Monday, June 07, 2010

The Swiss Family Robinson (1812)

I recently finished reading The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss (1812) in 134 delightful serialized chunks delivered to me via e-mail by I had never read this classic novel as a child, and I figured it would work well in a serialized format.

As you might remember from the dozens of movies and television shows based on this plucky and ingenious Swiss Family, the book begins with our heroes (a mother, father, and four young boys) getting in a shipwreck on their way to Australia. Everyone else on the ship is lost, but the family eventually makes their way to an island that is bereft of human beings but conveniently filled with almost every plant and animal life the father and sons have ever read about in their natural history, engineering, history, and adventure reading.

The first half of the book is very procedural: how they built their first shelter, how they got food, how they built a better shelter, how they moved around the island, how they built an awesome shelter in a tree, how they built another awesome shelter in a grotto, how they cultivated food and livestock, and the list goes on and on. Liberally sprinkled around these lessons of survival and ingenuity are moral lessons on how to be a good man, how to treat your wife and family, and how to frequently bow down and thank the lord. The moral lessons get a bit trying, but this book was written in 1812 by a Swiss pastor, so I think we can let him have his morality.

In the second half of the book things suddenly get very exciting when, after returning from a two day trip exploring the unexplored parts of their island, the father and three of the sons come back home to find their canoe missing and the wife and youngest son taken from the island. They quickly give chase in their small boat, making it to another island and getting into quite a bit more trouble before their prayers are answered and (as you might expect) the family is reunited. The story of their reunion and the nice way things work out for the family's future on their island paradise is a satisfying and well earned ending to this enduring story.

Fun fact: The family is not actually named Robinson -- Robinson comes from Robinson Crusoe and the title lets us know that this is the Swiss family version of that famous castaway story.

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