I was writing an essay earlier this month and in it I quoted a children's poem which I knew since childhood composed by Robert Louis Stevenson. This made me realise that despite the fact that I knew the existence of R.L. Stevenson's works since I was very young I have never really read a novel by him.
Never read his famous pirate book, Treasure Island, nor The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and My Hyde and certainly not Kidnapped. The former two books are familiar to me thanks to the wonders of film and television (not to mention pop-cultural references) but I've never really known the story that moves Kidnapped.
Seeing as I've owned a copy of Kidnapped almost as long as I've known the poem I mentioned earlier, I thought I'd put this problem to a halt.
Having done so, I found Kidnapped to be an intriguing adventure story, filled with deception, sword fights and nasty, snarling men. This is also a very, very boyish adventure, due to the lack of prominent female characters; in fact, at one point in the story, there is a girl who provides an important role in the story, but unfortunately she was not even honoured with a name. Definitely not a book to pass the Bechdel Test then.
The story concerns young David Balfour, with parents newly deceased, and the farmhouse his father rented given to another tenant. He is told to seek his paternal uncle and as with stories like these, and with uncles named Ebenezer (for that is the name of David's uncle), he turns out to be a bit of a miser and a crankpot to boot.
Uncle Ebenezer soon reveals himself to be a mean plotter of schemes, of which one of them involves sending David on a Staircase Climb of Death. David, however, is equipped with a wit usually not found in characters in stories like these, and so manages to escape Certain Death.
However, his wits don't work all the time as soon the machinations of his uncle allow David to be kidnapped onto a ship bound for the American colonies where he is destined to be a slave.
This is where the story truly begins, and David soon meets Alan Breck, a Scot highlander who is on the side of the French in the currently ongoing France-Scotland war (and incidentally a real person in life). When David finally manages to escape the clutches of his kidnappers with the aid of Alan Breck, they are then reluctantly embroiled in a political assassination which leads them to fleeing for their lives across the Scottish countryside.
Modern writers are told not to use slang in their novels and for good reason. Slang is difficult to read and most often it annoys the reader rather than allowing them to absorb themselves into the story. One good example of this is Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn which contain liberal amounts of slang which prove too much of a pain to stumble through, at least for me.
Kidnapped is also a novel that uses liberal amounts of slang (this time, Scottish) in dialogue but somehow it doesn't get in the way of the story. In fact R.L. Stevenson's use of language is beautiful and rhythmic in the way only an archaic, Victorian use of the English language can be.
I really enjoyed reading Kidnapped and am a little surprised why it took me so long to get round to reading it (twenty-one years, to be precise, judging from the ancient receipt I found in my copy). Perhaps I shall try reading Treasure Island next. Ho ho ho and a bottle of rum!
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1. Kidnapped (Penguin Classics)
2. Treasure Island (Puffin Classics)