Whenever I explore Robert Louis Stevenson's work more deeply, I always feel a sense of gratitude. He is a constant joy to me and I can hardly imagine what my experience of literature would be like without him. Now that he's made such a big impact on me, I find it interesting to look back and trace how it all began.
My first exposure to Stevenson was, naturally enough, his Child's Garden of Verses. When we were little my dad would have me and my siblings memorize poetry, including several of the more famous selections from Child's Garden. I did not know anything about Stevenson at the time, of course, but already I began to associate his name with adventure, imagination, and wonder. One poem I remember in particular was "Pirate Story", in which three children roam the high seas of their backyard field. There was a certain line of description which left a permanent impression on me:
And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.The image had never occurred to me before, but every time afterwards that I saw long grass rippling in the wind, I thought of that poem, and of the sea.
The only other experience of Stevenson that I had at the time I enjoy looking back and laughing at. We used to have an abridged illustrated edition of Treasure Island, one of those with pictures on every other page. I used to take out the book and look at all the pictures but not read a single word of the story. Later we acquired a real edition of Treasure Island, which I tried to read a few times, but somehow never got past the first couple chapters--complaining that I couldn't understand it. (I'm still not sure how I managed that, but the truth remains: I didn't read Treasure Island straight through until last summer!)
As the years went on I became vaguely aware that Stevenson had written two other books called Kidnapped and Jekyll and Hyde, but I had no interest in either of them, especially since I had barely any idea of what they were about. I was also probably too busy reading Brian Jacques' Redwall series. But our parents insisted that we read classics occasionally, so I remember one day finding Kidnapped on my brother's bed where my mom had left it. I skimmed the summary on the back cover, and under the strange impression that the story took place in the Americas, I idly flipped it open and read part of a chapter. It didn't excite me. I was also still under the strange impression that classics were boring.
So I'm not exactly sure what happened between then and a certain fateful day in February 2011. It was a chilly Sunday morning and I was looking for something to do before we went to Liturgy. In my brother's room I spotted a large book on his dresser--a collection of famous Stevenson novels. I have no memory of what prompted me to do it, but I decided to read Kidnapped.