I thought I would continue with last month's experiment of posting a brief well, not review, exactly, but more meandering rumination on the book I'll be discussing with my book group shortly. One of the pitfalls of book groups is that the consensus opinion of something may not shift your point of view, but it may profoundly color your unfiltered reaction.
As for tonight's book, Kidnapped
,the two members reactions that I've heard so far make me think this may be a tough sell. One said that she was maybe just not in the right mood for buccaneering--which means she's still pretty early in the story as buccaneering isn't really the focus of the book for long. Actually, I don't know if technically there is any real buccaneering going on, but that's because I realize that I don't really know what a buccaneer is...
Another member said he found it depressing. Depressing? I asked, because frankly that response surprised me. But he said that the number of traps and perils our hero David Balfour falls into are so unrelenting that he didn't understand why David didn't just give up and end it all at some point.
Well, it's a point of view, and frankly, it's the path that I might have considered strongly myself. But in a way, I think that this is because, unlike so many of our action adventure stories today, which probably sport at least the same number of dangers, this book makes the costs seem physically, emotionally and spiritually real.
There are two story structures that have come to mind a few times as I read this book. One is the fairy tale. Not in the sense that this is fantasy, but in following a fairytale motif. In the beginning, David leaves his home and sets out on the road, little knowing where he is going, but eager to see a bit more of the world now that his parents have died. He immediately comes across an old friend of the family, who not only gives him three gifts, a classic fairytale motif, but also a letter that he is to carry somewhere to seek his fortune. He is told that he not the lowly swineherd (figuratively) that he thought he was at all, but in fact a member of a great house.
It's interesting to me, having reached the end of the book (and I promise to give nothing away that's worth saving, unlike Stevenson himself, who apparently gave away several major plot points in the subtitle
) it is all really a simple trajectory of a young man seeking his rightful portion and how that all resolves. But there is a sense that the detour that his adventures represent also test his worthiness to be the recipient of that fortune. An inherited right also becomes an earned right, and the ordeals he goes through are again of a sort of mythic nature to reveal the one true king or whatever.
I've also kept thinking that this would make a great computer game. Not like one of those multiplayer games, but something simpler, like Pokemon on Gameboy, which, due to my nephew's childhood is the only one I really know anything about. You would by default be David Balfour and each level would be the next level he has to endure. It might even be good for literacy, as Kidnapped
the book could be a kind of cheat sheet for Kidnapped
Of course these structures leave so much out. You could play the game and even learn to master it quickly and still not have the experience that we have of being with David Balfour as he leaves 'the comfort zone' and sets off on ever widening and ever more difficult adventures.
The thing that you could not hope to replicate in a computer game is his friendship with Alan Breck Stewart. It's interesting that Stevenson chose this historical person to befriend his entirely fictional David. And it is so interesting to watch what begins as relationship of braggadocio on Alan's part and bemusement on David's turn into something much more real and lasting.
I think what my friend got wrong in finding it so depressing,and what I too get wrong in thinking about it as a game, is that we're seeing this as just an endless series of ordeals, to no real purpose. But the ordeals reveal the character of the two men to each other, which binds them to each other in a real and not merely 'code of honor' sort of stylized way. The point of the book is not really the rightful inheritance at all, and because of that it has a curiously anti-climactic ending, which is apt, but not conventional.
Well, headed out now to see what other reactions there were. And will report on them if they're interesting.
Thanks to Adrian McKinty
for suggesting this reread. The truth is, I never really care what the others think of the books I recommend us trying. It's just an incentive for me to get around to them myself.