Title: The Swiss Family Robinson
Author: Jan Wyss
Date Finished: Nov 5, 2008 #64
Published: 1812 Pages: 304
Talk about books that have been sitting on your shelf for years! I’m not even sure how long this puppy has been decorating the shelf (collecting dust is more like it), but I think maybe I got this from my Grandma years and years ago. To be honest, I haven’t really had much of a desire to read it, but I was tired of looking at it!
The Swiss Family Robinson is about a husband, wife, and their four boys who are shipwrecked and deserted on an island in the East Indies. The rest of the crew is able to sail away to safety in the lifeboats, but the family is left behind on the boat so they must make their way to the island in order to survive. They learn the terrain and the flora and fauna and eventually make various homes on the island.
I started off liking this book much more than I expected. I disliked Robinson Crusoe (perhaps because I HAD to read it for a grad course) and I expected this one to be similar. But I was surprised at how easy the reading was and how engaging the characters were. There was a lot of dialogue, especially between the father and his sons, which was nice since Crusoe didn’t have much dialogue except with Polly (the parrot) until Friday came along. But, then I realized that this isn’t an adventure book like I thought it was going to be.
The Swiss Family Robinson is more of a didactic book about survival in the wilderness. The father is constantly creating lessons out of every daily aspect and is often condescending to his children. He chides them for not having knowledge, but the knowledge the father possesses is completely from books he has read (how convenient!). After getting further into the book, I had to change my perspective and read this book for the interesting things the family built and how they survived in the wilderness instead of for a wild adventure. The book is an interesting look at the nature of animals as those in the early nineteenth century understood them (before Darwin and his theories) as well as European imperialism and colonial ideals.
I wish I could say that I ended up enjoying this book as much as I did when reading the first few chapters, but the reading became redundant and almost a chore. It sparked an interesting conversation between Scott and myself about what makes a classic a classic and if this even qualifies. It is still being read (although not sure I’ve seen any other reviews of it around here), but I wonder if its popularity comes more from the Disney adaptation than from the actual text. Are there books that you read that are considered classics and you just can’t figure out why? I’d love to hear about it!