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When his father dies, David Balfour receives little beyond a letter of introduction to his Uncle Ebenezer of the House of Shaws. But shortly after David meets this suspicious, miserly old man, he finds that his life is threatened and that he has been tricked into boarding a ship bound for the Carolinas and slavery. An accident at sea brings on deck a dashing swordsman and supporter of the Stuart cause, Alan Breck. Despite their differing political loyalties (David is loyal to King George), the two quickly develop an alliance which enables them to survive all subsequent hardships.

First, the ship is blown off course and is wrecked off the Western Isles. As the pair travel together through the Highlands, they witness the murder of Colin Campbell, the “Red Fox,” and are pursued as prime suspects. Their adventures take them east across the Highlands, where they are constantly in danger from redcoats, from Alan’s Scottish enemies the Campbells, and from possible traitors among his own people. Finally, after crossing the River Forth, they contact David’s lawyer and force his Uncle Ebenezer to yield his rightful inheritance to David. With this, the friends go their separate ways.

The theme of this romantic adventure story, a classic for young readers, is the value of physical courage and personal loyalty. Despite their many differences, David and Alan support each other through their common adversities. The novel has a sequel, CATRIONA (1893), which has never attained the popularity of its predecessor.


Calder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Claims that Stevenson could not have written Kidnapped or Treasure Island if he had not had the life experiences he had. Discusses the characters of David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart and concludes that the novel’s success rests on the credibility of Balfour’s character.

Calder, Jenni. Stevenson and Victorian Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981. Includes a number of articles that refer to Kidnapped. Christopher Harvie’s “The Politics of Stevenson” examines settings in Stevenson’s novels and his development of a rich Scottish dialogue, as well as the role that Scottish politics play in Kidnapped. W. W. Robson, in “On Kidnapped,” analyzes the way the vernacular and character interaction are affected by the intersection of time and place.

Stewart, Ralph. “The Unity of Kidnapped.” Victorian Newsletter 64 (Fall, 1983): 30-31. Discusses how the setting in the Scottish Highlands advances the adventure plot and examines historic sources that inspired Stevenson.

Zharen, W. M. von. “Kidnapped: Improved Hodgepodge?” In Children’s Novels and the Movies, edited by Douglas Street. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Compares Kidnapped to motion picture productions of the novel and considers the reason behind changes made to the story. Discusses the reasons for the novel’s appeal to children.

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Critical Evaluation