As part of Book Week Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust have launched a hunt to discover the best loved character in Scottish fiction.
It’s a tough choice as there are many characters dear to my heart on the list (Chris Guthrie, Prentice McHoan, Hermione Granger) but my vote goes to Alan Breck Stewart from Kidnapped.
My Dad gave me my copy of Kidnapped when I was eight and in hospital. He was an extra in the movie version with Michael Caine and signed an inscription inside it for me – from the man who starred in the film. It’s like a hug from my Dad every time I open it.
I re-read it recently after holidaying on Mull and was reminded of what a great character Alan Breck Stewart is.
Our introduction to Alan goes like this:
He was smallish in stature, but well set and as nimble as a goat; his face was of a good open expression, but sunburnt very dark and heavily freckled and pitted with the smallpox; his eyes were unusually light and had a kind of dancing madness in them, that was both engaging and alarming…His manners beside were excellent…Altogether I thought of him, at the first sight, that here was a man I would rather call my friend than my enemy.
Like all great characters Alan has virtues we aspire to – he’s brave, loyal and he stands up for what he believes in. He’s also flawed which makes him all the more human and therefore all the more likeable – he’s quick-tempered, vain and childish.
He has a touch of the Han Solo about him – a loveable scoundrel, who doesn’t necessarily always do the right thing but his heart’s in the right place.
Although David Balfour is the main character in Kidnapped, it’s Alan who steals the show. His friendship with David is pivotal to the book. My favourite scenes are definitely when Alan and David are together, and I think it’s the lack of this interaction which makes Catriona (my namesake sequel) a poorer book.
They don’t always see eye to eye and have different political opinions – Alan’s a Jacobite and David a Whig. I read it around the time of the referendum and I’m sure Alan would have been a Yes voter; I couldn’t help feeling that the result let him down.
Although David and Alan fight and squabble, they love each other a great deal. Their friendship is definitely of the Joey/Chandler, JD/Turk ilk – two heterosexual men who are not afraid to show their emotions:
He came to me with open arms. ‘Come to my arms!’ He cried, and embraced and kissed me hard upon both cheeks. ‘David’, said he, ‘I love you like a brother. And oh, man,’ he cried in a kind of ecstasy, ‘am I no a bonny fighter?’
When they finally have to part at the end of Kidnapped, it’s heartbreaking and I felt like crying myself when I read it. The passage evokes an oppressive sadness which suffocates the reader as much as it does David.
Neither one of us looked the other in the face, nor so long as he was in my view did I take one back glance at the friend I was leaving. But as I went on my way to the city, I felt so lost and lonesome, that I could have found it in my heart to sit down by the dyke, and cry and weep like any baby.
There’s a statue of Alan and David in Corstorphine near the Rest and Be Thankful, and it makes me smile whenever I see it. It not only reminds me of my Dad and my battered old copy of Kidnapped, but I’m glad that the friends are forever immortalised together.