PurplyCookie's Reviews > The Swiss Family Robinson

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
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Apr 26, 09

bookshelves: childrens-books, classics, adventure-novel
Read in January, 2008

This is the ultimate survival classic story in every way possible. Written from the perspective of the father, it chronicles the first-hand account of the shipwreck and survival of a Swiss family of six (the pastor, his wife, their sons: Fritz, Jack, Ernest, Franz) on a remote island somewhere near New Guinea.

The family consists of a Swiss pastor who is a walking encyclopedia on agricultural practices from around the world; his wife who excels in equal measure with culinary skills, and four energetic sons. Displaying remarkable resilience and resourcefulness, they survive completely alone for over ten years until their rescue. In the process, they create their own European civilization, showing complete mastery over animals and plants, and creatively establishing houses. The bulk of the novel consists of their struggle for survival with their endless discovery of new species of plants and animals.

Readers should be warned that different versions of the Swiss Family Robinson abound. The Swiss pastor originally credited with the work (Johann David Wyss) originally told many of these tales to his children, one of whom was likely responsible for the editing and publication of it. It was subsequently translated into many languages, with translators taking major liberties in abridgement or adding episodes of their own. This one here was the translation of WHG Kingston, first published in 1879, and widely regarded as one of the best-loved English translations. Remarkably, however, it is not based on the original German version, but on an 1816 French version.

Given that the original author was a Swiss pastor, it's not surprising to find the narrative soaked with implicit Christian influences. There are frequent references to God's providence, commendation into God's care, keeping the day of rest, as well as the encouragement of Christian morals.

The island proves to be a form of idyllic paradise, where animals from every continent around the world apparently co-exist in a rather impossible manner (Australian kangaroos and platypuses, Antarctic penguins, African lions and elephants, North American wolves, and bears, South American boa constrictors, not to mention walruses, tapirs, toucans, flamingos and ostriches). New species of plants and animals are conveniently discovered on a daily basis, and the Wyss family appears to have an inexhaustible knowledge of how to use these resources to create their own civilization. They are little troubled by sickness, storms or strife, and have few difficulties in taming nearly every animal known to mankind. They are able to cook every delicacy ever conceived. Whether their menu offers truffles or turtle, roasted bear-paw or buffalo, the food is always good and the meat never burnt. In fact their success sometimes becomes rather repetitive and tiresome, and is evidently rooted in an overly optimistic view of mankind and faith in the possibilities offered by scientific knowledge.

But rather than become too frustrated by the utopianism, you should suspend your sense of disbelief and enjoy the ride. It's little wonder that the Wyss family decided not to leave their "New Switzerland" at the end. Some of the ideas in this book are certainly dated, but this book has stood the test of time, and spending time with the Swiss Family Robinson will continue to be rewarding.


Book Details:

Title The Swiss Family Robinson (Puffin Classics)
Author Johann D. Wyss (Translated by: William H. G. Kingston)
Reviewed By Purplycookie
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PurplyCookie Thanks for liking my book review, Danielle & K.D.! :)


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