Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Swiss Family Robinson - Jan Wyss

Title: The Swiss Family Robinson
Author: Jan Wyss
Date Finished: Nov 5, 2008 #64
Published: 1812 Pages: 304
Rating: 2/5

Talk about books that have been sitting on your shelf for years! I’m not even sure how long this puppy has been decorating the shelf (collecting dust is more like it), but I think maybe I got this from my Grandma years and years ago. To be honest, I haven’t really had much of a desire to read it, but I was tired of looking at it!

The Swiss Family Robinson is about a husband, wife, and their four boys who are shipwrecked and deserted on an island in the East Indies. The rest of the crew is able to sail away to safety in the lifeboats, but the family is left behind on the boat so they must make their way to the island in order to survive. They learn the terrain and the flora and fauna and eventually make various homes on the island.

I started off liking this book much more than I expected. I disliked Robinson Crusoe (perhaps because I HAD to read it for a grad course) and I expected this one to be similar. But I was surprised at how easy the reading was and how engaging the characters were. There was a lot of dialogue, especially between the father and his sons, which was nice since Crusoe didn’t have much dialogue except with Polly (the parrot) until Friday came along. But, then I realized that this isn’t an adventure book like I thought it was going to be.

The Swiss Family Robinson is more of a didactic book about survival in the wilderness. The father is constantly creating lessons out of every daily aspect and is often condescending to his children. He chides them for not having knowledge, but the knowledge the father possesses is completely from books he has read (how convenient!). After getting further into the book, I had to change my perspective and read this book for the interesting things the family built and how they survived in the wilderness instead of for a wild adventure. The book is an interesting look at the nature of animals as those in the early nineteenth century understood them (before Darwin and his theories) as well as European imperialism and colonial ideals.

I wish I could say that I ended up enjoying this book as much as I did when reading the first few chapters, but the reading became redundant and almost a chore. It sparked an interesting conversation between Scott and myself about what makes a classic a classic and if this even qualifies. It is still being read (although not sure I’ve seen any other reviews of it around here), but I wonder if its popularity comes more from the Disney adaptation than from the actual text. Are there books that you read that are considered classics and you just can’t figure out why? I’d love to hear about it!

26 comments:

bethany said...

Oh, so sorry to hear that it was not so good :(

It is good that you gave it a shot, I have so many books like that, they have been with me so long I have no idea where they are from. I should read one.

haha, yes I have a horrid classic: Anna Karenina!!!!! yuk.

Charley said...

Hmm, I'll probably skip this one, since you say reading it ended up feeling redundant and like a chore. I know what you mean about books sitting on your shelf for years and you end up reading them simply because you're tired of looking at them! Charles Dickens's Bleak House is one that I'll probably tackle one of these days, as it's been sitting on my shelf for about 5 years.

Ramya said...

i read this book nearly loong loonngg ago..atleast 10 years ago for school. I do remember liking it then. But i am not sure what i would think about it if i read it again now..

Ramya said...

oops.. just take the "nearly" off from the first line.:) too many lines were colliding in my head and that obviously came out wrong:)

Trish said...

*Bethany - I was telling my husband that if this book was written now it would have been so exciting--I think it was just the style that kind of irked me--too much "what is the lesson we can learn from this..." Anna Karenina--blah! :) I need to read some Russian Lit, but I don't plan on starting there!

*Charley - Ya--definitely not a must read! :) Bleak House scares the crap out of me...isn't that really long? I like Dickens a lot but I have to work up to reading his stuff. I have Oliver Twist on the shelf for this month.

*Ramya - LOL--I understood what you meant! Glad you liked this one...not sure if I would have liked it any better 10 years ago! I still think it was better than Robinson Crusoe--what a bore! ;)

Joy said...

Whew! I'm glad I didn't try this one - if you didn't care for it, I'm sure I wouldn't have.

Bookfool said...

Well, I agree with you that Robinson Crusoe was an utter slog. I don't think it was merely because you *had* to read it. I read it with my eldest, when I was homeschooling him. I thought it was going to kill me.

Becky said...

I read and reviewed this one in January. I agree that this one was a chore to get through. Though oddly enough, this seems to be one of my more popular posts that people view.

Becky

Chain Reader said...

This is one of the great things about book blogs--now I know not to waste my reading time on this! I do like the Disney movie, though.

Melody said...

I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the book as much as you expected. The plot sounds promising though... guess this book is one of those that falls flat towards the middle.

Veens said...

:-) I understand - i have like a pile of books that i got from my uncle who might have bougt it in 70s and 80s and i hae not touched them yet..

this is the same reason why i find it difficult you know! the writing and the fact that it would be a chore!

but well atleast u gave it a try :) and warned me about it~ :) --not that i have it :)

Trish said...

*Joy - I tried but there just wasn't any excitement. The reading was easy, which was good for a classic, just not interesting.

*Bookfool - Yup, that's about how I felt when I was reading it for class. I think we had three weeks to read the book (not sure why, it isn't long and it was a grad course), but it took every painful moment of that three weeks for me to get through it.

*Becky - Interesting! I wonder what makes this one so popular? I've noticed that my Tess of the D'Urbervilles post is one of my most viewed and I wondered if it was school kids visiting for paper ideas?

*Chain Reader - I remember liking the Disney movie, too! I mentioned this above to someone, but I think if this were written now it would be a really exciting book! Just too preachy for me.

*Melody - The plot was there, but like I said to chain reader above, it was entirely too preachy. At times I really wanted to kick the dad in the shin and tell him to calm down and relax! :)

*Veens - I don't think you're missing much by skipping this one! Sounds like you got quite a lot of books on your shelf! I've been slowly tackling one at a time!

Anna said...

I've never read this one, and I don't think I will. Sad, though, because it sounds like such a good book. But after torturing myself...I mean, reading The Golden Notebook, I must pass on anything that seems like a chore.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Jeane said...

I read this when I was a teenager. I remember finding it annoyingly unbelievable how well-provided they were from the shipwreck and how many animals and plants they found on the island which could not possibly exist in the same habitat. That along with the sadly inaccurate facts about same fauna and flora. It really bugged me then. I ought to look at the book again and write my own thoughts on it.

Amanda said...

I've never read the book but the old Disney version was a favorite of mine growing up. I wanted their tree house so bad. Hmmm...I think Anna Karenina is one of those. I've read more than half of it and haven't gone back. I mean I know how it ends. And I really don't care for the characters. It could have definitely been WAY shorter. Hmm..

Melissa said...

It's too bad... the movie is so much fun. One of those cases where the movie is better than the book, I guess. :)

Ramya said...

lol.. robinson crusoe is surely not going on my wishlist anytime soon:)

Trish said...

*Anna - Glad to have it off the shelf, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you feel completely compelled to read it. Chores aren't fun! :)

*Jeane - Yes, exactly! I was really bugged by those aspects as well--the island they inhabited was completely unrealistic and entirely too convenient. LOL--I'd be interested to read your thoughts, but I suspect they might be the same as when you read it the first time?

*Amanda - Haven't read Anna Karenia, but I've heard that it is quite a task to read. Don't think I'll pick it up any time soon. I liked the Disney version as well and the tree house is pretty cool, but still pretty boring in the book. ;)

*Melissa - Yes, movie is definitely better!!

*Ramya - LOL--nope, I think there are better books to read first!

Dar said...

I was so excited when I had seen that you had reviewed this and then I saw the rating. I think , from the film adaptation which I thought was great-I would also expect the book to be and that's not always so. Too bad you didn't enjoy it more.

Nymeth said...

I had no idea this book was like that either. Somehow I was under the impression that it was a Treasure Island-esque type of adventure. As interesting as reading about wilderness survival tips can be, I think a whole book of them would be too much for me :P

You know what's funny? I've seen people compare Nation to this book, and if that puzzled me before (because an adventures-in-an-island sort of book is the last thing I'd say Nation is), it puzzles me even more now!

valentina said...

I used to watch the animated series in the 80's and loved it! But I can't imagine liking the book if it's that didactic.

Trish said...

*Dar - In this case the movie was definitely better (so rare that I say that!). I think this one is more about *learning* to survive rather than the actual survival. Oh well!

*Nymeth - Now you have me really curious about Nation! I think if written in a different time this might have been much more entertaining/exciting? (well, and written for other purposes--wikipedia talks a bit about why this book was written with such a didactic tone). I'm guessing maybe stick with Treasure Island?

*Valentina - I didn't know there was a series! How fun! I do remember seeing the Disney movie when little and then the treehouse at Disneyland (which I loved) but haven't had much exposure otherwise.

Literary Feline said...

I can't say I have ever considered reading this one. I've seen the movie though. I am sorry it didn't turn out the way you had hoped. After reading your review, I think my first instinct not to read it is the one I'll stick with.

As for your question . . . The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde was a classic that I didn't quite get.

Laura said...

At least the book wasn't super long, since it wasn't a fun one to read. I hope reading this won't make it harder to pick up the next classic!

Trish said...

*Lit Feline - Yup, no need to read this one if you aren't already wanting to. :) I didn't get The Picture of Dorian Gray either-I liked it but had to skim through several passages--good thing it was a short book!

*Laura - I'm halfway through Emma right now and enjoying it (taking it pretty slowly). This one wasn't too painful, just not as much fun as I had hoped.

Rebecca Reid said...

I grew up watching the movie, so I think I"d read it just to compare.....Interesting comparisons to the the Robinson Crusoe. I think I should probably read that first because that's the definitive survival story. Thanks for the review.