Being an avid reader in a country that doesn’t use your native language can be a problem. To get good stuff to read I either have to download it, have it shipped to me, or go to a big city and spend a bunch of money on imported books.
None of those options work well for me because when I say ‘avid’ I mean I read multiple books a week. To have them shipped, or buy them would cost way too much money.
Luckily, the English department at the college has a little collection of English language books available to check out. The only problem is there are all, at least, 50 to 100 years old. The collection is mostly made up of Penguin Classic’s with the odd mystery and romance thrown in (donations perhaps from past English teachers?)
So, I have resigned myself to reading the classics. Actually, it is not so bad. I mean, while I know all about Huckleberry Finn, I’m not sure if I’ve ever read it. I’ve realized that classics are well-known books that are completely unknown. Take, for instance, The Swiss Family Robinson.
I’ve been to Disney World, so I thought I knew the main idea of the book: Family gets stranded on tropical island, makes a crazy tree house and lives their lives comfortably on know-how and ingenuity.
Well, the truth is quite different and quite sinister. First off, the family gets stranded on the most magical deserted island ever. There are kangaroos, buffalo, apes, baboons, penguins, hyenas and elephants all living there. I know it was written in the 1800’s when much of the world was unexplained, but c’mon! Even back then they had to know that elephants, penguins and buffalo live in two totally different climates!
Also on this island is every kind of useful plant from all over the world. There is an African tar tree for making shoes and plastics, a New Zealand tall grass to weave clothes, some kind of wax berry to make candles from South America, and all kinds of delicious edibles. There are also palm trees and bamboo forests right next to one another. It just stretched any suspension of disbelief a bit far.
As if that didn’t make their life easy enough, the ship they were crashed on carried enough goods to supply an entire brand new colony for several months. There were barrels of butter, salt, ham, grain, livestock animals, tools (enough to make a sawmill and a grist mill), clothes and all manner of useful items. How could these people not survive after all the supplies that are available to them?! Ingenuity and know-how my ass.
But the worst thing is how they act. They are all polite, and very “Godly” but they have no respect for their environment. They shoot first and ask questions later…literally. They have the lightest trigger fingers and take down all sorts of amazing creatures for mere pleasure. I’m not a hunter myself, but I’m not against it. In survival style books I understand the necessity to talk about, and show, hunting.
But in this book they just kill, kill, kill for the first 100 pages. They even admit at one point to having too much meat, then the kids (young teens) go off and shoot more amazing animals unnecessarily. And the way it is written shows such cruelty. Here is an example:
“They (a group of monkey’s) were taken by surprise completely, and the dog, now really ravenous from hunger, had seized and was fiercely tearing one to pieces before we could approach the spot. “
Turns out the monkey it was eating was the mother to a newborn. So what does the family do? Why, take the newborn to use as their little pet of course! And not only that, they transport the monkey by tying it to the back of the dog that just ate the mother. Talk about animal cruelty. Of course in this magical island the monkey not only immediately obeys the family, but forgets its natural monkey nature and is immediately domesticated.
They also do surprising damage to the environment for such a small group of people. They cut down trees, build dams, drain wetlands and divert streams. At one point one of their houses gets ransacked by gorillas (they have multiple houses all over the island at this point) so to prevent it from happening again, they poison dozens of gorillas who die horrible, painful deaths.
I don’t know, maybe it is because I’ve been reading a lot about the Copenhagen Climate Change meeting that is going on right now but, to me, the Swiss Family Robinson represents what is wrong with the world. Lack or respect for any other creature, lack of respect for the environment and total entitlement based on religious beliefs.
I will never look at their tree house in Disney World the same way again….
Hi, Becky! I enjoyed your comments, and agree that the Robinsons detailed in the book are barbarians. However, it seems like, perhaps, you’ve never seen the film by Walt Disney studios (the 1960 release — not the bland remake).
The Disney Studios also read Wyss’s book, shrieked, retained its title and the shipwreck, and chucked everything else. It’s a fun, albeit unrealistic family movie. But for all that entertainment, I am willing to suspend my disbelief. They don’t hunt or harm any animals, subsist on what looks to be bananas and coconuts, and swing from tendrils into a tropical lagoon (which they have neither dammed or rerouted). The film is pure escapism and most Americans’ idea of a dream vacation.
The tree houses in both U.S. theme parks were based on this film, not the Neanderthals depicted in Wyss’s book. Since Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson” is my all-time favorite film, I felt compelled to defend it and the tree houses. There! Phew. I feel better.
Keep up the great blogging! è°¢è°¢!
Well it’s good to know the Disney movie is different from the book. I’ve probably seen the movie sometime when I was young but didn’t remember it at all. So next time I’m at Disney, maybe I’ll give the tree houses another shot.;)
I have just watched the beginning of the disney film, googled “swiss family robinson animal cruelty” which brought me to here. I also watched it as a child but as an adult find the animal scenes quite horrific. Although the family in the film may treat the animals slighty better in this storyline, the animal actors would have been hugely distressed filming some of the scenes. You can see it in their faces. As someone who works with dogs and has done film work with animals, I can see there was no way of faking the viscous fight between the two dogs and a tiger, especially in 1960. I am shocked and saddened viewing this film through adult eyes.
I just watched it again after years of thinking I loved the movie. I assume the world is a much different place now.
I am an animal lover, and seeing the dog attack the tiger, and the animals swimming next to the boat, was all I could watch.
I had to Google how they did that tiger scene and saw this posted.
Thank goodness these kinDr of things are no longer done.
It pains me that this is all you took from such a wonderfully educational book. You obviously didn’t read it very well and saw only what you wanted to see.
In the book Ernst made quite a few references to how strange the large variety of fauna and flora seemed – he easily deduced that the island had to have been part of a larger continent in the past.
I live in South Africa – and your comment regarding elephants and penguins inhabiting completely different eco systems/climates is laughable. On the eastern coast of South Africa (which I recently visited on my honeymoon) you find an abundance of penguins, and about 30km inland you can visit the Addo Elephant Park. Wow hey, this must come as such a shock to you O.o
The abundance of Flora you found unbelievable is also quite strange – did you not realize before man intervened that the world was covered in all kinds of amazing plants and trees? most beauty products/clothes/everything we use once came from these now depleted natural resources – and it’s not the simple self-sustainable farmers (like the Robinson Family) that is to blame but large timber companies/pharmaceutical industries/generally large money hungry corporations that has caused this deterioration.
Would you not shoot first and ask questions later in an unfamiliar territory with little more than protecting your family on your mind. With the exception of instances I can count on my one hand no animal was ever killed just for “pleasure”. They were all utilized, be it for skin, meat, medicine etc. I know of families in today’s modern time that treat animals far far worse and hunt for amusement/trophies.
The monkey quote also baffles me. “They (a group of monkey’s) were taken by surprise completely, and the dog, now really ravenous from hunger, had seized and was fiercely tearing one to pieces before we could approach the spot. ” It clearly states that the dog was ravenous, if you posted the paragraph right before your excerpt “Just as we had passed through the grove in which we breakfasted, Turk suddenly darted away from us, and sprang furiously among a troop of monkeys” you can clearly deduce that they had no way of stopping their dog – The fact that this was a mothering monkey was very unfortunate, but they did the right thing and took him home, treated him as part of the family – aptly naming him Master Knips. Your next comment bothers me as well “Of course in this magical island the monkey not only immediately obeys the family, but forgets its natural monkey nature and is immediately domesticated.” – Did you for a moment forget that this is fiction? Also note the paragraph slight after my previously quoted. “On perceiving Turk’s bloodthirsty design, Fritz had eagerly rushed to the rescue, flinging away all he was carrying, and losing his hat in his haste. All to no purpose as far as the poor mother ape was concerned” does this sound like someone who cold bloodily killed for pleasure? – I think not
All in all I think you should learn to read a book properly and do some research before “writing” an article like this. I can scarcely believe that I spent so much time hastily typing my response but Swiss Family Robinson is a great classic novel and you as a self-proclaimed writer should recognize and appreciate this.
So my comment does not get put on cause it proves your article to be ridiculous?
No, no. I have to manually approve all comments by new people and sometimes it takes me a few days to do. I don’t get angry because someone disagrees with me! After all, it’s just a book review and my opinion. I have no delusions that everyone agrees with me and all my opinions.
To be honest, I read this book 5 years ago and have read hundreds of books since, so I don’t have such clear memories of it so I can’t argue it with you on a point by point basis without reading it again (which I know I don’t want to do because I didn’t enjoy it very much the last time!)
But I know it is not just me that feels this way because “Swiss Family Robinson animal abuse” is one of the top 10 googled phrases that people find my blog through. And if you google it yourself you will see many others commenting on the barbarity of the humans (such as one of the boys killing an animal with his fists just for being ugly) and the impossibility of the animals and flora living in this one small area.
I get that it is fiction, and I get that the author put these animals and plants in one small location to make an exciting story for kids (which the sanitized, abridged version is) but as a writer I know the power of a story. I know the power it has to influence our thoughts and our actions and I feel that Swiss Family Robinson shows the bad side of humanity. In the past, with a huge unexplored world and unlimited resources this kind of story was great. But we’re smarter now, the world is smaller, dirtier and our resources as sadly depleting. So I think this story send the wrong message to people now.
I ended up at your post when I googled Swiss Family Robinson animal killing because I was sickened by the amount of animals they kill. In Chapter XVI Bathing, Fishing, and a Kangaroo, Ernest joyously exclaimed “And have I really killed this wonderful animal?” Followed by Father “You may then be highly flattered with your adventure of killing an animal at once so rare and so remarkable”. They had already that day caught “a fish of monstrous size”, so it wasn’t because they needed the meat. I realize this book was written in 1812 but I am so uncomfortable with the quantity and reasons they kill some of the animals.
I hardly have to say it but ‘Natania’ you are a moron. That book and movie are shocking in their lack of respect not only for animals and the environment but other people. At one point the youngest boy jumps up and down laughing, clapping and yells ”Hurray! There’s a man being crushed to death!”.
Need I say more?
I’m glad I wasn’t the only one shocked by the amount of killing in this book. Virtually every chapter featured the family needlessly killing an animal. I’m not a member of PETA, and I enjoy a juicy steak as much as the next guy, but the Robinson family killed simply for fun.
I read the book to my kids recently because I remember liking it as a kid, but even my kids commented on how often they’re hearing about animals getting killed. They killed (and this is from memory) a tortoise, a shark, a kangaroo, a buffalo, an iguana, a monkey, a gorilla, an eel, a boa constrictor, an ostrich, some flamingos, two bears, of course multiple fish, and they try unsuccessfully to kill some wildcats.
I was hoping the book was more about the family surviving in the wild and building their elaborate tree houses, but it reads like a sociopathic orgy that breaks out at a petting zoo.
“sociopathic orgy that breaks out at a petting zoo.” hahah great description. That should be on the book cover.
Lol I just got done reading confessions of a sociopath and truthfully her confessions pale in comparison to Swiss Family Robinson in this chapter alone they managed a condor , two bears the giant boa constrictor and assorted flamingos earlier they murdered a 10 foot in diameter see tortoise , I thought I was the only one having trouble with this “children’s book” I found lying in the road on the next to a school bus I too was hoping for a story of survival and resourcefulness and some nice tree house building with an occasional fish or hunt to eat I suppose not only these guys ravenous bloodthirsty killers but I never saw more resourceful group of builders and handyman so far they built a massive tree house a huge crystal cave .
,drawbridges , dams, aqueducts a mechanical rowing boat, a sailboat their own candles , blacksmith shop tanning facility, ad nauseum, I’m recuperating from back surgery and reading everything I can get my hands on however it’s going to take awhile to get this book out of my head I’m glad I’m not the only one thanks for your comments laugh out loud a children’s book warm regards Norman
@ Natania your ignorance is unreal. You can’t go off on someone for not having the same view as you. If you don’t like the review set up a website and write your own so we can NOT read it. I’ve read the book and seen the movie. If it’s fiction then they could have written a way around killing every chapter, regardless you should go to a doctor to get that stick removed from your rectum. Hope your surgery goes well “bye Felicia”
Natania you are a complete idiot and moron!
Nothing justifies this story or film!!
In the book they simply kill for the sake of it!
I understand they are scared… But simply killing most creatures is barbaric!!
Also during the filming the director “admited” to electro shocking the Zeebra in one scene to get him to move in the way they wanted him to move!!!
How the hell is that not animal cruelty???
Also they strangled the ostritch during filming
They terrorised the dogs
Nearly all the animals were distressed during filming
Like pigs having there ears pulled!!
Disney has a notorious track record of blatant animal abuse!!
So I suggest you open you pathetic eyes and stop talking shit!
We gave up on another book which was getting too dark to read together as a family. So we wanted something we were certain we would like! So we bought SFR and were horrified. We gave up on the last book so we wanted to believe SFR would get better but it doesn’t! I don’t mind horror so long as it is meant to be thought of as horror, not just some fun. Pleased to find your post from 2009, Becky. Hope your access to books as improved.
Haha, yes! Thanks to my little Kindle it definitely has. 😉
My son’s classical school 3rd grade class is reading this book and I hate it! He hates it too!
We’re only into the fifth chapter and I dread trying to finish this crap. I think the worst part of the animal stuff so far has been the turtle. The kid harpoons it off in the distance for no reason, then when it swims ashore the dad cuts its head off. Pointless.
I think the other thing I find exhausting is that the dad knows EVERYTHING. And every detail about everything they do is spelled out in this book. I’m surprised every bowel movement and menstrual cycle isn’t documented! We sit through the seemingly endless minutiae of building, how Mr. MacGuyver Robinson tied this together and laid planks this way and that and everything just worked! And all their “capital” ideas. It’s like binge watching Seinfeld…a show about nothing, only at least Seinfeld was hilarious. This book isn’t funny. It’s not even entertaining. It’s boring. “Today we awoke, killed stuff, ate, explored, built stuff, and then went to bed.” Over and over for however many chapters. What a turd!
I stopped reading (an abridged version) after the dad whistled and the iguana twitched happily, and rolled over, only to get murdered. I was thinking, aw, they are curious about it. Then, bam, let’s kill it. Oh, wait, I take it back, I made it to where a baby buffalo had a ring up through its nose. I though, jeeze, you have to kill or maim EVERYTHING you encounter? You can’t just enjoy the animals? They took a small freakin zoo off the boat, but then kill all sorts of critters in the wild. I just didn’t want to read more about each new animal they encounter, and how they kill it.
Yes, I read it to my daughters, not having remembered the number of animals killed. We would preface every reading with ‘I wonder how many animals the Swiss Family Robinson will kill tonight?’ Sometimes the kids would try to guess how many. It was usually over a dozen. Needless to say times have changed and attitudes to animals and nature too. The world is not seen as a cornucopia for exploitation any more (well at least by most people – mining giants not included). After one particularly gruesome chapter my eldest daughter sighed: ‘I hate these people’. And, Becky, as well as having everything they could possibly need at their disposal to live a comfortable life, they also find a shipwrecked woman to pair off with their eldest son, and then a ship arrives with a couple more for the other boys. So very convenient. It’s not a well-written book. A classic of the times only. Thanks for writing this piece. It was worth acknowledging.
Oh, wow. Two of my friends and I just drove 13 hours from MD to KY for the solar eclipse this week, and we started listening to TSFR on audio. First, it is a mind-numbing story about the daily minutiae of cultivating the island and killing everything on it, rather than the exciting adventure I thought it would be, but then there is the preposterousness of, like you said, the improbability and absurdity of the existence of the plants and animals they claim live on this island, along with the good fortune that their shipwrecked vessel contained EVERY. POSSIBLE. TOOL. they could EVER. NEED. for gardening, hunting, fishing, inventing, etc., along with the ridiculousness that the father contains all knowledge of said animals, plants and workmanship-knowhow needed to sustain the family in the way accounted for in the book…. But then there is also the senseless and needless slaughter of animals (mainly at the hands of little psychopath Fritz), and the father, who admonishes his sons for being boastful, yet takes every opportunity possible to grandiosely boast about how smart and skillful and knowledgeable he is… Gag.I *almost* feel bad for mom, being stuck with these asshats, but she willingly chose to marry their leader, so I can’t feel to bad for her. We got 75% of the way through the audiobook (8 out of 12 soul-numbing HOURS), but I don’t know if I have the heart to make it through the last four. This book just may literally break my mind and crush my soul.
People need to remember that while both the book & film are completely barbaric by today’s standards, back when the book was written it wasn’t seen as barbaric at all.
It was published in 1812 and set sometime between 1770-1812.
Animals were nothing more than a means to an end to most.
To quote Benjamin Franklin
“Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility; they think the same of theirs.”
We are the true savages, always have been.