Tuesday, January 08, 2008
The Swiss Family Robinson
Wyss, Johann. The Swiss Family Robinson.
First published in 1812, this novel is about how one family survives a shipwreck and how they come to create a new home for themselves far away from civilization. I read the book because I have literally been hearing how *wonderful* it is my whole life. Yes, The Swiss Family Robinson is one of my mother's favorite books. But in childhood, the closest I could get to the novel--the closest I would get to the novel--was an abridged version. But even the abridged version, I gave up after a few chapters. So I was determined to not let 2008 go by without reading--really reading--this classic.
What did I think about it? Honestly? Well, it's still not my cup of tea. I still don't like it. The violence. The brutality. The absurdity. Granted in 1812, I'm sure it wasn't an absurd idea to kill animals for fun, for sport, or for a "learning" opportunity to learn what it was and how it worked. But for me, I saw it as a bunch of guys--a father and sons ranging in age from small to teen--who thrived on killing animals. True, some of the kills were for food or to protect their lives, but others seemed more trivial for me. Yes, the family needed to eat in order to survive. But I think some of it was pure overkill. But as I said, this wouldn't have ruffled any feathers in 1812 when it was published. I think--although I am not sure--that there was a philosophy that to study an animal meant to study the animal's corpse.
Besides the death of all those animals, and the passing dangers of island life, the book is filled with lessons and descriptions. The father has the need--and I'm not negating the need in actuality--to share every bit of knowledge in his head. And I'd be the first to admit, that if I were to be shipwrecked on an island, I'd want this guy around. First of all, he knows everything. It doesn't matter what subject. It doesn't matter how random or trivial, how broad or specific, this man knows it all. He knows how to do everything, how to make everything. This man is more knowledgeable than a walking set of encyclopedias. Now, if you were actually on the island and fighting for your survival. Receiving lessons of this sort, would be necessary and beneficial. To the ordinary reader--okay just this ordinary reader--some of the lessons are well, quite honestly, boring. You could skip these passages altogether and still follow the basic story.
One other thing that irritated me about the book. The woman never is given a name. The man isn't either, by the way, but he is the narrator. He is the "I" of the story so it isn't so obvious. The kids all have names. The animals all have names. The wife? Not named. I'd rather Grizzle the donkey be called "the donkey" or "that donkey" than to go 377 pages through a book where one of the main characters is simply called "the mother."
And it should be a crime what Wyss did to Grizzle by the way. Seriously. That's just wrong. It's beyond calloused or cruel.