Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email great wish is that young people who read this record of our lives and adventures, should
    learn from it how admirably suited is the peaceful, industrious and pious life of a cheerful and
    united family, to the formation of strong, pure and manly character.

    None take a better place in the great national family, none are happier or more beloved than those
    who go forth from such homes to fulfill new duties, and to gather fresh interests around them.
           -Swiss Family Robinson

Was it just me, or when you were a kid were you too mystified by why the castaways were so anxious to get off of Gilligan's Island?  Personally, even if Ginger hadn't been there, it always seemed like a pretty idyllic existence.  (Lost in Space was a little easier to fathom; Dr. Smith was a royal pain & the kids were profoundly annoying.)   So when we were all sick one time and our Mom read us Swiss Family Robinson, one of the immense satisfactions of the tale was that most of the family decided to stay on their island after help came and even those who left seemed destined to return.  A couple of years later we got to see the fine Disney version and, though it makes some significant changes in the story, it too has been a favorite of mine ever since.

Johann Wyss's classic (it was actually completed by his son) is an extraordinarily unsubtle family version of Robinson Crusoe.  The Robinson's are shipwrecked somewhere near New Guinea but through pluck, self reliance, familial togetherness and a heavy dollop of Christian faith they manage to create fairly comfortable lives for themselves, domesticating seemingly every animal known to man and cultivating innumerable crops.

While their adventures are always instructive and informative, the book is awfully repetitious, we don't really need the blow by blow description of how each animal is tamed and every foodstuff harvested.  And many folks will find the Christian message far to heavy-handed.  I actually think this is a case where it's pretty easy to justify reading kids an abridged version, rather than the entire original text.  But the story is great fun and is particularly interesting as an example of the Western man regnant species of writing.  The sort of blithe assumption that this family would completely conquer the wilderness is a remnant of the age when white, Christian Europe/America had the utmost confidence in our Manifest Destiny to rule nature.

It's hard to imagine a book like this being written today.  In fact, I recall a movie called Friday from several years ago, which portrayed Robinson Crusoe as a sort of helpless fop, completely dependent on Friday.  In the current climate of political correctness, an author approaching the Swiss Family Robinson story would most likely ditch the religious angle entirely, have the family display much greater sensitivity for the animals which they readily exploit in the novel and, of course, there's no way the boys would be allowed to take such great pleasure in hunting and learning to shoot.  But, as it stands, despite a little too much pedantry and proselytizing, this is just a good old-fashioned adventure--kids, boys in particular, should thoroughly enjoy it.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Children's Books
Johann Wyss Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Johann David Wyss
    -ESSAY: The Swiss Family Robinson: A Return to the Classics: As in most of the great classics, the essential nature of gratitude in difficult circumstances is constantly emphasized. (Jonathon Van Maren, August 24, 2023, European Conservative)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA:  Wyss, Johann Rudolf
    -ETEXT: The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (Christian Classics Electronic Library)
    -Governors Recall Books of Their Youth (The Associated Press)
    -Doing Disney Jewishly:  The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse (Lisa Alcalay Klug )

    -But it at Amazon (VHS)
    -Swiss Family Robinson (1960)(Internet Movie Database)
    -REVIEWS: Epinions