“There are two things that men should never weary of, goodness and humility; we get none to much of them in this rough world among cold, proud people.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped
Kidnapped, along with Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, is Robert Louis Stevenson’s magnum opus. Like Treasure Island, this oeuvre was originally a children’s adventure novel, but, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, requires a more mature reader to fully understand the significance of the story. Having read and relished Treasure Island at age nine, I decided to explore more of Stevenson’s novels. Kidnapped was the first on my list. Personally, along with Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and The Three Musketeers, Kidnapped ranks as one of my favorite adventure novels of all time.
The story centers around seventeen-year-old David Balfour in Scotland during the year 1751. His uncle cheats him off his inheritance and kidnaps and imprisons him in a ship bound for the Thirteen Colonies. After an eventful voyage, David gets shipwrecked on the Scottish coast and becomes engaged in a getaway across the Scottish highlands with his vivacious companion, the outlaw Alan Breck Stewart, as the result of a murder mystery.
The first half of Kidnapped is very suspenseful with David’s deception by his uncle, his eventful voyage, and eventual shipwreck. The second part is essentially a day-to-day account of David’s and Alan’s getaway across the highlands. The latter part seems to be slightly slow, though; since Stevenson goes into detail about the duo’s flight from capture. Moreover, there are some politics involved, viz. Jacobites (supporters of King James II) and Whigs (supporters of King George II). The Jacobite Uprising had occured just five years before the setting of the story, and there was still conflict between Jacobites and Whigs. Incidentally, Alan, a Jacobite, and David, a Whig, happen to share conflicted political beliefs which makes their friendship rather ironic. From this, one can conclude that a cardinal theme in Kidnapped is friendship. Although Whigs and Jacobites never got along, Alan and David do. Their friendship is very important to the story, for it is their mutual attachment that guides the plot events.
Stevenson wrote Kidnapped with a thick Scottish dialect, so it may be difficult to understand in places. Some of the Scottish words are defined in footnotes which is helpful. Otherwise, if you are unsure of the meaning of a word, read it aloud; make an educated guess of the context which the word is being presented in. And should you still be unsure of the meaning, move on. So long as you understand the general idea of what’s happening, all will be well. It is similar to reading Shakespeare: should one not be able to understand his words, move on, so long as the general idea of what’s happening is comprehended.
I would recommend this book to people who like adventure, historical fiction, and just general readers overall. I read the Vintage Classics edition which, unfortunately, is only available on Penguin Random House’s U.K. website and is sold in British pounds. So, I have provided a link to the Penguin Classics edition which is available on the U.S. website and is sold in U.S. dollars. The Penguin Classics edition contains an introduction and notes by Donald McFarlan which should clarify the significance of the story, like most Penguin Classics editions should. All in all, Kidnapped is an amazing book.