Swiss Family Robinson


Swiss Family Robinson

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

Unabridged; narrated by BJ Harrison; BJ Harrison

Let’s get one thing straight first, the Swiss family this book is about is not the Robinson family as I always assumed. They are just called this because they are like Robinson Crusoe.

Now that that is out of the way, we can get to the story itself, which is basically a piece of propaganda or parable from a sermon about a few things such as educating yourself and your family or living a wholesome and moral-based life. In fact, the closing of the book basically states this, which is why I chose to call it propaganda instead of a story with a moral. Unlike Hugo who straight up says I’m telling you this story (Les Miserables) to share my view on these certain issues and I want you to help me change these problems, Wyss starts the story as if it will be an exciting adventure of a family that got stranded on a desert island. He doesn’t say anything about the lesson he wants you to learn until after the story is over even though it is full of lessons.

I kept waiting for something really exciting to happen or for some conflict to arise, but instead every problem instantly had a solution because the dad read something once and he knows exactly how to apply this foreign book smart to real world uses on a remote tropical island. The biggest issue I have with the story is that at only one or two times do they miss home or the society of other humans or deal with any of the emotional roller coaster of being shipwrecked. Instead, the family is pretty much cheery the whole time even though they’ve suffered a very traumatic experience, and they make no effort of seeking rescue or escape. Instead, they consign themselves to their fate.

I could go on and on about this, but really the whole story is just putting together the author’s own book knowledge into something that with today’s simple world understanding, you would not even conceive to be plausible. Now, if the author had tried to make it a fantasy adventure like Treasure Island or a drama like Moby Dick then he could get away with an island that has kangaroos, penguins, buffaloes, monkeys, flamingos, sugar cane, pineapples, potatoes, salmon, birds of paradise, platypus, cotton and jackals not to mention the other non-congruous flora and fauna.

It just isn’t real without emotion or worry or conflict, and it isn’t fantasy because it is supposed to be real. Also, they end up having more than enough food for their family because they kill, catch or harvest everything they come across in mass amounts (so much for teaching a lesson in temperance or sustainability). The account takes place over two years during which time the family built five structures with fortifications and have complete plantations and orchards. Right?!

Another misstep is that it is a father, mother and four boys and yet the parents aren’t concerned at all with getting off the island for the sake of their boys’ future. The reality is they’re all just going to die eventually, and the family won’t live on because let’s face it–there are four boys.

Basically, I feel like Wyss was trying to cram every lesson he wanted to teach kids, probably his own, into one story. While trying to create a way to teach about natural history and morals, he created an impossible natural environment that contradicts natural history and an impossible family environment that leaves out important aspects of leading a family.

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