Unlike most Victorians, Stevenson considered the romance a valid literary form. He claimed that the form provided mental relief from the pressures of everyday life and felt that romances needed to be written as carefully as any other type of literature. Thus, while Kidnapped may seem to be merely a good adventure story at first, it also should be appreciated for its substantial literary value.
The adventures of David Balfour in Kidnapped proceed along a wild but understandable course; the plot is symmetrical and easy to follow. David loses his parents, leaves home to learn about his inheritance, is kidnapped to keep him from that birthright, and spends much of the book trying to get back home so that he can obtain his due. What sets this adventure story apart from so many others are the little touches that illuminate character.
Stevenson also builds suspense as he develops realistic motivations for the characters’ often violent and dangerous acts. Although he emphasizes action in the story, Stevenson provides intriguing insight into the psychological and emotional background of his unusual characters.
Realistic details draw the reader into the rugged setting of the story, and Stevenson’s dramatization of the Scottish rebellions against England in the 18th century offers the reader a fascinating account of history.
The hero of the story, David Balfour, recounts the excitement and historical detail surrounding his childhood abduction and adventures from a mature, adult perspective. Using this viewpoint to tell David’s story enables Stevenson to create a coming-of-age tale within a romantic novel. Through his adventures, David learns about human nature; he learns to develop a code of behavior for himself based on the virtues of honesty, courage, and loyalty. These qualities help David to survive his occasionally violent, sometimes humorous ordeals.