Thursday, June 14, 2007

Children's Books I Like to Read

Knowledge doesn't always make you happy.

I read Swiss Family Robinson several times when I was a kid. The version was from the '50s, I think, illustrated by Lynd Ward (not the version pictured). The most striking thing about his pictures is that all the people's faces are skewed; I read much later that toward the end of his career he developed a condition that affected his eyesight, which in turn affected his drawings.

Anyway, it was one of my favorite books--a very satisfying adventure of a family, shipwrecked on a tropical island, not only surviving, but, over 10 years, building quite a civilized compound and finally deciding to stay there, instead of being "rescued."

I was offended that Disney's movie version had cavalierly removed an entire son, and introduced a ship full of pirates.

Then my kids grew old enough to listen to the book, and, without access to the copy that I had loved, I took another one out of the library. As we went along, I started noticing some differences in this version. On closer inspection, I realized that it was a translation, and assumed that it was just a different translator's interpretation. Then I did a little more research, and discovered that there have been many versions of this book through the years, and that different editors and translators have added and removed entire chunks of the narrative. Disney's offense was nothing. Most likely, the book I read originally had little to do with Johann Wyss's first manuscript.

Here's what Wikipedia has on the subject:

The Swiss Family Robinson (Der Schweizerische Robinson) is a novel, first published in 1812, about a Swiss family who is shipwrecked in the East Indies en route to Port Jackson, Australia.

Written by Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss, and edited by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss, this novel was intended to teach his four sons about family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance. Publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel modernized and changed the story expanding and continuing it with additional chapters not authored by Wyss, republishing it under the title of The New Swiss Family Robinson.[1]...

Although movie and TV adaptations have often given them the surname Robinson, which is not a Swiss name, the "Robinson" of the title refers to Robinson Crusoe.

This was almost as shocking as learning that Laura Ingalls Wilder might not have written the Little House series. After I get over the shock, though, I'll go back and read it again, just for spite.

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