Kidnapped - An Introduction

Kidnapped is a work of historical fiction written by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is an adventure story written as a ‘boy’s novel’ and first appeared in the magazine ‘Young Folk’, serialised from May to July 1886. In Stevenson’s lifetime it was well received, but, after his death, critics used the ‘boy’s novel’ tag to detract from Stevenson’s accomplishments. The novel must have the longest title of any book and fully summarises what is meant to be an autobiography

 ‘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.’

The plot is centred round real 18th Century Scottish events, particularly the Appin Murder of Colin Campbell, the Red Fox, near Ballachullish, in 1752. Many of the characters, like Alan Breck are real as is the wild Scottish environment in which the story unfolds.

Stevenson’s descriptions transport you to Scotland’s wild Highland fastness and you long to be there … as I urge the reader to be.

‘It found us in a prodigious valley, strewn with rocks and where ran a foaming river, wild mountains stood around it; there grew there neither grass nor trees……’

‘At this sight we both paused: I struck with wonder to find myself so high and walking (so it seemed to me) upon clouds…’ (Chapter 20)

The authentic historical and physical background holds the reader’s interest and the fact that Stevenson wasn’t just an observer, but a participant in outdoor adventure is an added point of attraction …

Robert Louis Stevenson undertook a canoe journey in Belgium and most notably a 12 day trip in France. His book ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes’ (1879) tells of a 120 mile hiking journey through the mountains of South Central France in 1878. It is one of the earliest accounts of a recreational hiking and camping trip. RLS might even be responsible for the first sleeping bag which allowed him to be close to nature.

 ‘I decided upon a sleeping sack…and it was designed, constructed and triumphantly brought home…’

‘The wind huddled the trees…..all around were bare hilltops, some near, some far…..the golden specks of autumn in the birches tossed shiveringly….the sun sent a glow of gold over some cloud mountains that ranged along the eastern sky’

Allow yourself to be tempted by such a writer as Stevenson, who was so affected by his environment.

In 2007 a local politician in the Cevennes area said of RLS, ‘this Ecossaise veritable’ still had an impact on his people ‘because he shows us the landscape that makes us who we are’

Allow ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘The Stevenson Way’ to do the same for you.

©Rev Frank Murray, July 2011

You can also read the complete book on-line at either: