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In the Robinson Crusoe tradition, Johann David Wyss created a story of a Swiss family that was shipwrecked on a desert island. Much as Robinson Crusoe, the family must learn to use the land to meet their needs. As with Crusoe, there is a religious element of learning to thank God for their blessings, but unlike Robinson Crusoe, the version of Swiss Family Robinson that I read had a lecturing tone that didn’t take long to irritate me.
Swiss Family Robinson may fascinate children. The family learns and explores natural science, mechanics, engineering, astronomy, biology, mathematics, and so much more through their experiences in a new place. I loved learning about the house in the trees and I was fascinated to hear how they built everything themselves. Maybe young children could relate to the four boys’ adventures in learning.
The main theme of the Swiss family’s story of survival is paradise: unlike Robinson Crusoe, this family loved their new home from the beginning. They ultimately don’t want to be rescued: they preferred to remain isolated in their paradisiacal home. Wyss added an impressive (and impossible) array of animals to the little island, and everything the family needed for survival conveniently appeared, from “candleberry trees” to flax and cotton. It truly was a paradise. (more…)
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson transferred me to a world of pirates and sea-life, but best of all the boy protagonist drove the action. Because he was in the right place at the right time and made great choices, he was able to “save the day.” I think it’s perfect for a child to read, and it reminds me that there is great classic literature for children: this is what I can’t wait to introduce to my son.
I found Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped less engaging and loveable, but still an interesting story of success. A boy is kidnapped by his uncle and sent toward the Americas. Due to his cleverness, he is shipwrecked in Scotland, but things go wrong and he becomes a political outcast as he flees south with a political refugee. While I struggled as I read it, I still enjoyed it. (more…)
I thought I understood satire when I read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” But reading Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels solidified the meaning of satire for me. The two works seemed to illustrate the difference between telling and showing. Reading “A Modest Proposal” was like reading a textbook example of satire, while experiencing the nuances and humor of Lemuel Gulliver’s story was instead an immersion in fluency. “A Modest Proposal” seemed to be an historical commentary, while Gulliver’s story was a more universal commentary on human nature.
Of course, the two Swift works are different genres, so comparing them is probably not fair: it’s like comparing apples to zucchini. “A Modest Proposal” is an essay, and Gulliver’s Travels is a full-length novel. “A Modest Proposal” was, I believe, written in response to a certain political situation and thus was intentionally political. Gulliver’s Travels is primarily a story, and thus is a more universal criticism of human nature. Yet, even the word “criticism” seems wrong when I consider this novel: Lemuel Gulliver’s cynicism is amusing and yet still highly relevant. It was neither an easy nor a challenging read, and it’s surprisingly accessible tone, amusing anecdotes, and pertinent commentary made it a completely satisfying read. (more…)
In Chapter 6 of my history of children’s literature textbook, Children’s Literature, Seth Lerer indicates:
Almost from its original publication in 1719, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe had an immense impact on literature for children and adults. It has been widely seen as one of the first major novels in English; as the stimulus for a range of adventure stories; as the kernel for abridgments and adaptations; and as the marker for particular personal and political experience. (page 129)
I can believe that. I liked Robinson Crusoe’s themes (reviewed here), and I can see how people through history could pick and choose various themes to expand upon both in criticism and when creating adaptations.
For the sake of this month’s project, I decided to look at some of the modern-day abridgments and adaptations of Robinson Crusoe to determine how it is still viewed. In Lerer’s analysis of some of the adaptations from the 1800s, he observers that many of the themes of Robinson Crusoe are taken away in making it an adventure story, and each rewritten version focused on a different moral lesson. The main difference among all the early retellings was the tone (page 137).
I came to this project torn as to whether abridgments for children are good. I wished that I could determined that adapters are more faithful to the original in this day and age, but I also wished I could suggest that everyone just stay with the original, simply because I like classics to be left alone.
In the end, I’d suggest that there are similar changes in tone in the various children’s adaptations of Robinson Crusoe today, and some of them eliminate or completely rewrite the major themes of Robinson Crusoe. But this is not always bad. (more…)
I loved reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, despite the fact that it was written with 1700s archaic language, with long sentences stringing thoughts together, with essentially no dialog and no characters (beyond Robinson Crusoe himself), and with basically no plot. And yet, I loved it. Putting in to words why I loved it is another matter: I’m not certain why, but I did enjoy it.
Robinson Crusoe is the account of the life of a man by the same name, and it is an adventure story. I don’t tend to enjoy adventure stories, but this was one for me, for Robinson’s adventure was one of practical survival and religious realization. I also loved the language with which it was told, archaic and unfamiliar though it was. (more…)