Books I Like: Kidnapped

I was never much into traditional young adult books when I was a young adult.  Instead, I spent a lot of time reading fantasy and sci-fi paperbacks cast off by my dad after he finished them, and also way too many UFO and Greek/Roman/Norse mythology books from the library (everything about my personality is now explained).  So, five or six years ago, I started reading more “young adult” books, including some classics, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Last week, it was RLS’ Kidnapped. Originally published as a serial (which means lots of cliffhangers), it tells the story of 16-year-old David Balflour, a Scottish orphan who begins the novel seeking his wealthy uncle, whom he has never met.  Well, as you might guess from the title, not all goes well for young David.  His uncle, who turns out to be a miserly recluse, sells David to a ship bound for North America, where he is to be sold into slavery.  (The novel is set in 1752, pre-Revolution, but was written in 1886, so even then it had an air of historical fiction.)  But before they even leave the coast of Scotland, the ship is wrecked, and David finds himself thrown in with Alan “Breck” Stewart, based on an authentic historical figure, a Highland Jacobite rebel.  Balfour himself is a Lowland Whig, which means they are on opposite sides of both cultural and political fences.

If you don’t really know what a “Highland Jacobite” or “Lowland Whig” is, don’t worry: neither did I when I started the book.  But the edition I was reading included excellent historical notes, and part of RLS’ genius is his ability to flesh out political and cultural concepts in interesting characters, situations, and plot turns.  I enjoy both reading good stories and learning new things, and Kidnapped gave me both.  I gained an appreciation for Scotland as its own country, and for the cultural, religious, and political divisions in 18th-century Scotland.  If that sounds abstract, believe me, it was not: many in Kentucky are of Scots-Irish descent, and I belong to a church tradition founded by a Scots-Irish minister, so I gained a greater appreciation for the cultural roots that gave birth to both Kentucky’s culture and the Christian Church.

My wife and I recently welcomed our first son into the world, and I look forwad to sharing with him the joys of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure novels.

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