Swiss Family Robinson: Mother's Nerves

[Swiss Family Robinson Content Note: Drowning]

The Swiss Family Robinson, Chapter 1: Shipwrecked

   For many days we had been tempest-tossed.

Wait, no, we have to back up a bit.

Daniel Defoe's famous novel Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719; the Swiss Family Robinson was published 100 years later in 1812. Wikipedia notes that SFR is "most successful of a large number of 'Robinsonade' novels" that followed Defoe's famous work. The book's name is itself is a reference to Defoe's influence: Der Schweizerische Robinson means "The Swiss Robinson". (We're lucky Wyss didn't name his work Der Schweizerische Crusoe; it just doesn't have the same ring.) I am only now in my 40s realizing that the family in the book is not probably not actually named Robinson, which seems pretty obvious in retrospect given that "Robinson" isn't a Swiss name. Wikipedia confirms this:

   Although movie and television adaptations typically name the family "Robinson", it is not a Swiss name. The German title translates as The Swiss Robinson which identifies the novel as part of the Robinsonade genre, rather than a story about a family named Robinson.

That's not even the end of our naming adventures! Our family patriarch and narrator doesn't have a name in the original and is just I/me (when narrating) and Father (when addressed by the children). His wife is Wife and Mother, respectively. For the sake of clarity, however, our translator has named them William and Elizabeth, names which seem to me to be more English than Swiss, but I am far from a recognized expert on Swiss naming patterns of the 1800s.

There are four boys in this book, and they too have names. Fritz is 15, the oldest, and thus is allowed to keep his Swiss name out of respect for his position as Eldest Bestest Boy. Ernest is 13 and has been slightly Englishified from the original Ernst with the addition of the extra E. Then we come to Jack, 11, who has been very hard done by in his alteration from Jakob. "Jacob" was right there, and it's Biblical too, but I have to assume that Mr. Kingston (our original, but far from final, translator) was overcome by English patriotism when he named Jack.

Franz is 8 and the youngest, and his name depends very much on which translation you read; he's variously either Franz (his original name) or "Francis" for no better reason than because otherwise we'd have two children with names that start with Fr, end with Z, and are 5 letters long. Given that many (most?) readers read by word-shape, that's a real problem. I must also here throw into the mix my dyslexia. The translation I'm reading uses "Franz" and we will just have to do our best.

Wikipedia also throws out these two names and I've been puzzling at them for a few minutes now:

   Turk (German: Türk) – The family's English dog.
   Juno (German: Bill) – The family's Danish dog.

Surely it would make more sense for the *English* dog to be the one named Bill, right? Right?? And I'm assuming that, when Bill was changed to Juno (the Roman goddess of marriage and long-suffering wife of Jove), a gender change was involved as well? I would not be surprised, as I remember well from Ursula Vernon's live-reads that the animals in this novel will become pregnant as the plot demands, rather than within the bounds of nature and her laws.

ANYWAY. We are not here to get bogged down in names, we are here for extremely impractical animal husbandry. But first, the storm:

   For many days we had been tempest-tossed.

I'm not sure if the book ever tells us this, but (per our reliable old Wikipedia again) the ship's intended destination right now is Australia. I would guess that the family is planning to emigrate there, although I think that too goes unmentioned and there is a surprising lack of personal items around them if they were planning to relocate permanently--but, on the other hand, I don't believe Australia is really much of a tourist spot at this time in history. Then again, I'm uncertain which period of history we are technically in; the book was published in 1812, yes, but written many years prior:

   Johann David Wyss, a Swiss pastor, originally wrote this book to entertain and instruct his four sons. Years later, his son Johann (or Jean—accounts differ) Rudolf Wyss, by then a professor of philosophy, persuaded his father to allow him to complete and edit the unfinished manuscript.

To sum up: we are on an unnamed boat with an unnamed narrator and his unnamed family on their way to an undisclosed location for unknown reasons in a year, month, and day which are uncertain to us. But we do know that the storm has been going on for 7 days, which may well be a terrific length for acts of Biblical creation but is not an ideal time for a storm to last. The crew is exhausted, the boat is taking on water, and the little family is staying out of the way below deck.

The narrator notes that the seamen "now uttered frantic cries to God for mercy, mingled with strange and often ludicrous vows, to be performed should deliverance be granted" which is obviously very silly and unserious of these frantic sailors. Our narrator is a calm and studious kind of fellow, not a fair-weather (or I suppose it really should be "foul-weather" in this circumstance) believer.

   'Dear children,' said I, 'if the Lord will, He can save us even from this fearful peril; if not, let us calmly yield our lives into His hand, and think of the joy and blessedness of finding ourselves for ever and ever united in that happy home above. Even death is not too bitter, when it does not separate those who love one another.'

I cannot think of a more comforting thing to tell an 8 year old after seven full days and nights of pitch-black storm, rolling waves, and encroaching cold water in their physical space. I'll bet that speech calmed the stomach nausea right down.

Fortunately, Wife/Mother/Elizabeth pitches in at this point and "began to cheer and encourage them with calm and loving words". I swear I'm not trying to go for Husband/Father/William's throat right away, nor for Wyss', but I'm terribly curious what calm and loving words, precisely, would "cheer and encourage" the kids in this situation and I'm a little annoyed that the narrator didn't find the time and space to record them alongside his sermonizing. I've been in some life-and-death kinds of situations where it felt like the outcome was out of my hands and we just had to wait to see if we were going to live or die. And, yeah, I've sometimes found it possible to be calm in those situations. But cheered and encouraged? And as an 8 year old (or 11 or 13 or 15 year old) boy? It's very hard for me to imagine cheering and encouraging children in (again) a pitch-black, roiling, and increasingly wet ship's hold while sailors scream for mercy over the unending din of the storm and various pieces of luggage and cargo slam into you unexpectedly.

What I am saying is that we are already very firmly into cozy territory and that's FINE, really, but I crave *details*. Give me the cheering and encouraging words over the religious instruction and proselytization.

Everyone takes turns in prayer and Father is impressed by Fritz's prayer, which is so focused on "deliverance for his dear parents and brothers" that he seems to forget about himself. "Our hearts were soothed by the never-failing comfort of child-like confiding prayer" and now I'm *very* curious how old Wyss' four sons were when he wrote this. I have known a LOT of pastors' kids in my time, and almost all of them without exception were old-beyond-their-time at 15. (Being privy to behind-the-scenes church workings will do that.) Certainly, one would not describe their prayers as child-like. Professional, maybe. Not child-like.

Prayer is interrupted by a sighting of land, which they hear over the storm, and then the shattering crash of the ship hitting *something* and coming to an abrupt stop. They're pretty sure they then hear the ship breaking apart and "roaring waters poured in on all sides" which makes me have a lot of questions ever since we experienced our own floods here at the house. William hears the captain ordering the life boats lowered and realizes that, given that they've been below deck for seven days, the sailors have probably forgotten about them. Whoops!

The children are understandably pretty scared, so William reassures them that they're still above water and land is in sight. He pulls out one of my least favorite aphorisms, "You know God helps those that help themselves!" which is NOT in the Bible and (funnily enough) seems to have been a saying about the Greek gods first before the Christians took it on. (Wikipedia notes there is a humorous version as well: ""God helps those who help themselves, but God help those who get *caught* helping themselves.", which gave me a nice chuckle.)

William tells them he's going above deck to see what's happening, then is instantly hit by a wave and washed overboard. I'm kidding, of course; he's hit by a wave and thrown to the deck, but manages to "find my footing" although I prefer to believe that he's scuttling about on all fours. Safety! The ship is "shattered on all directions, and on one side there was a large hole in the hull" which sounds very dire, but I'm not quite sure what it all *means* because the family will pretty much never be blocked off from anything they want to reach and gather.

The last of the life boats is being cast off just as William dramatically runs up and his "cries and entreaties" are lost in the storm. Even if the crew had heard him over the din, it seems impossible for the boats to return for him, given that the waves are "mountain-high". He takes a moment to collect himself and notices that (a) the portion of the ship "containing our cabin" is jammed between two rocks and seems relatively safe from the waves for the moment, and (b) there's a rocky coast on the horizon which means they at least have a chance at not-drowning. Meanwhile, I'm noticing that (c) they have a cabin so now I have to research ships for a moment because I *thought* the family was below deck.

Okay, this is from the New South Wales online library:

   Passengers travelling on emigrant ships from the United Kingdom to Australia in the 1800s were physically segregated according to class, marital status, and gender. Cabin class passengers were usually accommodated below the poop deck with steerage passengers below the main deck. Steerage passengers were further separated into single men, married couples and children, while single women were strictly segregated from all other passengers.

There we go: they can have a cabin and still be below deck. Interestingly, this would seem to strongly imply that any boat carrying passengers to Australia would have *several* passengers in it, not just a single cabin housing a six-person family. The book off-handedly mentions that the sailors are "forgetting the passengers" when they cast off with the last life boat. It's such a strange reference because it seems like an odd way for the narrator to refer to himself and his family. But it also means we can't headcanon that all the *other* passengers went away on the life boats and that only the Swiss Robinsons were left behind. After all, who can remember 6 people in a crowd of, say, 30 passengers spread across multiple life boats?

But, nope, we have it right there in black-and-white that the sailors forgot the passengers. Which means that either this boat wildly under-sold its tickets when heading out, or all the other passengers just fell screaming into the sea and the narrator didn't want to burden our spirits with that detail. Even so, however, the rest of the book will be noticeably silent on the subject of floating bodies disturbing the peace of the shipwreck (which will be visited several times) or washing up on the beach, so that doesn't seem to be right either.

Alas for us, William is entirely unconcerned with whether or not there are dead bodies in the water. He returns to the cabin with his good news: "'Courage, dear ones! Although our good ship will never sail more, she is so placed that our cabin will remain above water, and tomorrow, if the wind and waves abate, I see no reason why we should not be able to get ashore.'" The boys are immediately reassured and quite frankly just relieved that the boat has stopped moving and, presumably, the nausea can at last come to an end.

Wife/Mother/Elizabeth is not so easily cheered as the boys and perceives that the narrator is more concerned than he's letting on. He "greatly fears" how "her nerves" will manage at the awareness that all is not joy and rainbows from here on out, but is impressed to find that "not for a moment did her courage and trust in Providence forsake her". I feel like he should know by now what a badass his wife is, given that she's managed to raise 4 boys on a pastor's wages, and has been popping them out at a rate of one every two years (and then Franz, the "oh good, now we have 4 children under the age of 7" surprise baby). She then announces that they need to eat, which makes sense because they finally have a chance of keeping their dinner down for the first time in seven days, and we will leave off here for the night.

Swiss Family Robinson: A Question of Translations

Remember when Ursula Vernon was doing periodic live-reads on Twitter of the Swiss Family Robinson? I loved those threads. SFR was one of my favorite go-to escapism books as a kid. I had the Great Illustrated Classics version, which I believe I have noted previously (in reference to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine) were excellent adaptations; in making the books accessible to children, the editors also judiciously cut-and-stitched away the worser plot holes and (in the case of SFR) the preachy holy lessons and self-reliance and Renaissance Man stuff. As a result, thanks to some excellent editors, I actually didn't even know a lot of that was *in* the book until Ursula did her amazing live-read.

I've been spending a lot of time in bed lately, due to some medical stuff, and I've been wanting to read something that I can pick up and put down easily without feeling like I've lost my place or gotten overly invested. SFR is *very* chunkable in that regard. And if there's one thing we all know that I love, it's revisiting beloved childhood classics of mine and setting them on fire. Doubly-so if it's a sacred cow roast in the process. (Though I do want to note, in case anyone is feeling nostalgic, to be very careful of old SFR movies because at least one of them had so much animal cruelty in it that I'm pretty sure that film is one reason why modern films now have a disclaimer insisting that no animals were harmed in the making of this film. Kissmate and I started watching one of them on Disney+ earlier last year and we had to stop about 15 minutes in.)

Ever since I started my project rewriting the Grimms' fairy tales, I've become hyper-aware of how hard it is to find out the *translator* for non-English pieces of public domain writing. Go search the Swiss Family Robinson offerings on the Amazon Kindle store and you'll see what I mean; author and publisher are there, and editor is usually available too, but translators aren't listed. And is the book abridged or unabridged? I wanted an unabridged version if possible, as I'm assuming that any abridgment would focus on removing some of the nutty (and we want maximum nutty!) but according to Anne Wingate, "No unabridged edition of Swiss Family Robinson exists in English. Indeed, the book has been rewritten so many times, by so many editors, that it can legitimately be said that that no complete edition of the book exists in *any* language." Dammit.

Actually, I want to quote a larger chunk from the Pink Tree Press:

   No unabridged edition of Swiss Family Robinson exists in English. Indeed, the book has been rewritten so many times, by so many editors, that it can legitimately be said that that no complete edition of the book exists in *any* language.
   Johann David Wyss, a Swiss pastor, originally wrote this book to entertain and instruct his four sons. Years later, his son Johann (or Jean—accounts differ) Rudolf Wyss, by then a professor of philosophy, persuaded his father to allow him to complete and edit the unfinished manuscript. It was published in two volumes in Zurich in 1812-1813.
   Its French translator, Mme de Montholieu, obtained permission to greatly enlarge the book. It was published in five volumes from 1824 through 1826. The first English edition, abridged, was published in 1814; it was followed by several other English translations of varying quality. In 1849 W.H.G. Kingston re-translated and greatly abridged Mme. De Montholieu's version. Most English versions are based on Kingston's abridged version.
   Despite a vast number of amusing errors in flora and fauna, the book has entertained, and warmed the hearts of, many generations. However, most modern editions omit an incredible amount even of Kingston's translation by making small cuttings here and there, some of them maddeningly inept. The Editor's Cut edition from Pink Tree Press has been based on, and compared with, no fewer than five previous editions, all of them out of copyright. Most, though not all, of the cuttings have been restored. The material that continues to be omitted is of little imaginable interest to anyone other than a scholar of nineteenth century literature.
   Anne Wingate, Ph.D.
   Pink Tree Press

So the answer to "which translator was this?" is apparently, in the case of SFR, W.H.G. Kingston + one or more unnamed and unsung heroes trying to figure out what to cut and what to keep from this two-volume-turned-five-volume-turned-one-volume-again monstrosity.

Which version are we to use for our live-read? I'm extremely tempted to use the Pink Tree Press version, not only on the strength of that excellent editor's note, but also because of useful footnotes like "Some editions translate [Franz] to Francis, apparently to avoid confusion with Fritz. I see no reason for the change, and am retaining the original spelling. Ed." The only downside to the Pink Tree Press version is that, as far as I can tell, no one has loaded it onto the Amazon Kindle store, which is easier for me to read and take notes electronically.

The next-best translation that I can find (here defined as the translation closest to the Pink Tree Press as the gold standard) is the Windermere version which is available both on Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle. And if you're looking for something that is a little more readable and a newer English translation than the 1849 Kingston edition, there is a lovely one available on Project Gutenberg and Amazon by...someone! You literally can't tell from the book who is writing the preface about its newer, more modern translation.

Books. They are truly amazing sometimes. Anyway. Watch this space, I guess? We'll be pulling from the Pink Tree and Windermere versions for this live-read because they have a lot more nutty in them, but I'm going to list the New Hotness as well, because it really is more readable (in my opinion) and you might actually want a copy of this book that doesn't make your eyes want to vacate your head.


Pink Tree Press: Project Gutenberg.
Windermere: Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle.
New (Anonymous) Hotness: Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle.

Open Thread: March Wind Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the March full moon is the Wind Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

The Dragon Dentist

"Yeah, I know who you mean. Just about everyone around here does. Though I can't say I know their real name; we all just call 'em DD. You know, for 'Dragon Dentist'. I guess when you get a reputation for sticking your hands in the mouths of live dragons, that sorta becomes the thing everyone knows you for. People aren't going to remember 'Morgan' or 'Alexi' the way they remember 'Dragon Dentist'.

"Eh, I think it's probably pretty easy to stick your hands in a dragon's mouth, once you get over certain impulses towards bodily safety. I reckon it's once you're in there that things start getting hairy. Or scaly? Either way. Buy a round for DD the next time they're in town and you'll get an earful. You think pulling a bad tooth is hard, try it when the tooth is the length of your arm from finger to elbow, and you look like a nice ham dinner to the tooth's owner. And said aforementioned owner is also deeply cranky and sleep-deprived after months or years of debilitating tooth pain. Couldn't be me doing the job, no sir.

"No, I'm not exaggerating. Look, have you ever actually seen a dragon up close and personal? No, I didn't think so. You've seen 'em in the sky, sure, but you haven't had to appreciate just how damn big they actually are. I've seen some of the teeth DD has pulled and if you'd seen them too you'd know how full of shit you sound right now. Ohhh, you saw a smallish dragon tooth on display in Whitehall when you were passing through and now you know everything, huh? Well, yeah, young dragons exist and get hunted just like anything else. And the teeth aren't all the same size, genius. Are your back teeth as long as your dog teeth? Are your dog teeth the same length as an orc's tusk? No. Here, drink up. Though I gotta tell you that if you keep kicking back Flarbotten Fabulous Flotsams like that, you'll need a dentist of your own soon.

"Naw, DD doesn't work on humans. Totally different species, you know? Hells, they're a virtuoso as it is, being willing to work with different dragon breeds and not specializing. The poison-spitters have these thin fangs that retract like a snake's; they're much more fragile than those tree branches the fire-breathers are sporting. The swamp-dwellers keep their teeth on the entire outside of their mouth--something to do with the acid breath, if I recall--while desert dragon teeth are all tucked up on the inside. Don't get me started on the swimmers; you'd think those would be the easy ones, right? Everyone knows fish-eaters are less scary than the cattle-eaters. No sir, turns out the swimmers have got *rows*. Actual multiple rows of razors in their mouths. Give a man nightmares, reaching into that. Ocean dragons just should not be fucked with, period.

"Probably lucky for DD that the usual solution is just to pull the problem tooth. Dragons grow lost teeth back, given a year or two. Have to, really, if you're gonna live a few centuries and your favorite midnight snack is a good sheep femur; you'd run out of teeth otherwise. Old dragons die from a lot of things, but starvation isn't one of them. Of course, DD does more than just yank out teeth all day. Says dragons are worse than kids when it comes to taking care of their teeth. They get all kinds of foul-smelling gunky build up that has to be cleaned out, and there's always a few bones or worse stuck between the back teeth. DD has a whole collection of weird shit they've removed, you should ask to see it sometime. Swords, maces, axes, wands, and some kind of golden orb thing that we think was probably a magical focus for a dead wizard. Well, I mean, I assume they're dead if their focus was stuck in a dragon's teeth. You don't usually survive that.

"What's that? 'Does it at least pay well?' You don't know the half of it. These dragons are hoarders, you know, real loot mongers. And they're grateful to DD for what they do; you ever feel that blessed relief when a tooth that's been burning in pain for weeks is suddenly just gone? No better feeling, and they know it. DD's been hauled down with more money than they can carry more than once. More money than I'd feel safe carting around, that's for sure. What? No, no. Bandits don't mess with DD, even the worst scoundrels know better. I mean. Would *you* threaten a dragon's favorite dentist? I wouldn't."