in the American edit) and did badly as a result. Nothing significant has happened with the franchise since then, which is probably just as well.

The original movie and the series are based on a rather fantastic (in both senses of the word) premise. "Immortals" live as ordinary people unless and until they die a violent death. After that, they revive and could live forever, physically frozen as they were when they first died. An Immortal never gets sick, can't be killed by any of the normal methods, and can heal any sort of injury except one: decapitation. On the down side, Immortals can't have children, and they are forever doomed to watch the mortals they care about age and die. All the Immortals are involved in a mutual battle to the death, for the last Immortal living will get "the Prize." None of them knows exactly what the Prize is, but they all know it involves enormous power. The evil ones fight because they want the Prize; the good ones fight because they don't want the evil ones to win. The fights usually take the form of duels with swords or other edged weapons, because the only way to kill an Immortal is to take his or her head. It sounds weird, but handled properly it can be and has been the basis for some very good drama.

Highlander novels

While it has always been a visual thing, Highlander did spark several novels and novelizations. I've read all the Highlander novels, but only kept six:

    Author: Kilworth, Garry
    Publisher: Harper
    ISBN: 0-06-105840-8
    Novelization of the original movie HIGHLANDER, starring Connor Macleod, the Kurgan, and Juan-Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez. Flashbacks tell the story of how Connor learned what he was, while the present-day story tells of the final Gathering of the Immortals, and Connor's fight against the barbaric warrior called the Kurgan, to prevent the Kurgan from winning the Prize. The novelization is better than the movie in some ways, worse in others -- better because you get more depth to the characters, worse because you don't get some very impressive visuals, including the swordfights.
    Author: McConnell, Ashley
    Publisher: Warner Aspect
    ISBN: 0-446-60284-1
    Far and away the best of the HIGHLANDER tie-in novels published to date, this story presents two incidents from Duncan Macleod's past. The first is based directly on a flashback seen in the third-season episode "Finale part 1" (third season). In Algeria in the 1650s, the young Duncan Macleod is taken as a slave by Barbary Coast pirates, then bought and tutored by an Arab Immortal named Hamza el Kahir. Hamza teaches MacLeod many things, but their friendship comes to an end when the evil Immortal Xavier St. Cloud comes headhunting, and Hamza is his quarry. The second episode is set in 1916, during World War I. Duncan MacLeod takes a mission from the British to find a desert tribe called the Rushallah and bring them into the Great War on the British side, as part of the Arab Revolt. MacLeod is robbed and left to die by his guide, leaving him nothing with which to bargain except his services. In return for the Rushallah's alliance, MacLeod travels to the lost city of Petra, and returns with a special item the Rushallah can bring as token when they join the alliance. The two sub-stories are connected by a very special sword, an exquisitely crafted Arabic scimitar named the Daughter of Justice, made and owned by Hamza el Kahir. I think this is the best of all the Highlander novels. It captures the feel of the series far better than any of the others.
    Author: Neason, Rebecca
    Publisher: Warner Aspect
    ISBN: 0-446-60547-6
    Based on the series episode "Band of Brothers," this novel tells a complicated story with five different major characters: Duncan; his friend Darius, once a barbarian warlord, later a man of peace; Grayson, Darius's onetime follower and now deadly enemy; Darius's mortal protege Victor Paulus, and a fourth Immortal who is the primary villain of the piece. In the episode, Duncan saved Victor Paulus (the mortal) from Grayson, thus defeating Grayson's attempt to hurt his old leader Darius. Then he killed Grayson, in a battle that's generally considered one of the series' best. The fourth Immortal is a woman, a former lover of both Darius and Grayson, who is now out to avenge Grayson's death at Duncan's hands. Flashbacks tell the story of how she met Darius and Grayson, and of the pivotal event in Darius's life that turned him from evil to good, and also turned Grayson against him.
    Author: Sherman, Josepha
    Publisher: Warner Aspect
    ISBN: 0-446-60571-9
    HIGHLANDER novel #7. Stars Methos, in a story set mainly in ancient Egypt.
    Author: Neason, Rebecca
    Publisher: Warner Aspect
    ISBN: 0-446-60456-9
    While traveling in Asia in the 1790s, Duncan Macleod spends several weeks in Tibet, at the palace of the Dalai Lama. While he's there, the Dalai Lama educates him in the ways of the Tibetan path of peace. He also falls in love with a Tibetan girl, and thinks about settling down for good there. Unfortunately, Duncan and the Dalai Lama come into conflict when another Immortal from the north raises an army to conquer Tibet. Of the Highlander novels I've kept, I'd say this is the weakest -- but it's still much better than any of the ones I didn't keep.
    Author: Lettow, Donna
    Publisher: Warner Aspect
    ISBN: 0-446-60457-7
    This novel could have been an utter disaster, because it takes an explosive modern-day issue and turns it on its head. Avram Mordecai was a Jewish warrior who died for the first time at the siege of Masada, two thousand years ago. He was found in the ruins of the fortress by the Roman general Constantine, himself also an Immortal. Constantine trained Avram to fight the Immortal way and taught him the Immortal Game. Down through the ages Avram has been a fighter for his people, defending Jews from persecution wherever, whenever, and as well as he can. He and Duncan first met in the Warsaw ghetto in World War Two, trying to keep the Nazis from slaughtering the Jews of the ghetto. Today he's a radical pro-Israel terrorist who murders Palestinian Arabs for the same reasons that Palestinian terrorists kill Jews. Duncan meets him again when he tries to sabotage a peace conference between Israel and Palestinians. This story in the hands of a bad author could have been unreadable, but Lettow manages to save it by making Avram a credible character, driven by believable motives and emotions, while never leaving any doubt that Avram can't be permitted to continue as he is. He has to either change or die. When he won't change, it becomes Duncan's very unpleasant task to kill him.

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Other Highlander-based books

In addition to the novels, Highlander produced a book of short stories and a couple of non-fiction books about the series and some of its best episodes.

    Author: Russell, Maureen
    Publisher: Davis-Panzer

    This very rare book contains detailed looks at ten of Highlander's best episodes:

    • Band of Brothers -- First season. Duncan vs. the ancient, very powerful, very skilled Immortal named Grayson. Every fan I know ranks this one at or near the top of their favorites list.
    • Legacy -- Second season. The origin of Amanda, and a second very memorable lady Immortal, Rebecca.
    • The Samurai -- Third season. Duncan visits Old Japan, trains under a samurai master, receives his katana, and learns the code of honor that he'll keep for the rest of his life. My personal favorite, for the swordfights, the training scenes, and some superb dialog.
    • Methos -- Third season, the last episode in a three-part arc. First appearance of Peter Wingfield, who became perhaps the most popular character on the show after MacLeod himself.
    • Homeland -- Fourth season. Duncan returns home to the Scottish Highlands. The series' first look at his upbringing, plus two superb fight sequences.
    • Something Wicked/Deliverance -- Fourth-season two-parter. Duncan falls under the power of a Dark Quickening: the power of concentrated evil distilled from many evil Immortals. After Duncan kills an old Immortal friend and almost kills Richie, it falls to Methos to save him.
    • Methuselah's Gift -- Fourth season. Methos seeks the legendary "Methuselah Crystal" to save his love, Alexa.
    • The End of Innocence -- Fifth season. Richie learns a few hard lessons about Immortality.
    • Comes a Horseman/Revelations 6:8 -- Fifth season two-parter. Some of Methos's history is revealed: five thousand years ago, he was one of a band of four Immortals who ravaged the lands, robbing, raping, and killing as they pleased.
    • Duende -- Fifth season. Duncan tangles with an aristocratic Immortal named Consone, from whom he learned sword-and-dagger dueling centuries before.

    Author: Various
    Publisher: Berkley Boulevard
    ISBN: 0-425-17749-1
    A year or two after the series ended its run, Gillian Horvath persuaded a number of the cast and crew members to write their own fictional stories set in the HIGHLANDER universe. This book was the result: an anthology of stories from many cast and crew members, including regulars Jim Byrnes and Stan Kirsch; guest stars Peter Wingfield (Methos), Peter Hudson (James Horton), and Anthony DeLongis (Kurlow, Consone); and crew members Gillian Horvath, Donna Lettow, Ken Gord, and F. Braun McAsh. Some of the stories are good, some not so good. Swordmaster F. Braun McAsh's entry is unique: he ties the legend of Vladimir "Vlad the Impaler" Dracula, warlord and alleged vampire, to the Immortals, and adds a very funny twist at the very end.
    Author: Russell, Maureen
    Publisher: Warner
    ISBN: 0-446-67435-4
    Like the title says, this is a complete behind-the-scenes guide to Highlander: The Series. It includes an episode guide, profiles of all the major cast members, excellent and entertaining descriptions of how production works on a show like Highlander, and more.

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I'll always have a special place in my memory for Highlander; among other things, it was the catalyst for my first (and so far only) trip overseas. In 1997 I learned that a Highlander-oriented convention was going to be held in Glasgow, Scotland in September 1998, and lost no time planning to attend. Homeland '98 proved a smashing success, one of the grandest vacations I've ever taken.