10.02.2008

The Master Of Ballantrae

Sunday night, I finished Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae.

I’m a fan of Stevenson—I’ve written before how much I appreciate his work, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of my all-time favorite works of fiction—but I was a little disappointed in this one.

The Master of Ballantrae is a tale of two brothers of noble Scottish birth, and is alsosomewhat of a retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau, with the rivalry and conflict between the two brothers being the central plot of the story.

Parts of the book read very slowly, but there is a lot to keep the reader interested as well: the setting jumps all over the place, with events unfolding in Scotland, the High Seas, India, and finally colonial America, and as with other Stevenson stories, multiple narrators are used, which helps to give different perspectives on events.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the character of the older brother, The Master of Ballantrae himself, who is the antagonist of the story.

Stevenson thoroughly investigated the nature of evil in the character of Mr. Hyde, but in The Master of Ballantrae, the idea is a little more complex. Speaking of his villain, Stevenson said,“The Master is all I know of the devil,” and indeed, the Master’s intelligence, powers of manipulation and seductive charm resemble greatly the malevolent force described in the Bible, and distinguish him from a Mr. Hyde type of evil.

Unfortunately, for me, all of these good aspects of the book were wasted to some degree by an incredibly disappointing climax.

If you’re a big Robert Louis Stevenson fan, The Master of Ballantrae might be worth reading, but otherwise, skip it—he has much better stuff to offer.

4 comments:

TWD 10/2/08, 2:35 PM  

Yeah, I agree, it wasn't one of his best, in my opinion. For that, I'm thinking either Treasure Island or Kidnapped. The Black Arrow was fun, too. I found Catriona to be a bit of a let down, too, though it had its good bits.

Alex 10/2/08, 6:24 PM  

I really enjoy fiction with deep, complex antagonists. I find them to be the most intriguing; in the better villains we see humanity gone awry, but we also find aspects of ourselves.

Luke 10/3/08, 9:25 AM  

TWD,

I’m a big fan of Treasure Island and I liked The Black Arrow after I suspended disbelief enough to accept that the main character could fall in love with a beautiful woman who he at first thought was a man.

I read a version of Kidnapped growing up, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever read the real version or not.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is my favorite though. It’s not as action-packed as some of the others, but I love the psychological and theological aspects of it.

Luke 10/3/08, 9:27 AM  

Alex,

Agreed. And I think that’s probably the strong point of this book.

The Master really is devilish in a lot of ways. Knowing that he is evil, the narrator (and the reader too, at least in my case) is somewhat charmed by him at different times in the story (which of course, can happen with Satan as well).

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