Joel Neff's Reviews > The Swiss Family Robinson

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
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's review
Jul 27, 12

it was amazing
read count: 8

** spoiler alert ** This is not a review.


As a child, The Swiss Family Robinson was one of my favorite novels. I loved reading about how resourceful they were and how they were able to make everything. I loved reading about their amazing discoveries even while I wondered how they managed to find all that stuff on just one island. I had a copy of the Penguin Classics version of the novel, which was written from an 18XX translation.

What I hadn’t known as a child and only found out via Wikipedia, was that the novel had been translated, expanded, condensed, and revised so many times that true authorship of some passeges is sometimes difficult to pin down. With that in mind, I thought it might be intersting to read a different version of the book.

On Google Books, I found a version that was translated and printed in XXXX. And, true to theory and Wikipedia, the version I found was different, albeit in small, mostly subtle ways, the most common being a preference for Germanic names for places and animals instead of English. The most major difference seems to be that this version seems to have been assembled less for its narrative value than for the moral and ethical lessons that each adventure contains; this version is perfect for Sunday school.

Other differences may be the fault (and mostly likely are the fault of) my poor memory.

So what follows is a list of differences that occurred to me as I was reading. This is by no means comprehensive and it is by no means a full scholarly analysis. They are merely, as I said, things that popped into my head as I was re-reading this wonderful novel.

Some differences:

Jack is James in this version.

Practicable. Is this a real word? Has it just fallen out of favor? The passage in question seems like it would accept the word ‘practical’ with no other alterations... According to my dictionary practicable is a real word, meaning workable or achievable. Good to know.

More name changes: Francis, not Franz, the Captain’s mastiffs are Turk and Belle.

I remember a scene in which Ernest has found a large oyster shell to use as a soup dish while the others use mussel shells. Father makes him give his cool soup to the dogs as a lesson in putting others before himself. Haven’t read this incident yet in the current version. Ah, found it. Not sure if the incident occurs at the same place on the timeline in both versions. This feels like it happens far later in the story than in the Classics version.

More name changes: Zeltheim, not Tentholm, the Isle of Requin, not Shark Island, Falcon’s Nest, not Falconcrest. New Holland.

Slow goose = ostrich? Must be the ostrich.

I remember the mother being very upset and hiding with Franz when the men assembled the pinnace and brought it to shore firing the guns. More upset than in this version? But maybe that’s later when they destroy the ship? Yup. Very upset when they blow up the ship. Again, I feel like the incident’s place in the timeline is different but that’s most likely my faulty memory.

More small changes: the names of the cattle are Sturm, Falb and Braun - the canoe is more of a catamaran (with a sail no less), repeated use of sea-dog instead of seal; making a felt carpet for rockholm? Lightfood is now Rapid (Rasch).

Interesting passage (page 156) about them using their free time during the rainy season in Rockholm to learn foreign languages, including English. I don’t remember this being in the Classic version at all, presumably because since the book is in English, it was seen as being unnecessary and / or confusing for young readers.

When Mother makes a jelly from seaweed, special note is given to the spices she uses in it in this version whereas I believe it’s more glossed over in the Classics version.

Oyster fishing? I don’t remember oyster fishing, especially as a catalyst for Fritz’s return. I remember Fritz rescuing Jenny on his own. Here, too, he rescues her on his own but I think the details are slightly different. In the Classics version, I think there was something about him wanting to scout the coast?

Also, hydromel is prevalent in the later version. Hydromel means mead.

I remember Mother being upset about the taking of tabbaco from the ship, opposing its foul smell and Father explaining that it had many positive uses. I didn’t see that here, did I miss it?

Another example of craftsmanship that seemed to be missing from the Classics version or perhaps my memory, but making windows for Rockholm from fish bladders?

The ending is much tidier in this version. Other families land and colonize the island and all the boys are provided with wives and families, with the exception of Ernest, who returns to England. Not too dissimilar from what I remember, just tidier.
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