Sunday, July 21, 2019

Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson


Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson was originally considered a "boy's book” when first published in 1886. Since then, the novel has garnered enormous popularity throughout the world. Though many people seem to have read this in school, this was the first time for me. I found that this work deserves all the accolades that it has received. This was a very entertaining and fun book that also displayed substance. 

The work is a historical novel that takes place in 1751. Several characters are real historical persons, and some of the plot is based upon real events. The book’s protagonist is 17-year-oldDavid Balfour, who tells the tale in first person. Balfour is a resident of the Scottish Lowlands. When Balfour’s father dies, he sets off to find his place in the world. The young man visits his uncle, Ebenezer Balfour. Ebenezer turns out to be a wretched schemer who, in order to avoid passing on the family fortune and lands, plots to have David kidnapped and sold into slavery. When the ship that is carrying Balfour to servitude picks up the real-life historic person and Scottish rebel Alan Breck Stewart, the pair form an alliance and fight the crew for control of the ship. Eventually, the vessel is wrecked, and Balfour begins a set of adventures in the Scottish Highlands. 

At this point, though Balfour has nothing to do with it, Alan and himself are implicated in the assassination of a corrupt and repressive royal official called the Red Fox. This killing is based upon the real-life historical event known asthe Appin murder.The remainder of the book involves Balfour and Alan fleeing through the Scottish Highlands while being pursued by British Troops. 

This short novel works on many levels. I found it to be a wonderfully written adventure story. Almost every page was fun and enjoyable. There are also some interesting things going on with characters and themes. Alan is a flawed but absolutely wonderful character. He is roguish, vain, and sentimental. He can be dishonest, loves to brag, and has a sense of honor that is both noble and a little silly. He has a personal code of morals that often comes into conflict with David’s conventional Christian beliefs. He is incredibly brave and resilient. He is an expert swordsman but can also mix it up in musical bagpipe duels. He and Balfour often find themselves in conflict, but eventually form a bond that is akin the love between a father and son. 

The issue of different moralities is interesting. At one point, Alan is talking about protecting the man who shot the Red Fox. He will sacrifice his own life to do so. When Balfour realizes this he observes,

Alan’s morals were all tail-first; but he was ready to give his life for them, such as they were. “Alan,” said I, “I’ll not say it’s the good Christianity as I understand it, but it’s good enough

Balfour is a Christian. Alan is something else. It seems that while Stevenson might not be completely on board with Alan's morals, he is not entirely condemning them either. 

This is the third Stevenson book that I have read. I have also read Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde as well as Treasure Island. I had previously written how the author has a certain knack for describing nature and integrating the descriptions into the plot. I found that this skill was apparent in this book. One stage of this tale involves Balfour and Allen traversing through the Scottish countryside during a very rainy period where both men are gloomy due to circumstances. 

This was a dreadful time, rendered the more dreadful by the gloom of the weather and the country. I was never warm; my teeth chattered in my head; I was troubled with a very sore throat, such as I had on the isle…I would be aroused in the gloaming, to sit up in the same puddle where I had slept, and sup cold drammach; the rain driving sharp in my face or running down my back in icy trickles; the mist enfolding us like as in a gloomy chamber— or, perhaps, if the wind blew, falling suddenly apart and showing us the gulf of some dark valley where the streams were crying aloud. The sound of an infinite number of rivers came up from all round. In this steady rain the springs of the mountain were broken up; every glen gushed water like a cistern; every stream was in high spate, and had filled and overflowed its channel. During our night tramps, it was solemn to hear the voice of them below in the valleys, now booming like thunder, now with an angry cry. I could well understand the story of the Water Kelpie, that demon of the streams, who is fabled to keep wailing and roaring at the ford until the coming of the doomed traveller. 

There is a lot to the above quote. One can feel the misery of sleeping outdoors in the rain and the cold. Stevenson personalizes nature in an effective way as the streams and thunder are described as crying. I think that the above also creates a very powerful atmosphere of a waterlogged and flooding landscape. The introduction of the myth of the Water Kelpie adds to an effective impression of a personalized and not so friendly natural world.


I loved this book. Though originally a kind of young adult story designed for boys, Stevenson has infused so many good things into this work. It can just be read for fun, but the reader can also go a little deeper and discover some rewards, I think that this one deserves the popularity that it has garnered as well as its reputation as a classic. 

43 comments:

mudpuddle said...

great post... i liked it also... hadn't thought about it for years, though...

Marian H said...

Brian, fantastic review and I'm so glad you enjoyed this! I love David and Alan and how their friendship overcomes their differences. It's one of the few novels I've read several times and will keep rereading.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Muddpuddle - I have come to this one late in the game.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Marian - This is that lends itself to returning to throughout one’s life.

Carol said...

This is my favourite book by Stevenson. Did you know there's a sequel to it? It's published as 'David Balfour' in the USA but as 'Catriona' elsewhere. It does contain A LOT of Scottish slang, though, which if you're not familiar with, makes for slow reading.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Nice to see you take a break from the philosophy books and read something for fun! �� It’s not for nothing that so many of his books were dramatised(this one by Disney). I’m currently reading Treasure Island.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Carol - I had read a brief summary of the sequel. It did not sound that good. I also heard that it was not up to this book. Have you read it?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sue - Treasure Island is a great one. Of course, I found philosophy in this one.

Suko said...

Oh, this does sound like it would be fun to read! I read Treasure Island many years ago, when I was in middle school (which we called junior high back then). Terrific, enthusiastic review!

JacquiWine said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. It doesn't matter what age you are when you come to Kidnapped, it's still a great story.

By coincidence, I've just been dipping into 'Bitten by the Tarantula and Other Writing', a big collection of pieces by the British writer Julian Maclaren-Ross. One of the sections contains a series of essays on writers, book reviews and other literary topics, including a piece on R. L. Stevenson.

baili said...

i found this review exquisite and engaging dear Brain

story sounds worth reading as it has majority of adventures to enjoy and density of thoughts as well

i loved the Alan' character ,sounds witty and amusing
description of rainy day is CAPTIVATING glad you shared it

i would love to read it

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Treasure Island is also a great book and a very fun book. I also went to Junior High!!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui- I seem to have come to many classics that are enjoyed while young late. Either way it is true, books like this are worth it at any age. I have read a little commentary on Stevenson myself lately. He was an interesting writer who seems to have gone in and out of fashion with the critics.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili. If you ever read this, I would love to know what you thought about it.

Whispering Gums said...

You know, Brian, I've never really wanted to read this book, but you have changed my mind completely. I love the quotes you've given - love "tail-first" morals! I didn't realise it was an historical novel either, or based on some real characters.

I'm not sure I ever will read it - as I can just see the years disappearing before me - but if the opportunity every arises I won't back off!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi WG - I actually felt the same way and never thought about reading this. My reading tastes are mellowing out with old age :) I also never knew that it was a historical novel based on real events.

Judy Krueger said...

Wonderful review, Brian! You really bring the story alive. in fact, you made me want to read it.

James said...

Another great review! This was among my pre-teen reading along with Treasure Island. They instilled in me a love for Stevenson and reading in general. I would group these along with Robinson Crusoe among the formative novels of my youth.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Judy. It is a great book.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James’s - All the books that you mention are great ones. Though they can be read at any age, they are perfect for young people.

mudpuddle said...

i read Catriona last year... and it's not quite as good as Kidanpped, that's true, but it's still pretty good...

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hello Brian!

I have a couple of beautifully illustrated copies of this book by Howard Pyle and one by Wyeth. I read them aloud to my son when he was young. It was my first time to read them too.

You have captured the excitement and adventure in this novel and, since Stevenson is one of my favorite writers, you have inspired me to read this book again, this time to myself.

Of course, my husband might like it...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon- The book is a perfect one to read to children. I can see why Stevenson would be a favorite author.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, Great review and I do want to give Kidnapped a try. I see what you mean about Stevenson working nature into his stories with very good effect. As you say one can really feel the cold and the damp. Stevenson was born in Scotland and I think for many Scots that period around the 1750's lives on even today with the moniseries Outlander. Sounds like the fight for Scottish independence meant alot to Stevenson as well.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kathy - I really must give Outlander a try. People seem to love it. Stevenson was definitely sympathetic to the rebels.

Laurie @ RelevantObscurity said...

This sounds like a great book. I think I would like it better than Treasure Island, which I found boring and could not finish. You make this sound much more interesting, so I may give it a try!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Laurie - Though perhaps a little faster moving then Treasure Island, in some ways this was similar. So I must admit that you might not care for this.

Susan Kane said...

It has been decades since reading Stevenson's books. Time to pick up this one again. He captured that time so well. The Scottish dialect and slang took me time way back then. Now, maybe it will flow easier.

Thanks for bringing this book up! Have you ever watched "Shetland"?

I don't know why, but this brings to mind Huck Finn. I'll figure it out eventually.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - The book really exudes Scottish culture.

I have not seen Shetland. It looks off best and good.

Both this and Huckleberry Fin do involve young adults finding their way in the world so there are similarities.

Captivated Reader said...

Greetings, I came across your blog through Judy @ Keep The Wisdom's blog!

Nice review of Kiddnaped by Robert Lewis Stevenson. I haven't read any of Robert Lewis Stevenson's novels, however, I have Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on my list of books to read.

As an interesting side note, I visited Monterey, California in 2013 and was surprised to discover that Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Monterey, California for three and a half months during 1879. The hotel he stayed in is still standing and is part of the California Department of Parks and Recreation... The former hotel is now called the Stevenson House and is a beautiful place to visit should you ever visit Monterey, California.

I blogged about my experience visiting the Stevenson House and included photographs of the building's exterior and grounds should you have any interest in seeing what this historical place looks like. https://captivatedreader.blogspot.com/search?q=stevenson+house

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Captivated Reader. I did not know that Stevenson lived in California. That is so interesting. I will check our your post on The Stevenson House.


I thought that both, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island were great books. Dr. Jekyll bring more serious and Treasure Island being more fun like this one.

thecuecard said...

Yeah an adventure tale in the Scottish Highlands sounds fun to me. Somehow I have not read Stevenson but I once studied his life in the South Pacific ... his health was poor and he went there to escape. He seems to have had quite a life on the seas.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - He really wrote a lot about the sea both in this book and Treasure Island. This book also exudes Scottish culture.

So many books, so little time said...

I read one of his many moons ago when I was a kid, I may well look this one up Brian, thank you xxx

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - I think that he is a writer well worth reading.

Carol said...

Hi Brian, I’ve read Catriona & didn’t think it was as good as Kidnapped. I wrote about it here:
https://journey-and-destination.blogspot.com/2018/10/catriona-by-robert-louis-stevenson-1893_13.html
However, it’s one of my daughter’s favourite books which surprised me as it’s not an easy read with all its Scots dialect. I think if you read it while Kidnapped is still fresh in your Ming it would make it a lot easier.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the link to your post and the advice Carol. I might give it a try.

Paula Vince said...

I started to read this as a 12 year-old, and remember being put off by the absence of female characters. But after reading your review, it sounds like it might be time to give this classic adventure story another read. The bromance in it sounds very well done.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Paula - The absence of female characters is a thing here. I guess it is somehow characteristic of Stevenson.

JaneGS said...

Definitely one of my favorites, which I've read 2 maybe 3 times and would like to reread. Your quote is spot on, and Stevenson is a master at creating memorable scenes. I will always remember when David nearly steps into thin air at the House of Shaws.

I've been meaning for years to read up on RLS's time in California and maybe retrace some of his steps.

The Bookworm said...

I am glad you enjoyed this one so much. I like the last passage you shared especially. Fantastic post as always. I've had Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde on my TBR for a while.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida - so far, all the Stevenson books that I have read, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have been well worth reading. That is a great quote.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - His scenes are phenomenal. I read someone who compared him to modern writers who wrote with film adaptations in mind.

The tower climbing passage was phenomenal.

Stevenson’s California stay sounds interesting.