Way back when I was young, I inherited a pile of books from my father. Some were from when he was a boy, others were from later on, dealing with Greek and Roman history mainly.
Of his boyhood books, one in particular became my favourite. It had been given to him for Christmas 1956, so is quite an old book, and was called The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann Wyss. I read it many, many times as a boy, but hadn’t read it for many years since, until the other day.
The novel itself was first published way back in 1812. In the version I have at least, the language and even attitudes in it may seem a little old fashioned, but perhaps modern adaptions have gotten around it. For instance, pineapples are referred in it by their old name, Ananas.
As to the story itself, it tells of a Swiss family on a colony ship heading to the South Seas, and who are shipwrecked somewhere in the East Indies. The rest of the crew perish, but they survive. The story is told by the father of the family, whose name we never discover and related their adventures. The rest of the family is his wife, Elizabeth, and their four sons, Fritz, Ernest, Jack and Francis, ranging from 14 to 6 years in age.
The island they find themselves on is a veritable Aladin’s cave of an impossible collection of plants and animals drawn from all over the world – lions, tigers, jackals, zebras, ostriches, kangaroo, platypus, wild boars, onagers, monkeys, penguins, flax plants, pineapple, coconuts, rubber trees, sago, cotton, so on and on.
Using the tools they find on the ship and the father’s seemingly limitless knowledge of trades, they build themselves a place to live and indeed thrive.
What I loved about it as a kid was the adventures they had, exploring new lands, building shelters, discovering new wonders and so it. It was probably the first story that sparked the enjoyment of that type of thing in me, and certainly influenced a lot of the books, games and movies I enjoyed so much in later years. It is in part also what I love about building new worlds to write in, as it allows me to seek out the new and unknown.