Friday, May 8, 2009

"The Swiss Family Robinson" by Johann Wyss

Just in case you saw the Disney movie of "The Swiss Family Robinson," I think you should know that the book is NOTHING like the movie.  The book came first, I know, but in reality, the movie is far more entertaining.

For instance, in the movie, Fritz (eldest son) is a virile 20-something with a nice tan and beguiling smile.  In the book, Fritz is an arrogant 15 year old who likes nothing better than to shoot stuff.  Disappointment.  No pirates in the book, either, but at least there's an explanation of the fact that there were no sailors on board the ship when the family ended up marooned on their island.

Also, just FYI, the family's last name is not Robinson, as the titles of both forms of entertainment might lead you to believe.  Oh no.  I have no idea what their name is in the book, honestly, because the characters are just Father, My Wife (who we find out is actually named Elizabeth), Fritz, Ernest, Jack, and Francis.  Jack was conveniently left out of the movie version of the story.  Why are they "The Swiss Family Robinson" you may ask?  Because the book was inspired by Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" and was meant to imply that they, too, were marooned on a desert island.  Not many Robinson's in Switzerland, as I understand.  In fact, it's an English last name.

Moving past my being disappointed because I don't get to read about Fritz's rippling muscles...

The book is entertaining, so far as moral tales go.  The book is based on a series of stories the author's father used to tell he and his brothers (4 sons, not so coincidentally) in an effort to teach them morals and values and virtues and the like.  So when sons show undue haste in butchering everything that moves, he reprimands the son in a loving way; likewise when the well-read but slothful son wants to lie abed all day, doing nothing and musing, instead of helping build a treehouse out of vines and a decaying goat carcass or something.  "Father" gives MacGyver a run for his money, no doubt.  He even creates an explosive device!  Not to fend off southeast Asian pirates, alas.

Occasionally, the book gets "long winded," as when the father in the book starts sermonizing (he is a minister after all) about various virtues, or he starts discussing some animal he's read about that wouldn't possibly exist in the area of the world where the book takes place.  That's one of the things about the book that irks me: Wyss takes things he knows  about America and Australasia, and he cobbles them together.  So there are American game birds (pheasants) cohabiting with monkeys and iguanas.  Makes no sense, to me.  Pretty much, he took as many fantastic animals and plants as he could and crammed them into one big bio-catastrophe.

That having been said, it's an entertaining book.  No, I'm not finished reading it, yet.  I'll get there in the next day or two, however.

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