May 06, 2021

#08-080: The Swiss Family Robinson

lack-and-white print of a group of people (seemingly a family) kneeling in prayer in a bleak landscape near the sea
The Robinsons kneel to thank God for saving them.

Note: A story of castaways and the moral lessons they learn while living on a "desert isle," just like Robinson Crusoe.

Get Ready: If you were stuck on a deserted island for ten years and learned to survive there, would you leave if rescuers came? Or would you prefer to stay there?

When I was a boy, Disney released a popular film called The Swiss Family Robinson. Years later I learned that the film was based on a book of the same name, by the Swiss (naturally!) author Johann David Wyss. 

The Disney version introduces pirates, a tiger, and other sensational elements into the plot. Wyss's book is more pedestrian, befitting his intention to educate his four sons in such virtues as family values, good husbandry, a proper relationship with nature, and, above all, self-reliance. Incidentally, the family is never named in the book; "Robinson" is used in the title in reference to that greatest of all survivor stories, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

Wyss's story begins with a family--William, Elizabeth, and their four sons Fritz, Ernest, Jack, and Franz--being tossed about in the hold of a ship during a terrible storm as they immigrate to Australia. In their extremities, the crew abandons ship, leaving the family to fend for themselves.

At last the storm abates, and the family finds themselves within sight of a tropical desert island. They fashion together some tubs, fill them with supplies--food, weapons, ammunition, and so on--and row them to the island. Two dogs swim along beside them; a number of other animals--a cow, a pig, goats, chickens, and more--have also survived, and are later transferred to the island.

The family sets up a camp and scouts the island. They return repeatedly to the ship to bring ashore tools, kitchenware, and other necessities.

They build a treehouse, but find it inconvenient, so they settle in part of a cave. They find another castaway, a young Englishwoman named Jenny, living on the island, and take her into their "home."

The family spends ten years on the island. The story is told as a series of adventures, each with a moral point. The boys develop other homes and gardens around the island, as the father wonders if they will ever be rescued.

In the end, though, a British ship that has been searching for Jenny arrives. Perhaps surprisingly, when given the chance to leave, most of the Robinsons choose to stay on the island, although two of the boys return to Europe. The journal of their time on the island is eventually published.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. abates
  2. befitting
  3. castaway
  4. extremities
  5. fend for
  6. hold
  7. husbandry
  8. incidentally
  9. necessities
  10. pedestrian

  1. a storage area in the bottom of a ship
  2. things that are needed
  3. a shipwrecked person
  4. appropriate to
  5. take care of
  6. agriculture
  7. by the way
  8. commonplace; unexciting
  9. serious difficulties
  10. reduces; goes down

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 6, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. d; 3. c; 4. i; 5. e; 6. a; 7. f; 8. g; 9. b; 10. h