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Literature / The Swiss Family Robinson

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An 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.

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" (or Robinsonaden) and this particular novel was a "Robinson" about a Swiss family, not a Swiss family named Robinson.

It has been adapted to the screen a number of times, most famously as a Disney feature film in 1960.

This book contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: One of the oddest examples where the story has undergone many expansions and abridging over the course of its translations. To the point scholars have said "with all the expansions and contractions over the past two centuries Wyss's original narrative has long since been obscured". If you remember Jack riding an ostrich, for instance, that was an added bit.
  • Animated Adaptation: Courtesy of Nippon Animation's World Masterpiece Theater series, there's an anime adaptation from 1981 that gives the family a tomboyish daughter.
  • 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.
  • Family Title: In English translation.
  • 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.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Averted, surprisingly for the time period. Fritz falls into a pit of it about halfway through, and floats like a cork; although he is mired quite thoroughly until a zebra wanders by.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: A gigantic python snake strangles and eats the donkey.
  • Robinsonade: An early example.
  • Shipwreck Start: As well as the 1960 film, begins with a family of six (originally) being stranded on an island probably in the East Indies after their ship founders in a storm. In the film, they tried to use the storm to evade pirates, but the original book just seems to be a case of bad luck. Thankfully for the latter, their ship survives basically intact with all their supplies, so it's a downplayed example.
  • 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: Jenny Montrose. Although the father isn't fooled for a minute even though three of his sons are. 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!)
  • Tropical Island Adventure: The whole setting is this.
  • The Unfavorite: While the father is inclined to correct (or 'educate') all of his children after they say/do something, he seems to find Jack to be particularly useless and is often very critical of his basic (somewhat silly) character. He also sometimes targets Ernest more than Fritz or Francis, characterizing him as gluttonous and slothful; for example, early in the story he forces him to give his carefully cooled cup of soup to the dogs for having been too cautious after witnessing his brothers burning themselves on the broth, suggesting that Ernest thought himself better than the others.

Alternative Title(s): Swiss Family Robinson