Book Review: The Swiss Family Robinson

The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss, first published in 1812

Written in 1812 by a Swiss pastor for the purpose of teaching appreciation of natural and physical science to his sons, Swiss Family Robinson is in a genre of its own that I would call scientific fiction.  I don’t mean science fiction; this book is to science what historical fiction is to history – a story based on real science. But the characters in the story demonstrate and teach Christian values and lessons like treating others with kindness and consideration, good stewardship of resources, respect for others, and selflessness and courage in the face of danger.

Critics will point out that the setting of this book, an uninhabited island in the Pacific upon which the family has been marooned, could not possibly exist. No single island could supply the diversity of flora and fauna in the story, they say. And even I, a lifelong fan, must admit that elephants, tigers, huge bears, ostriches and boa constrictors probably can’t be found together on a single Pacific island. Another of their complaints is that this book has been added to so many times in the 200+ years since its publication that the original story has been lost.

Well, it’s a critic’s job to point out flaws and there is only one Book without any. But growing up, I read and reread this book (the Kingston Edition, which is the best-known) dozens of times and none of these flaws kept me from appreciating it. But it would be more accurate to say loving it.

Swiss Family Robinson is a gold mine of information on almost every branch of science and I soaked it all in; how to tap rubber trees, the natural history of the agouti, the use of levers and pulleys. It’s also a great vocabulary-building book. You may find a number of unfamiliar words: verdure, anomaly, dulcet – but it’s a relatively painless way to learn what these words mean and how to use them, and that’s something you want for your child.

But best of all, the parents, and as they grow up, the children, display reverence for God throughout this book. They remember to thank God for their deliverance from the ship wreck, they pray for the crew of the ship, they pray before meals and for God’s blessing on their various projects, they quote Scripture. They think and act like Christians, something not always found in the offerings at the local Christian bookstore.