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.