Study Guide

Kidnapped What's Up With the Ending?

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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What's Up With the Ending?

We have to admit, this novel's ending doesn't feel very conclusive: the final line of Kidnapped is, "The hand of Providence brought me in my drifting to the very doors of the British Linen Company's bank" (30.16). What kind of adventure story ends by telling us that fate has brought our main character to a bank? He doesn't even make it through the door!

Here's the thing: there are a number of plot-based resolutions in the final few chapters of Kidnapped:

  1. With the help of Alan Breck Stewart, Davie manages to confront his evil, kidnapping uncle and work out a compromise for his inheritance.
  2. Davie also decides to attempt to free James Stewart (Alan's kinsman) from conviction for a crime he didn't commit.
  3. Davie's money troubles appear to be over, as Davie gets a letter of credit for the British Linen Company bank from his sympathetic lawyer, Mr. Rankeillor.
  4. Alan seems set to escape Scotland for France.
But we still don't know (a) whether Davie ever meets up with Alan again after parting with him on the way to Edinburgh, or (b) whether Davie is successful in freeing James Stewart. All we know is that Davie is worried about Alan, and that he's feeling some free-floating guilt for leaving him behind. Why would a book end on this suspenseful, incomplete note?

One possible explanation is financial. You know how it's typical at the end of a TV season for the show to finish off with a cliffhanger so that you'll start watching again after the summer break? Sudden, dramatic developments leave us desperate to know what's going to happen next. And it's these burning questions that will bring us back to the couch once new episodes start airing in September or October.

The ending of Kidnapped is a classic cliffhanger. There's just enough resolution to satisfy the reader while leaving things open to the possibility of a sequel. And this in fact what we get with the publication of Catriona in 1893.

The first half of Catriona answers exactly the questions we just asked: what happens to James Stewart (answer: nothing good), and do Davie and Alan meet again (yes). But it also throws in a love story between Davie and the woman of the title, Catriona MacGregor Drummond, and this doesn't seem to have been as popular with audiences as the original Kidnapped Davie/Alan bromance. You know what they say, sequels are almost never as good as the originals.

Another possibility is that the story can't end in a really satisfying way, because Stevenson has written himself into a corner. He manages to get us to root for these various Highland rebels – Alan Breck Stewart, James Stewart, and so on – but Davie is a loyal British subject through and through. The historical fact is that James Stewart was hanged, so all of fictional Davie's efforts to save him aren't going to work. And the whole moral question of whether it's right for Davie to help a legitimate rebel against the English throne (Alan Breck) escape to France is a really tough one for a loyal subject to answer. Stevenson avoids this moral and historical can of worms by more or less ending the novel before things get that far, which some might see as a cop-out.

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