Places: Kidnapped

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1886

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: 1751

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Scottish Highlands

*Scottish KidnappedHighlands. Mountainous region of northern Scotland that is the scene of many adventures of young David Balfour, who finds the Highlands a wild, frightening, demanding, and alien environment. However, with the help of Highlander Alan Breck Stewart, he learns to survive there and to understand himself in doing so. There, he learns what it means to be Scottish. His own upbringing in the Scottish Lowlands has made him ambitious, thrifty, careful, and a little selfish. In the Highlands, he encounters heroism, romance, honor, tragedy, and loyalty. The Highlands thus represent aspects of Scotland and of David himself which, after David’s adventures with Alan Breck Stewart, he cannot ignore or forget.

House of Shaws

House of Shaws. Balfour family estate that is David’s birthright but which at the beginning of the novel is in the possession of David’s wicked uncle, Ebenezer Balfour. The House of Shaws is a dark, forbidding, dangerous, and mysterious place. Its decayed and incomplete state reflects the grim family history and blighted lives of the Balfours. Its darkness and dangers mirror the evils of Ebenezer Balfour. David’s retaking possession of Shaws at the end of the novel signals his achievement of maturity and the beginning of a much brighter future for both the Shaws and the Balfour family.


Covenant. Ship captained by Elias Hoseason on which David Balfour is carried away after being kidnapped on his uncle’s orders. The ship’s name evokes Scottish religious tradition, but for David the Covenant is merely a small and dangerous place in which he learns quickly about the concentrated wickedness, violence, treachery, and brutality of men and the ruthlessness of wind and sea. In the miniature world of the Covenant he also finds occasional kindness and the heroic fighting abilities of the Jacobite adventurer Alan Breck Stewart.

*Scottish Lowlands

*Scottish Lowlands. Region of Scotland below the Highland line that is the home of David Balfour. Stevenson treats Scotland’s Lowlands as prosperous, commercial, materialistic, affluent, and governed by law and order. The Lowlands represent one side of Scottish character and the romantic Highlands another. David’s prudence, ambition, common sense, and faith in law mark him as a Lowlander, just as the daring Alan Breck Stewart is the perfect Highlander in his bravery, honor, loyalty, and quick temper. Contrasts and conflicts between the Lowlands and the Highlands are among the novel’s most important themes.


*Appin. Region of the Scottish Highlands that is home to Alan Breck Stewart and his clan and is the scene of the murder of Colin Campbell. Stevenson’s account of Appin provides views of clan life, the violence associated with clan feuds, the oppression and degradation of the Highlands after the Jacobite uprising of 1745, and the fearful but determined survival of clan loyalties and values under English oppression.


*Earraid (ihr-AYD). Rocky islet onto which David is cast after the loss of the Covenant. Earraid is a small, barren, uninhabited, and inhospitable island among Scotland’s Hebrides where David learns about life without even the most basic comforts. During his four-day stay on this islet, David is wet, cold, hungry, and sick, and this bleak place provides him an education in the basic realities of physical existence and physical pain. When he finally discovers that Earraid is a tidal islet from which he can escape during any low tide, the island also educates him in humility.

*Cluny’s Cage

*Cluny’s Cage. Egg-shaped hanging house made of wattles and moss where, on the side of the mountain Ben Alder, the outlawed Highland chieftain Cluny Macpherson finds refuge. Cluny’s Cage is not only a memorably strange dwelling but a symbol of Highland determination and ingenuity. In this hanging home, Macpherson remains in his dear Highlands, tricks the English army, and conducts his clan’s business. At the same time, his prisonlike suspended cage reflects the extremes to which Highlanders must go to survive.


*Balquidder (bal-KWI-tur). Highland region in which David recuperates for a month from exhaustion and where he and Alan Breck Stewart meet Robin Oig, son of the notorious Rob Roy. Stevenson describes this region of the Highlands as a wild country inhabited by outcasts and men without chieftains or major clan connections. This outlaw region essentially serves as a symbol for the decay and disintegration of Highland life. However, Stevenson shows the survival of Highlander honor and love of music even in this place of disorder.


*Glencoe. One of the wildest areas in the Scottish Highlands where, amid waterfalls and rocks, David and Alan hide from pursuing English soldiers. The horrific sublimity of Glencoe adds to the terror of their situation, and Stevenson is careful to point out that Glencoe was the scene of a famous massacre in 1692. The day in which David and Alan spend hiding and broiling on a sun-baked rock in Glencoe, surrounded by English soldiers, is among the most memorable episodes in Kidnapped.

BibliographyCalder, 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.
Categories: Places