Robert Louis Stevenson & 'Kidnapped'

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped is, in my view, the greatest Scottish novel ever. I’d rank Kidnapped in my list of ten favourite novels of all time. Discover its treasures with me.

I do not believe in Heaven, but if I did I can tell you that one of the things on offer there for me would be a daily reading from Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson himself, in his gorgeous Scottish accent (my favourite accent in the world!) and at least once a week he would read to me his brilliant chapter ‘The Siege of the Roundhouse’ which is one of the finest pieces of dramatic writing ever penned by anyone. It sends thrills through me every time and when Alan says to David “am I no a bonny fighter”, my cheers echo to the rafters!

My mother read this book to me when I was a child. I loved the story and adventure but, being utterly ignorant of Jacobite history, I was extremely hazy about why Alan’s life was in danger and what cause he was supporting. As an adult living in Scotland, with far more knowledge of the background to the novel, I re-read the book and was blown away by it. Since then I have listened to audio versions (a fabulous way to experience this book!), learned more about Stevenson and visited many of the places associated with his life and his novel, and the book has come to hold a very special place in my heart. I adore Alan Breck Stewart – were he to give me one of his silver buttons, I’d swoon with emotion. I love the evocations of Scottish history and landscape, and one day I hope to take the Stevenson Walk across Scotland which covers many of the places in the book.

Kidnapped is his masterpiece, an unforgettable novel of action that would inspire writers as varied as Joseph Conrad, John Buchan, Graham Greene and Muriel Spark. It is also a fascinating meditation on the complexity of the Scots character, half Celt, half Saxon. As in Jekyll and Hyde, it shows him obsessed with the divided self, and in the year of the independence vote, Kidnapped remains essential reading.”
― Robert McCrum

Few writers have equalled Stevenson in a gift for storytelling, but his brilliant narrative abilities were matched by his acute psychological perception and his passion for history. I’d have so loved to meet Stevenson and have loved following him around the world, seeing his homes in Edinburgh, France and Samoa, walking in his footsteps with a donkey in the Cevennes and being lucky enough to dine in his childhood home in Scotland. He’s one of my most loved writers ever, and I feel so sad that he did not live for longer.

Once I thought of Kidnapped as an exciting adventure story for children, now I rank it as one of the greatest novels ever written for children and for adults. It is up there amazingly close to the novels of Jane Austen in my esteem – what higher compliment can I pay this novel?

I hope that you too will revisit Kidnapped and experience its power. Come with me to experience kidnap, treachery, the abuse of power, the growth of friendship, loyalty in many different forms, and some of the best narrative writing you will ever find.

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Featured image credit- Peter O’Toole and Peter Finch in R.L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped (1960),
Body image credit- Peter O’Toole and Peter Finch in R.L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped (1960),
Body image credit- Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by Henry Walter Barnett, 1893, State Library of New South Wales, Public Domain,

Comments (8)

  1. Gaby Meares

    Just finished listening to Kidnapped as an audio book – read by a Scotsman. Perfect! I read your notes first which provided fabulous background information. I was in Scotland in 2017 and had been to many of the locations described so brilliantly in the novel. I could see it all as I listened. It’s a while since I’ve tackled a classic, and I was a bit nervous about whether I’d handle the language. I had no problem at all. I loved it, and I’m excited to start my next classic, The Invisible Man, which I have again downloaded as an audio book.
    By the way, which film version of Kidnapped do you think is the best?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it just fabulous listening to ‘Kidnapped’ with a good Scottish reader. I just so adore that novel. The best film version is generally considered to be the 1978 one with David MacCallum. I love the way the novel examines history so astutely, and also shows such intriguing character development with the two main characters. I am delighted my notes have added to your experience of the novel.

  2. Alison E Adams

    My first reading of Kidnapped. Loved it for so many places and the history are known to me. Got out the atlas to trace Alan and David’s journey. These two leaped from the pages for me.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh I am delighted that you enjoyed it so much. To me, it just gets better with every re-reading, and when you’ve bene to that part of Scotland, it makes it even better.

  3. Melvyn Dickson

    A ripping yarn! and a muckle new words. Do you know, there is a website “” which promotes a re-enactment of the plot of Kidnapped for energetic readers. It involved a sea voyage round the north of Scotland (without shipwreck) and a walk of 273 miles (!) along the route allegedly taken by David Balfour. For me, the big help in following the plot was a series of maps with David’s track plotted. I suppose the place names and localities would have been familiar to Scottish readers in the day, so I found the maps were most welcome.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh wow, how I would love to do that Kidnapped journey! Isn’t it a fabulous yarn. Yes, a map is a very useful accompaniment to this book, even for someone like me who is challenged by maps.

  4. Hi Susannah

    Yes, I too am a huge fan of Kidnapped (and also of it’s sequel “Catriona”, a rather under-rated book in my view.)

    You may be surprised to learn that you can pick up first English editions of “Kidnapped” (Cassell, 1886) for well under $500, where a first edition of “Treasure Island” (Cassell, 1883) will cost generally between $10,000 and $25,000 depending on condition! The price difference is a combination of relative scarcity (RLS was much less well known in 1883 and so the edition of Treasure Island is much smaller than that of Kidnapped three years later), and the greater popularity and hence desirability of Treasure Island.

    Both books were published with fold-out maps in their first editions (the map for Kidnapped is very impressive showing the voyage of The Covenant of Dysart and the wanderings of David Balfour and Alan Breck) but no illustrations. I can also recommend the first illustrated editions of both books which were published by Cassell, in 1885 for TI and 1887 for K. Catriona followed in 1893 with an illustrated edition in about 1900.

    I also strongly recommend the 1913 Cassell editions of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Black Arrow, which all come with splendid coloured illustrations by the American N C Wyeth.

    Another attractive more recent edition of Kidnapped is the Oxford edition of 1974, with illustrations by Victor Ambrus (of Time Team fame). I am pleased to possess examples of all of the editions I mention here.

    Finally, just imagine the earnings of Cassells, who had published and owned the copyrights for Treasure Island in 1883, HRH’s King Solomon’s Mines in 1885 and Kidnapped in 1886.

    Cheers and Happy New Year


    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for all that interesting information, Chris. I would love to have a first edition of Kidnapped and Treasure Island! Both such wonderful books.
      Wow, yes Cassells must have been a very happy group of publishers with such big bestsellers on their hands.
      I hope that 2020 is full of fabulous reading, great book finds, and plenty of time to read!

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