Friday, 25 January 2013

Burns Day: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

published 1886 chapter 21 set in 1751




[Narrator David Balfour, on the run with Alan Breck, comes across a Wanted poster] This we looked upon with great curiosity and not a little fear, partly as a man may look in a mirror, partly as he might look into the barrel of an enemy's gun to judge if it be truly aimed. Alan was advertised as "a small, pock-marked, active man of thirty-five or thereby, dressed in a feathered hat, a French side-coat of blue with silver buttons, and lace a great deal tarnished, a red waistcoat and breeches of black shag;" and I as "a tall strong lad of about eighteen, wearing an old blue coat, very ragged, an old Highland bonnet, a long homespun waistcoat, blue breeches; his legs bare, low-country shoes, wanting the toes; speaks like a Lowlander, and has no beard." Alan was well enough pleased to see his finery so fully remembered and set down; only when he came to the word tarnish, he looked upon his lace like one a little mortified. As for myself, I thought I cut a miserable figure in the bill; and yet was well enough pleased too, for since I had changed these rags, the description had ceased to be a danger and become a source of safety.


observation: Today is Burns Day, so the chosen book is a Scottish classic.

Robert Louis Stevenson had a tremendous talent for creating characters, and the relationships between them. David Balfour and Alan Breck are a double act for the ages, as memorable as Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins from his Treasure Island. Alan is hilarious and infuriating, and David duly becomes annoyed. But their friendship is very touching, and the moment where they part in sight of Edinburgh is as sad for us as for David:
I could have found it in my heart to…cry and weep like any baby…there was a cold gnawing in my inside like a remorse for something wrong.

Anyone would enjoy this book, but it’s a pity modern teenagers would probably find the style odd and archaic – if they could get over that it is an excellent adventure, full of exciting incidents and memorable characters (the wicked miserly uncle, the sea Captain) and both funny and readable. The scene where David is stranded on an island is terrifying, but then turns to farce as his rescuers try to communicate to him (‘I told him I had no Gaelic; and at this he became very angry, and I began to suspect he thought he was talking English’) that he is not stranded at all. 
And there is an odd line ‘O, man, but it's a heart-break!' that sounds weirdly modern…
 

Links up with: A round up of Scottish-related entries filled up a tartan-themed entry for St Andrew’s Day.

The statue is by the sculptor Sandy Stoddart, erected at the place where the characters parted at the end of the novel. The photograph is © Copyright ronnie leask and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

3 comments:

  1. Moira - An excellent choice for Burns day! And I agree completely that Stevenson wrote some memorable characters with some depth. I also agree that today's teens might find the writing style difficult and I know there've been attempts to 'modernise' the story. But I like it as it is and I'm hoping there are still teachers out there who help students get to the heart of the story which is as you say a fine adventure yarn.

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  2. I read this book years ago when I was a teenager but I can still remember the plot very well. A classic!

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  3. Thanks both - I hadn't read it in years, but it all came back to me when I started it again, and I was still gripped. I think when I read it as a very young person I didn't know how funny Alan Breck was meant to be, I found him rather romantic and dashing! I do think it's a book that any young people would love, wouldn't it be great to try to persuade them to give it a try...

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