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Yeah, I realize this is a classic among classics, and, as stated by
"is second only to the Bible in its number of translations." But I had never read it, never having enough time in my younger
years to read all the books I would have liked to read. So, OH! what a delight! Even though he gets stranded on a deserted island for twenty-eight years, the
story is anything but depressing. In fact, it is an inspiration to creativity. Defoe was quite a guy, and the more I read of him, the more I like him.
Not only was he an extremely prolific writer on a great many topics, he was a rebel and a spy, and spent much of his life in poverty. He also did some time in Newgate Prison. According to the above Wikipedia article, he was one of the first to popularize the English novel. And this one, as in Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year, was not even credited to his name at first, being written in autobiographical style. (That applies to The King of Pirates also, but the authorship of that one is still iffy.)
Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719, and went through four editions that same year. Defoe then wrote a sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (yeah, I know, grammatically it should be Further, but it isn't) in 1719, then an addenda, Serious Reflections During the Life & Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, With His Vision of the Angelic World, in 1720. Both the sequel and addenda should be showing up here on my reviews pages pretty quick. You may find them all on the Daniel Defoe Index Page. And as in Moll Flanders, the narrator was based on a real person. In this case, it most probably was Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway, who was only marooned for four years, (long enough, heh?) rather than twenty-eight. And also, like Moll, the protagonist had a moral conversion. In Moll's case, it wasn't exactly religious—she just learned how to get what she needed and stay out of trouble, but Robinson had a true religious conversion, and proceeded to evangelize his black "savage," Friday. But perhaps some of the other characteristics, such as Robinson's rebellious nature, were reflections upon Defoe himself.
As a young man, Robinson defies his father's wishes to become a seaman. When he could have had a fairly comfortable and safe life at home, he takes off on a ship from Kingston upon Hull (on the east coast of Northern England), in 1651. The ship wrecks quickly, and he momentarily has second thoughts, but his longing for sea life gets the better of him, and he joins another ship. That one is captured by Salé Pirates (North Africa), and he is taken as a slave by a Moor. He eventually escapes, and is rescued by a Portuguese ship, and taken to Brazil. The Captain befriends him, and he starts a plantation, which quickly promises him wealth. After some years, because he and the neighboring plantation owners are greatly in need of slaves, he offers to ship again, this time to Africa, to bring some back. This ship also wrecks, however, and this time, it is only he who survives, along with a dog and two cats. He makes it to an island, which, in real life is believed to have been located near Trinidad, off the coast of Venezuela, where Selkirk was stranded. He calls it the Island of Despair, because at first he believes he will have no way to survive. However, he is a true survivor, a creative thinker, and an optimist at heart, though he often doesn't feel that way at first. The next morning after the storm, he realizes that the ship has grounded to where he can almost reach her on foot. And here is where his creativity, and determination to live become fascinating.
The first thing he realizes is that if everyone on the ship had just stayed there, rather than trying to get the boat to the island, they would have all survived. He swims a short distance to the ship, and finds a rope where he can enter he forecastle. To his relief, he finds that most of the provisions are safe and dry. He begins tying wood and masts with rope and throwing them overboard, thus making a raft that will carry considerable weight. He loads it up with everything it will hold—food, tools, supplies, clothing and especially guns and ammunition. Here is where he also discovers the dog and two cats, the cats which he carries on the raft, and the dog swims to shore. He carefully guides his little raft into a small river, and finds a cove where he can unload. After his first load, he begins to explore the island in order to decide where to build his camp, wanting to be where he can have a good view of the sea, in case another ship comes around. (But that doesn't happen for twenty-eight years!) And of course, he still doesn't know whether there are any human inhabitants on the island (there are not), or dangerous animals (none of those, either). Still he is cautious and prudent in every step he takes now, to ensure his survival.
After he begins to solidify his plans, he decides that best action would be to salvage everything off the ship. He again swims to it, and makes another raft, so as to have more boards. He makes a little tent with sails and poles and gets his first good night's sleep in a while. He continues this process for twelve days, but on that twelfth day, the wind began to blow. Having plundered most everything, he set to work making what he later calls his castle—set on a little plain that rose into a steep hill. This also included a rock cave, or a little hollow, and it is here that he began to fortify his dwelling with stakes and cables, so tight that the only entrance is a ladder, which he pulls in upon entering. He makes a storage area in the rocks to keep his provisions dry. But that night, when it begins to storm with lots of lighting, he worries that all his gun powder could be destroyed in one blast. After the storm, then, he makes bags and boxes to hold small quantities, which he hides in various places. So, if one is ruined, there will still be many more. (None of this ever happens, however.) He also discovers that there are flocks of goats, which he slaughters as he needs food, and also makes a little calendar with a knife on a post, which he keeps faithfully for twenty-eight years, and also which turns out to be fairly accurate when he is finally rescued.
At this point, he discovers there are a couple Bibles in the boxes of remains of the ship, and, as he slowly begins to face the reality of his situation, he tries to see the positive side of it, and wonders of the role Providence has played. Is he being punished for disobeying his father? He also wonders why he, of all those on the ship, was the one to survive. He begins to make a list of "evil" and "good" of his situation, and blessings emerge. But it will still be a while before he turns to the Bible in earnest, and to change what he considers his sinful ways.
Among the items found are some pens and paper, and he starts keeping a journal. One thing for sure, he is absolutely industrious, always building. Then, finding that some of the chicken feed from the ship has sprouted where he threw it, he realizes he can grow corn and barley. He explores some more, and builds his "country house" on another part of the island, where he discovers an abundance of grapes which he dries into raisins. He ultimately catches live goats, and puts them into a corral, thus adding to his little farm, animal husbandry. And what tools he doesn't have, he finds a way to make. He makes clothing out of goatskins, and weaves willow-like branches into baskets. He makes pottery. In addition to his pet dog and cats, he has a pet goat, and parrot, which he teaches to speak. At last, other than missing the company of other humans, he realizes he has everything he needs, and is happy and contented.
That is, until, to his horror, he realizes that periodically cannibals visit the other side of the island with their captives, upon which they feast. And that changes everything in his little Paradise. But I will let you read the book to find out what happens.
And if you have never done so, you must absolutely read this book, and if you've read it already, read it again. It is one of the world's great novels and is absolutely a feel-good and fascinating adventure. Below, a map of Robinson Crusoe's Island.
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