The name Robert Louis Stevenson is familiar to me, if for no other reason than I’m a longtime fan of Treasure Island. However, I don’t really know much about his other works. I hadn’t ever even heard of his novel Kidnapped. However, fond as I was of Treasure Island, I thought I’d take a look.
(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 4th for Alexander McCall Smith.)
Similar to Treasure Island, Kidnapped was originally written as a historical boy’s novel. That, more often than not, means adventure. However, there are no pirates here.
The book begins when David Balfour’s parents both die and he gets mysterious instructions to seek his fortune with his uncle. Unfortunately, it turns out that David is actually the rightful owner of his uncle’s fortune and his uncle is a miser. These two facts do not combine well. David soon finds himself a captive aboard a ship that intends on selling him into servitude in the Carolinas.
Personally, I had to wonder a little bit about David and his family. For one thing, I thought David’s parents might have given him a little warning about his uncle. Granted, he may not have been quite as bad when David’s father last saw him, but still. I mean, his uncle tries to get him killed fairly early on in the book:
“Well,” he said, “let’s begin.” He pulled out of his pocket a rusty key. “There,” says he, “there’s the key of the stair-tower at the far end of the house. Ye can only win into it from the outside, for that part of the house is no finished. Gang ye in there, and up the stairs, and bring me down the chest that’s at the top. There’s papers in’t,” he added.
“Can I have a light, sir?” said I.
“Na,” said he, very cunningly. “Nae lights in my house.” “Very well, sir,” said I. “Are the stairs good?”
“They’re grand,” said he; and then, as I was going, “Keep to the wall,” he added; “there’s nae bannisters. But the stairs are grand underfoot.”
The tower, I should have said, was square; and in every corner the step was made of a great stone of a different shape to join the flights. Well, I had come close to one of these turns, when, feeling forward as usual, my hand slipped upon an edge and found nothing but emptiness beyond it. The stair had been carried no higher; to set a stranger mounting it in the darkness was to send him straight to his death; and (although, thanks to the lightning and my own precautions, I was safe enough) the mere thought of the peril in which I might have stood, and the dreadful height I might have fallen from, brought out the sweat upon my body and relaxed my joints.
But I knew what I wanted now, and turned and groped my way down again, with a wonderful anger in my heart. About half-way down, the wind sprang up in a clap and shook the tower, and died again; the rain followed; and before I had reached the ground level it fell in buckets. I put out my head into the storm, and looked along towards the kitchen. The door, which I had shut behind me when I left, now stood open, and shed a little glimmer of light; and I thought I could see a figure standing in the rain, quite still, like a man hearkening. And then there came a blinding flash, which showed me my uncle plainly, just where I had fancied him to stand; and hard upon the heels of it, a great tow-row of thunder.
I set him on a chair and looked at him. It is true I felt some pity for a man that looked so sick, but I was full besides of righteous anger; and I numbered over before him the points on which I wanted explanation: why he lied to me at every word; why he feared that I should leave him; why he disliked it to be hinted that he and my father were twins–“Is that because it is true?” I asked; why he had given me money to which I was convinced I had no claim; and, last of all, why he had tried to kill me. He heard me all through in silence; and then, in a broken voice, begged me to let him go to bed.
Now, given that his uncle tried to get him killed, don’t you think that David would be a bit wary when visiting a ship’s captain who does business with his uncle? I certainly would think so. However, apparently David does not:
“Ay, ay,” said he, “he passed me word of that. But, ye see, the boat’ll set ye ashore at the town pier, and that’s but a penny stonecast from Rankeillor’s house.” And here he suddenly leaned down and whispered in my ear: “Take care of the old tod; he means mischief. Come aboard till I can get a word with ye.” And then, passing his arm through mine, he continued aloud, as he set off towards his boat: “But, come, what can I bring ye from the Carolinas? Any friend of Mr. Balfour’s can command. A roll of tobacco? Indian feather-work? a skin of a wild beast? a stone pipe? the mocking-bird that mews for all the world like a cat? the cardinal bird that is as red as blood?–take your pick and say your pleasure.”
By this time we were at the boat-side, and he was handing me in. I did not dream of hanging back; I thought (the poor fool!) that I had found a good friend and helper, and I was rejoiced to see the ship. As soon as we were all set in our places, the boat was thrust off from the pier and began to move over the waters: and what with my pleasure in this new movement and my surprise at our low position, and the appearance of the shores, and the growing bigness of the brig as we drew near to it, I could hardly understand what the captain said, and must have answered him at random.
“But where is my uncle?” said I suddenly.
“Ay,” said Hoseason, with a sudden grimness, “that’s the point.”
It was the last I saw. Already strong hands had been plucking me back from the ship’s side; and now a thunderbolt seemed to strike me; I saw a great flash of fire, and fell senseless.
Of course, perhaps I’m judging this a little too harshly, considering this is supposed to be a boy’s novel. Still, even naïve David might have showed a little better judgment
After all, the book is fun. Personally, I didn’t find it to be quite as gripping as Treasure Island, but maybe that’s just me. Also, as you can get a taste of from the above, this is all set in Scotland and Stevenson goes a bit overboard at times, in my opinion, with the dialect.
Regardless, though the dialect makes things difficult to read sometimes and Kidnapped wasn’t quite as fun for me as Treasure Island, it was still fun. I wouldn’t exactly put this with the greatest books of all time, but it was fun to read. As long as that is all you are looking for then Kidnapped should be enough.