I have very fond memories of reading The Swiss Family Robinson when I was a child. My father had a leather-bound, illustrated edition that intrigued and delighted me. There were amazing adventure contained within its pages – the shipwreck! The tents! The never-ending parade of exotic animals! The creation of homes, amazing homes, in trees and caves! Building a ship! Sinking a ship! There was more danger and excitement in each chapter than my entire suburban existence had offered me at that point, and I thrilled to it.
However, my recent re-read left a bad taste in my mouth. There is quite a lot of sexism and moralizing in this novel. I realize that’s what you get when a book was written by a father of four in 1812, but it’s still hard to swallow as a female, adult reader in 2012. Poor, delicate Mother manages to remember to bring seeds off the boat, but has to be reminded not to waste the precious supplies by feeding them to the chickens. Brave, strong Father has two ways of expressing himself. He’s either in awesome, explain-how-this-works mode or he is trapped in boring-moralizing mode.
But as Jon Scieszka says in his introduction to the Puffin Classic edition, “Father also went off every couple of chapters on long rambling lectures that sounded dangerously like school lessons. But those sections were easy to skim. And the story always got back quickly to the real business of survival in paradise.” That is why I will still recommend this book to children in the library. Because it is basically a guide book on how to survive in the wilderness and build a fantastic tree house and hunt and fish, and because there is excitement in almost every chapter, I think children will always love this book.
I had not seen the classic 1960 Disney adaptation of The Swiss Family Robinson before planning to write this post, but I had visited the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse in Disney as a child. It was awesome. The film is slightly less awesome, though it does a great job of conveying both the scope and the fun of being stranded on a deserted island with unlimited supplies, your loving family, dedicated dogs, and the knowledge of how to survive. It is definitely NOT a faithful adaptation, what with the addition of pirates, a hostage girl character, a ransom, and monkey butlers. And there is a truly ridiculous addition of a battle with pirates that involves a tiger in a pit.
Still, the film, like the book, has its charms. There are rumors that Disney is planning to remake the film, which makes sense, considering the hold this enduring classic still has on our collective bookshelves!