Literature: The Swiss Family Robinson

A 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss (and edited by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss) about a Swiss family (two parents, four sons - ages 15, 13, 10, and 7) shipwrecked en route to Australia and stranded on an island. Fortunately, their ship carried supplies for a new colony, and the island is furnished with an astounding diversity of flora and fauna. Hurrah!

For the father, this is an excellent opportunity to teach his children about nature, technology, resourcefulness, and morality.

Less of an actual story, and more of a list of useful facts to know when you're stranded on a deserted island.

Note: Robinson is not a Swiss name. The German name translates as "the Swiss Robinson". The popularity of Robinson Crusoe caused a flurry of stories about people on desert islands. This literature was called "Robinsons" and this particular novel was a "Robinson" about a Swiss family, not a Swiss family named Robinson.

This book contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Translators of the original German into English apparently added quite a bit to the story; if you remember Jack riding an ostrich, for instance, that was an added bit.
  • Author Appeal: The author was a pastor; the unnamed father of the family (narrator) is very big on prayer, resting on the Sabbath, and such.
  • Author Tract: Tropes Are Not Bad version: It's basically a "how to survive in the wilderness if you are ever stuck on a deserted island for dummies" disguised as a story.
  • Deserted Island: The point of the exercise.
  • Film of the Book: Disney's Swiss Family Robinson, a well-received 1960 film.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Aside of some minor discomfort here and there, at no point is the family ever truly presented to be in any danger of not surviving. Unsure of local flora or fauna; it's cool, our not sunk or water damaged ship is fully stocked with everything you need! Iconic treehouse destroyed in a hurricane you were never in danger of; find an even cooler cave with multiple side rooms! Not to say that the farming itself isn't work, but there's no sense that the family won't make it at any time.
  • I Am Not Shazam: Unlike what the English title of the novel might suggest, the name of the family is almost certainly not Robinson, as it is not a Swiss name. Rather, it is a Shout-Out to Robinson Crusoe and the influence it had on this book. The German title translates roughly to "The Swiss Robinson Crusoe". Several film and TV adaptations succumbed to the confusion and named the family Robinson In-Universe.
  • Misplaced Vegetation: The island is home to plants from many different areas of the world.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The island is home to animals from many different areas of the world too!
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: The father is basically a walking encyclopedia expositia on every craft that might be useful to survival.
  • Science Marches On: The above-mentioned wildlife is thought to have come to the island by way of now-sunken land bridges. At the time of the novel's writing, continental drift wasn't even fringe science.
  • Shout-Out: The title is an allusion to Robinson Crusoe, who is also named explicitly by the characters.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very much idealistic. The island is quite idyllic despite a few dangerous creatures, and since the family has sufficient education in natural science, they're happy and content a la Rousseau.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Roberta. This part is pulled off extremely badly in the Disney version. The Robinson boys' thought process seems to be "This person who looks, sounds, and acts like a very feminine girl has a stocking cap on, so clearly it's a guy." The movie even acts like The Reveal is as much of a surprise to the audience as it is the characters.
    • Not to mention that, with her hair cut short, she hardly looks any more feminine without the cap than with it!
  • Treehouse of Fun: The family builds an enormous one, complete with a library. This is ramped Up to Eleven in the Disney film, with a replica of the treehouse even featuring as an attraction at several Disney Theme Parks. Though it does raise the question: With that much material and ingenuity, why not build a boat instead? (Answer: Rule of Cool, of course!)
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: The father spent "a large portion of his childhood" in the workshops of pretty much every craftsman known to man. Admittedly he doesn't say he was working with them, but he had enough exposure to each to recreate their machinery from memory.