Friday, July 27, 2012

Of Kidnappings and Murders and Outlaws in the Highlands

Statue of Alan and Davie in Edinburgh
I thought I would conclude this week with a second adventure novel, by another classic author: Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped.

Believe it or not, Robert Louis Stevenson isn't as widely read as I first imagined him to be. One time, trying to make a visiting girl feel at home in our church, I asked her if she liked to read. (What a question, Lady B!) Upon answering in the affirmative, I asked what she liked to read. She didn't know. So, I thought, I'll pick something familiar. They were homeschooled, and therefore (I assumed) must read lots of classic literature. I picked a book so obvious, that I expected to see a flash of recognition and a "Oh, yes, I've read that one!"

Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Blank stare.

I really was floored after that, and the conversation dwindled away. (Sorry, folks, I know now that wasn't the most well-known one to pick.) But since then I've met many people who consider Stevenson's Treasure Island the epitome of adventure. I also realized, over the years, that even these fans rarely go on to discover his other classics.

So welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to Kidnapped. It's the sort of book that's well worth discovering more of, if you've never heard of it, and fun enough to remember again, if you've read it a dozen times.

The Story
Davie Balfour's father is dead, and he sets off to seek his fortune at the hands of his only remaining relative: Ebenezer Balfour, of Shaws. When the seventeen-year-old arrives at his kin's home in Edinburgh, he finds a secretive, slimy old hermit who promptly tries to make an end of him. (oh, the glorious staircase scene!) Eventually he does, or nearly, by paying for David to be kidnapped and taken to the Carolinas to be sold as a slave.
Enter Alan Breck. When the ship Covenant capsizes a little boat, the only man that survives is a fugitive Jacobite, outlawed from Scotland. Captain Hoseason has already proved his willingness to deal under the table, and for a dip into the man's belt of gold he'll set him down somewhere and never alert the authorities. Alan Breck, as he calls himself, is willing to give him "thirty guineas on the seaside, or sixty, if ye set me on the Linnhe Loch." The rest he will not touch, as it's the rent the poor clans scrape up to pay their outlawed chief, Ardshiel, and he is the courier that carries it each time.

So, if you can't get a man's gold by fair means--you get it by foul.

Map of the Covenant's travels

Davie overhears a plot and warns  Alan Breck just in time to save his life. After the ship wrecks, and they are separated, Breck leaves word for Davie to rejoin him at the house of James of the Glens, at Aucharn, in Duror, of Appin. It's the heart of outlawed Scotland, but Alan is a kind fellow at heart, and determined to help Davie out some way. Then a tragic murder, in which Davie is in the wrong place at the wrong time, forces them both to take to the heather, with redcoats in pursuit.

Through misty moors, meeting wild outlaws, and holding together the pieces of a percarious friendship, they traverse Scotland's highlands and provide an adventure well worth the time it takes to read.

My Thoughts
This book is scarcely two hundred pages, but there's so much I could say in its praise. The geography is real, while the gloomy weather winding inconspicuously throughout the pages sets the whole tone of the drama. Stevenson includes the history of the Appin Stewarts and the aftermath of Culloden in a memorable way. James of the Glen, Alan Breck, and Cluny MacPherson all come alive. "Gyte", "bauchled", "whiles wonder" and other fun dialectal phrases fill the pages--I hear Stevenson watered down the dialect so as not to confuse his readers, but I had little trouble with it, even though it was fairly thick.
 I have the Wordsworth Classics edition, which is nothing in itself, but it includes a fun introduction by his wife detailing their research and what led up to the original inspiration for Kidnapped. The most important, according to her, was the discovery of Alan Breck--wouldn't that vain little fellow be proud? :) Also, she notes that the release of Kidnapped sparked "letters of expostulation or commendation from the Campbell and Stewart clans" which showed that the Appin murder sparked as much emotion then as it did at the time of its occurrence.
By far, the best character is Alan Breck, and Davie is second only to him. They make the best of literature pairs, and their camaraderie and quarrels were well-done, including both humor and honesty.
 Kidnapped, I think, is best read in four days--one day for the brig, one for the Ilse of Mull and the Appin murder, one for the flight in the heather, and one for the conclusion. This may seem surprising, but in my experience, Stevenson doesn't move his plot very fast, and if I string it out too long I can easily get bogged down in the descriptions of the weather and Campbell rabbit trails. Opinions vary on Kidnapped; I've met many who enjoy it immensely, and others who find it too slow. It's a fantastic story, but not the type that requires lingering over it for ultimate enjoyment.
There is a little bit of profanity here and there. The only other criticism I would have is that  I think Stevenson could have focused a little longer on the flight in the heather. That was the best part of the book, and didn't take as long as I could have wished. But a small complaint in an otherwise great plot.
If you want to hear the music for Alan's taunt song Johnny Cope during the quarrel, check it out here, though realize there are a couple of verses I have reservations on.
And it is just a bit funny to hear Captain Hoseason offering to export Cardinal birds (from an American perspective). But I can understand why other countries would want them, as they are beautiful and a brilliant crimson.

Best Quotes:

"For just precisely what I thought I liked about ye, was that ye never quarrelled--and now I like ye better!"

"I see ye're a man of some penetration."

"Ye have the rudiments of sense."

The Movie
I once saw the 1960 version of Kidnapped starring Peter Finch as Alan Breck and James MacArthur as David (you'll recognize MacArthur as Fritz from Swiss Family Robinson.) It's produced by Disney, and email requests are welcome. (Also, you can watch a couple of clips from IMDb here.) If you liked Disney adaptations of Swiss Family Robinson, etc., you'll probably enjoy this one, but more specific details in the email review.

Audio Adaptations
This is the only novel in which Jim Weiss stepped out of his element. I've listened to his rendition once, and tried to listen to it again, but he makes Alan Breck sound like a burly giant of a man, and many of the other voices pretty much opposite to my opinion of how they should be. Plus, Kidnapped shouldn't read by a smooth-voiced American in my opinion. It doesn't fit the story.
Michael Page with Brilliance Audio did a fantastic job.  He really caught the Scottish  dialect and the characters.
There was one more narrator, which I knew and loved (and listened to over and over. I could tell you nightmare stories of library loans.) But unfortunately I cannot remember who he was. I know that it was either Blackstone or Penguin, and I hope to find it again someday.

Though I am not able to copy them, you may enjoy looking at the following illustrations by N.C. Wyeth (after, of course, you've read the book.) Click here.

Altogether, excellent Scottish dialect, detailed cultural descriptions, and classic Scottish feuds combine to form a fun and satisfying Stevenson adventure. If you've never gone beyond Treasure Island, you will enjoy adding Kidnapped to your collection.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Sounds like an AWESOME read!!!!!!!!!!! When can I read it?
    Is it in any way connected to Treasure Island?
    Wonderful Post!
    Love, Sister

    1. It is not connected to Treasure Island as far as being a sequel, only in that it is written by the same author. I think you'd have fun with it. ;)

      Love and cuddles,

  2. “I’ll chance it, Alan,” said I. “I’ll go with you.”

    “But mind you,” said Alan, “it’s no small thing. Ye maun lie bare and hard, and brook many an empty belly. Your bed shall be the moorcock’s, and your life shall be like the hunted deer’s, and ye shall sleep with your hand upon your weapons. Ay, man, ye shall taigle many a weary foot, or we get clear! I tell ye this at the start, for it’s a life that I ken well. But if ye ask what other chance ye have, I answer: Nane. Either take to the heather with me, or else hang.”

    That's one of my very favourite quotes...from any book!

    Kidnapped is slow-moving? ;) That's the first I've heard of it!

    Are you acquainted with the sequel, Catriona? It's not quite as good, but I'm very fond of it.

    1. Ohhh, I love that quote too! :)Alan Breck says it best.

      Prehaps slow-moving is the wrong phrase. :) Because my favorite part is the flight in the heather, I always rush to get to it, and then I'm sad when it's over--so it's always hard for me to finish the book after The Quarrel, because the best part is in the Scottish Highlands. That's why I described it as slow--because once my favorite part is over, then I have a hard time moving on from it. :)

      I have heard of Catriona, and my mom read it aloud. She had never heard/read Kidnapped, so she had to keep stopping and asking us "who is this guy?" and "what happened there?" and after Davie and Catriona's little escapade, she really didn't get the feel for the epic Scottish flight in the first book. :) I liked parts of it as well, though I agree, it wasn't quite as good as the first.

      But the sword-fight with Davie and Alan--that was a scene too good to miss!


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