Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Master of Ballantrae: Review

The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson is a romance in the old style--full of adventure and the heroic theme of the struggle between good and evil. It is the story of two brothers--one the favorite of his father, but somewhat a black sheep, and the other the faithful, loyal son who always does his best for the family, no matter the cost to himself. The time period is that of the Jacobite Rebellion. It served families at the time who could to back their bets both ways. The Durie family is no different. It is decided that one son will go and fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the other will stay home and loyal to King George II. Henry, the younger and less favored son, volunteers to go and his father his willing to let him and protect his favorite--but James, the Master of Ballantrae, will have none of it. It appeals to his restless, reckless spirit to go and fight and seek what adventures he may. So he demands they spin a coin for it--and he "wins" and takes himself off to battle.

As history notes, the fight does not go well for Prince Charlie and the news reaches Durisdeer, the family castle, of the death of James. The title is passed on to Henry and he marries his brother's intended as well. The household settles down to an uneasy existence....the father and daughter-in-law spend much time comforting each other for the loss of James and Henry, loyal and hard-working as ever, is neglected and even ignored. Then the terrible adventures begin...for the Master of Ballantrae is not dead and is unwilling to leave his family to their uneasy peace.

This is really a good story. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as well-told as
Treasure Island or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There are lots of romantic adventures--pirates and treasure and the walking of planks; ramblings in the wilderness surrounding New York; the burying of treasure; near-misses with Indians (of the New World); travels in India; and an honest-to-goodness duel with swords. There is lots of atmosphere--gothic and guilt-ridden. There is the classic struggle between good and evil. But Stevenson makes rather too much of a good thing. Instead of the clear narration of Jekyll and Hyde, we have lots of ponderous descriptions and drawn-out story-telling by second and third narrators. I found myself skimming some of those bits--and losing nothing of the story, I might add. In the Master of Ballantrae, Stevenson had an evil villain who comes just shy of the pure villainy of Hyde. He could have done so much more with that. But it is, as another Goodreads reviewer mentioned, as if Stevenson were pouring on the literary, highbrow method of storytelling to impress Sir Percy Florence and Lady Shelley--to whom the story was dedicated. A more simple, straight-forward narration would have served him better. Two and a half stars...edging on three.


Yvette said...

I so admire you reading Stevenson, Bev. I'm not sure that he's for me, but you never know. We were forced to read TREASURE ISLAND in school and it was okay, but not as memorable as some people find it. At least to me.

I enjoyed reading your review.

Bev Hankins said...

@Yvette: My favorite RSL so far is Jekyll & Hyde and some of his short stories. As I mention, this was a great story and overall a great idea, but SO overdone in the presentation. I know that's part of the style of the times, but I also know that RSL can rein himself in....

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

I have been in a RLS mood ever since I re-read Treasure Island last year. He's on my Life List of authors (a list in my head only), so I may get to this one eventually. I may work on some of the others first.

I am particularly interested in reading what he wrote about living in California -- if I can find anything.