I was clearly spoilt as a child. My parents gave me a present which consisted of junior versions of classic novels such as Robin Hood, Moby Dick and The Swiss Family Robinson which I loved probably most of all.
The tale of a loving family, spared by God from a shipwreck who go on to inhabit an island, build a home among the tree tops and cultivate the land and fauna was a story I enjoyed re-reading several times as a young boy.
Now I come to read the original version, which I assume narrowly escaped the title ‘hunting and Killing in a Land Forgotten By Geography’ The family arrives on an island equipped with enough tools, weapons, livestock and plants to start a colony. Even the Captain of the ship’s library survives the ship-wreck. At no point do you feel that the family are in any kind of peril or particular hardship. The father knows everything there is to know about every science you can imagine (in German and in Latin) The island itself contains flora and fauna from the Africas, Europe, Americas and Australia. I half expected them to while away the Winter months by travelling about on Reindeer whilst taking pot shots at duck-billed platypus.
And that’s one of my main problems with this book – everything gets shot! If it flies anywhere near its shot. If it swims anywhere near its harpooned. If it happens to be grazing in a field with its parents its not shot. It is however lassooed, bitten, mutilated and broken for them to ride. Animals seem to hurl themselves at the families muskets in a mass suicide whenever the settlers feel a little peckish. And when they aren’t they kill them anyway.
Another problem I had with the book, probably due to its age, is the style of writing. The tale is told, mostly, by the father. He is a priest, has read all about everything that grows or lives on the island and is a colossal know all!
His wife doesn’t even have a name as far as the reader is concerned until 25% of the way through. Whenever his sons have injured themselves trying to pick a fruit or something he always takes the time to scold them in some way, usually a pompous, overly pious way, BEFORE helping them. As a side note he’s also unsure of the age of one of his sons and constantly names another as lazy because of his calm, studious ways.
The book is also missing two pages where the family confront a bear which was very annoying.
The last part of the book, where the family meet with some savages, a Missionary and some handy European ladies for the sons to marry is a complete anti climax and made me wish fervently for the end of the tale.