I wrote the introductions and developed critical study materials for Simon & Schuster’s Enriched Classics editions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mark Twain’s Short Stories, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Kidnapped. This series provides readers with a wealth of information to aid understanding and future study, including:
- Author introduction and chronology of life and work
- Timeline of significant events for historical context
- Outline of key themes and plot points to help guide a reader’s own interpretations
- Detailed explanatory notes and critical analysis, including contemporary and modern perspectives on the work
- Discussion questions to promote classroom and book group interaction
- Recommended related books and films to broaden a reader’s experience.
Here’s the introduction I wrote for Kidnapped.
Kidnapped—Robert Louis Stevenson’s Highest Point
From the moment Kidnapped first appeared in the pages of Young Folks Paper in 1886, it was met with the kind of success most writers only dream about. Like its predecessor, Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped was marketed as a “boys tale” and published by the magazine in weekly installments. Unlike Treasure Island, which underwent considerable revisions before publication as a novel, Kidnapped went from serial to novel with only six minor edits. Even now, more than one hundred and twenty years since the first installment appeared in print, it’s not hard to see why readers clamored for the next edition of Young Folks. Every chapter is action packed with murder, intrigue and suspense. At its most fundamental level, the novel is a pure joy to read — an exciting adventure story that has captured the imaginations of some of the most imaginative minds of all time. J.M. Barrie, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, and Arthur Conan Doyle are but a few names on the long list of literary luminaries who have admired the novel’s craft. Henry James, Stevenson’s lifelong friend and contemporary, even went so far as to distinguish the characterization in Kidnapped as “the highest point that Mr. Stevenson’s talent has reached.”
Published in May of 1886, just after The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde made Stevenson a household name the world over, Kidnapped is an historical romance that brings actual events of Scotland’s history to life with vivid landscapes and some of the most memorable characters in English literature. At its center is Scotland’s famous Appin Murder and the assassination of the “Red Fox,” Colin Campbell of Glenure, who was killed by sniper fire in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The fiction that rises up around this event focuses on one David Balfour, a penniless young Lowlander who has been recently orphaned and sent to live with his long-lost uncle, the wealthy Ebenezer Balfour, lord of the House of Shaws. Despite the terrible circumstances that have forced his imminent departure, David is primed for adventure and eager to leave the confines of his small town. Before long, however, he begins to suspect that Ebenezer Balfour might just be an uncle better left lost. Not only is the man reviled by his countrymen, but the mere mention of his name elicits curses and scorn. Yet David presses on; he has traveled too far not to meet the man himself. This decision proves costly—and local opinions of Ebenezer prove correct. He is miserly, cruel and unscrupulous, a would-be murderer who orchestrates David’s kidnapping and sets him aboard a ship for America and a life of indentured servitude.
In her 1948 biography of Stevenson, Lettuce Cooper wrote, “It has been said that he (David Balfour) was the most like Stevenson of all his characters.” To be sure, Stevenson was never sent adrift on a pirate ship but he was an adventurer in life, as well as in his fiction. And he did know something about being held hostage though his captor was a lifelong respiratory illness—most likely tuberculosis—that kept him ever searching for a climate that might award him some relief. He died at forty-four—a surprisingly young age for a man that penned six travels books; hundreds of essays and short stories; a wealth of poetry, and more than eight novels, three of which among the most widely-read in English literature.
Despite his popularity, Stevenson has not always been embraced by critics. Early on, his work was regarded by some as little more than a clever imitation of writers he admired, such as Sir Walter Scott. He has always, however, found a rapt audience with readers. One might say in this regard he was the captor, and for more than a century, readers of Kidnapped have been willingly kept.