Kidnapped (novel)

Kidnapped (novel)

Infobox Book |
name = Kidnapped

image_caption = First American edition, New York: Scribner's Sons, 1886
author = Robert Louis Stevenson
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = Scotland
language = English, Lowland Scots
genre = Adventure novel
Historical novel
publisher = Cassell and Company Ltd
release_date = 1886
media_type = Print (Hardback)
pages =
isbn = 0-486-41026-9
followed_by = Catriona
"Kidnapped" is a historical fiction adventure novel by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. Written as a "boys' novel" and first published in the magazine "Young Folks" from May to July 1886, the novel has attracted the praise and admiration of writers as diverse as Henry James, Jorge Luis Borges, and Seamus Heaney. A sequel, "Catriona", was published in 1893.

As historical fiction, it is set around 18th century Scottish events, notably the "Appin Murder", which occurred near Ballachulish in 1752 in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising. [Stevenson changed the date of the Appin murder from May 1752 to June 1751.] Many of the characters, and one of the principals, Alan Breck Stewart, were real people. The political situation of the time is skillfully portrayed from different viewpoints, and the Scottish Highlanders are treated sympathetically.

Plot Summary

The full title of the book, "Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away, his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson" gives away major parts of the plot and creates the false impression that the novel is autobiographical.

The central character and narrator is a young man named David Balfour (Balfour being Stevenson's mother's maiden name), callow but resourceful, whose parents have recently died and who is out to make his way in the world. He is given a letter by the minister of Essendean, Mr. Campbell, to be delivered to the ominous House of Shaws in Cramond, where David's uncle, Ebenezer Balfour, lives. On his journey, David inquires to many people where the House of Shaws is, and all of them speak of it darkly as a place of fear and evil.

David arrives at the House of Shaws and attempts to gain entry. His uncle mistrusts him and seems mentally unstable. Ebenezer is also miserly, eating only "parritch" and ale despite his large amounts of money. He offers David a gift of forty guineas to increase the trust between them, and then asks David to get a chest from the top of a tower in the house. David is forced to scale the stairs in the dark, and realizes that not only are the stairs uneven, but that they simply end after several steps and fall into the abyss. David thus realizes that his Uncle was planning to kill him so as not to have to give over his inheritance.

David confronts Ebenezer, who becomes silent and again mysterious. A boy arrives the next day, Ransome, who tells Ebenezer that Captain Hoseason of a brig, the "Covenant", needs to meet him to discuss business. Ebenezer takes David to the Queen's Ferry, where Hoseason awaits, and David makes the mistake of leaving his Uncle alone with the captain while he visits the docks with Ransome. Hoseason later offers to take them on board the brig briefly, and David complies, only to see his uncle returning to shore in a skiff and to be struck over the head by a sailor.

David awakens bound hand and foot in the hull of the ship. He becomes weak with sickness and one of the "Covenant's" officers, Mr. Riach, convinces Hoseason to move David up to the forecastle. Ransome, the cabin boy on the "Covenant", is abused and mistreated by another officer, Mr. Shuan, who later kills him. David is repulsed at the crew's behaviour, and later learns that they have been ordered to sell him into slavery in the Carolinas.

David takes over as cabin boy, and the ship strikes a small boat from France. All of its crew are killed except one man, Alan Breck {Stewart}, who is brought on board and offers Hoseason a large sum of money to land in France and drop him off. David later overhears the crew planning to kill Alan and take all his money, so he warns him, and the two barricade themselves in the round house where they fight off the crew. Alan kills Shuan, and David wounds Hoseason. Five of the crew are killed.

Alan is a Jacobite Catholic who sides with the French over the battle of Scotland and France.

Hoseason has no choice but to give Alan and David passage back to the mainland. David tells his story to Alan, and Alan explains that the country of Appin where he is from is under the tyrannical administration of the Red Fox, a British official who in fact is a Campbell, Colin Roy of Glenure. Alan vows that should he find the Red Fox, he will kill him.

The "Covenant" soon becomes caught in a reef during a storm, as they attempt to load the skiff and escape, David is cast overboard by a wave and washes up on what he believes to be a solitary island, but after five days realizes that with the tide out he is able to walk from the island onto a second large island, Mull.

Once there, he learns from a Scottish man that Alan has survived and has instructed David to go to Torosay. David has two encounters with beggarly guards, one who attempts to stab him with a knife, and another who is blind but an excellent shot with a pistol. David soon reaches Torosay where he is ferried across the river and receives further instructions from Alan's friend Neil Roy McRob, and later meets a Catechist named Mr. Henderland, who ferries him onto the mainland.

As he continues his journey, David encounters none other than the Red Fox, who is accompanied by a lawyer, servant, and sheriff's officer. When David stops the Red Fox to ask him for directions, someone in the hills fires a gun and the Red Fox is killed. David is incriminated by the lawyer as a conspirator and flees up the hills for his life, where he meets Alan, who proclaims his innocence of the act. Alan and David flee from the redcoats until they reach a friend of Alan, James of the Glens, whose family is burying their hidden store of weapons and burning evidence that could incriminate them. James tells Alan and David that he will have no choice but to "paper" them, that is, send out wanted posters of them, but provides them with weapons and food.

Alan and David then begin their flight through the heather, hiding from redcoats, dragoons, and navigating great rivers. They attempt to send a message to James through a bouman named John Breck, but they learn that James has been taken prisoner. As Alan and David continue their journey, they are set upon by rogue highlanders armed with dirks who serve a chief in hiding, Cluny Macpherson. Alan gets Cluny to give them shelter. While staying there, David and Cluny grow to dislike each other, David being a gentleman and Cluny being a gambler. Alan soon loses all his money playing cards and asks David for a loan. Subsequently all of David's money is lost too. Cluny's scouts report that the way is clear after a few days, and David and Alan leave his lair. [Alan is still short of money.]

As David and Alan continue their flight, David becomes progressively sicker and he and Alan fight over the gambling and Alan's attitude. David in fact challenges Alan to a duel, but Alan is ashamed to fight a friend and a teenager, so he drops his sword. David then stops arguing with him, and Alan helps him find shelter in Balquhidder to heal himself. They are taken into the house of Duncan Dhu, who is a brilliant piper.

While recuperating, Alan meets a foe of his, Robin Oig-son of Rob Roy MacGregor-, who is a murderer and renegade. Alan and Robin nearly fight a duel, but Duncan persuades them to leave the contest to bagpipes. Both play brilliantly, but Alan admits Robin is the better piper, so the quarrel is resolved and Alan and David prepare to pass the Forth and finally return to David's country.

David and Alan pass the Forth with the aid of a lass from Limekilns, and meet a lawyer of David's uncle, Mr. Rankeillor, who agrees to help David receive his inheritance. David and Rankeillor hide in bushes outside the Ebenezer's house while Alan speaks to him, claiming to be a man who found David nearly dead and is holding him captive in a castle, and asks the uncle whether to kill him or keep him. The uncle flatly denies Alan's statement that David had been kidnapped, but eventually admits that he paid Hoseason "twenty pound" to take David to "Caroliny". David and Rankeillor then emerge from their hiding places and speak with Ebenezer in the kitchen, where David rightly receives two-thirds of the estate. The novel ends with David and Alan parting ways, Alan going to France, and David going to a bank to settle his money.


"David Balfour": Honest 17-year-old who heads out on his own after his father dies. His mother had died earlier. David is unaware that he is heir to an estate, the House of Shaws. Although David is a Lowland Scot, he could be any boy anywhere embarking on a journey from youth to manhood. "Ebenezer Balfour": Devious uncle of David. Ebenezer cheated David's father out of the House of Shaws. He first tries to murder David. When that scheme fails, he arranges to have him kidnapped and sold into slavery.

"Elias Hoseason": Captain of a ship, the Covenant. He "buys" David from Ebenezer in hopes of selling him into slavery at a profit.

"Alan Breck Stewart": Daring, happy-go-lucky Highland Scotsman in rebellion against the English crown. He becomes friends with David and helps him survive when English chase him and Alan through the wilderness. Stewart is based on a real-life Jacobite rebel of the same name. "Mr. Shuan": First officer under Captain Hoseason. When he drinks, he is extremely cruel. He kills Ransome, the cabin boy.

"Mr. Riach": Second officer under Captain Hoseason.

"Ransome": Abused cabin boy whom Hoseason uses to help ensnare David in the kidnap scheme.

"Mr. Campbell": Kind minister who helps David at the beginning of his journey.

"Mr. Rankeillor": Lawyer who helps David settle legal matters with his uncle.

"Colin Roy Campbell": Scotsman loyal to the English crown. He acts as the king's agent in two Highland counties, Appin and Mamore. His job is to collect taxes and claim Scottish lands for the crown. He is shot dead while talking with David. Alan is accused as the murderer and David as his accomplice. Colin is based on a real-life Scotsman of the same name who was shot dead near Ballachuilish. His case became known as the "Appin Murder."

"James of the Glens" ("James Stewart"): Highland chieftain who lost his lands to the English crown. He is the head of the Stewart clan, to which Alan belongs. Alan is based on a real-life Scotsman of the same name who was falsely accused of the murder of Colin Campbell. He was tried at Inverarray, found guilty, and hanged near Ballachuilish in November 1752.

"Mrs. Stewart": Wife of James Stewart. She treats David kindly and says she will always remember him.

"Cluny Macpherson": Another chieftain who lost his lands. As a Jacobite rebel, he fights against the English and lives in a hideout near a mountain.

"Old Man and His Wife": Poor but generous residents of the Island of Mull who give David food, drink, and valuable information, then allow him to rest in their hut.

"Guide": Island of Mull resident who lodges David for five shillings and agrees to guide him to Torosay.

"Hector Maclean": Island of Mull resident who changes a guinea into shillings so that David can pay the guide.

"Duncan Mackiegh": Blind Man who guides David through part of the Island of Mull. In spite of his blindness, he knows every rock and bush on the island. He is a dangerous man who carries a pistol and can shoot "by ear." However, David pretends to have a pistol, too, and thereby avoids trouble with him.

"Island of Mull Innkeeper": Man who befriends David and lodges him at Torosay.

"Neil Roy Macrob": Friend of Alan and skipper of a ferry that takes David from Torosay to mainland Scotland. He is a friend of. Macrob gives David directions on how to asemble with Stewart.

"Henderland": Evangelist who becomes friends with David in the Highlands and provides him valuable information about the region. He is moderate and reasonable in carrying out his mission.

"Alexander Balfour": David's dead father.

"Queensferry Innkeeper": Man who provides some information about Ebenezer Balfour's background.

"Jennet Clouston": Woman forced out of her home by Ebenezer Balfour.

"Robin Oig": Son of Rob Roy Macgregor, a famous Highland outlaw.

Major themes

The solid historical and environmental background, and the realism with which the physical hardship suffered by Alan and David is described, give the novel an immediacy which perhaps explains the hold it has on some readers, given the simple narrative line and spare plotting. Indeed, plot only takes a dominant role at the beginning and end of the novel, while the heart of it lies in what Henry James described as the "really excellent" chapters of the flight in the heather. Some of the Scottish dialogue may be hard going for modern readers, though Stevenson himself admitted that he had applied only a smattering so as not to tax the inner ear of non-Scots.

Literary significance and criticism

"Kidnapped" was well received and sold well while Stevenson was alive, but after his death many viewed it with scepticism seeing it as simply a "boys novel". By the mid-20th century, however, it had regained critical approval and study.

The sequel "Catriona" was written in 1893 while Stevenson was living on Samoa. It has in large part a romantic theme, and much less adventure, and has not achieved the popular appeal of "Kidnapped".

References to actual history

David Balfour is accused of being an accomplice in the Appin Murder, a real life murder. The characters of Alan Breck Stewart, Colin Roy Campbell, James Stewart, Cluny Macpherson and Robin Oig Macgregor were real people.


The novel has been adapted a number of times.

A comic book version was published by Marvel Illustrated by Roy Thomas and Mario Gully, who had previously adapted "Treasure Island". [ [ CCI: Thomas and Gully Get "Kidnapped"] , Comic Book Resources, July 25, 2008]

Edinburgh: City of Literature

As part of the events to celebrate Edinburgh being named the first UNESCO City of Literature, three versions of the book will be made freely available (including being left on buses and in other public places) throughout February 2007. [ [ Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature: Projects] ] These three versions are:

*A new printing of the novel with notes by Professor Barry Menikoff.
*A retelling of the tale for children.
*"Kidnapped", a graphic novel version, has been created by Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy.
*A version in Lowland Scots


External links

* [ Film adaptions of "Kidnapped"] . There have been about 21 movie and TV versions of the book made.
* [ Trail map] , map of the trail.
*MacLachlan, Chistopher (2006). [ "Further Thoughts on Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped"] .

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