Being a Robinson Crusoe

The tale of Robinson Crusoe has been retold in many guises, whether it be Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, The Martian (movie or novel), the or the Vintage Sci-Fi Novel by Rex Gordon ‘No Man Friday’ to name a few.

A more recent rendition is that of Lost is Space, a current TV series on Netflix, about The Robinson Family. I began watching season two last week and the first episode, rather fittingly had the family turning their space ship into a sea-going vessel, complete with masts and sails, and crazy pirate at the helm. Thankfully, for the family’s survival, their craft didn’t have as many holes as each episode’s plot lines seems to have, but it’s certainly entertaining none the less.

With these things in mind I was lead to read, last month, the actual Robinson Crusoe story from Daniel Defoe, and I quite enjoyed it. It lead me to ponder various things, beyond the typical ‘what would it be like to be stranded on a desert island?’ especially since there is more to the story than this; Crusoe could be considered quite the religious man and from the onset when he leaves from his father on his trip, he can’t help but think he has sinned against ‘his Father’ and that everything that happens to him thereafter is punishment for this.

Coincidentally, as tends to happen, I found a connection in this with The Young Indiana Jones episode I have just watched which sees the young Indy returning home after fighting for years in The Great War, to a father who ignores him, and then leaving yet again, on a path that his father disagrees with, although it’s still one that includes university and studies, it’s not like he’s taking a bad path as Defoe warns regarding the young: “The devil generally not omitting to lay some snare for them very early.” The following excerpt from Robinson Crusoe could almost be used in the Indiana Jones episode:

“My father, a wise and grave man, gave me serious and excellent counsel against what he foresaw was my design… [Later] without asking God’s blessing, or my father’s, without any consideration of circumstances or consequences, and in an ill hour, God knows, on the first of September, 1651, I went on board a ship bound for London… The ship was no sooner gotten out of the Humber [when] the wind began to blow, and the sea to rise in a most frightful manner…”

Just like the Vikings as I read about now, Crusoe sees heavenly signs in the weather, as I do too at times; if I’m battling a headwind on my bike then I could either take it as punishment, or as I tend to do, imagine/pretend/accept it as God’s way of making me stronger and better equipped for the next challenge in life.

One irony in the story of Crusoe is that he is stranded with money but presently no use for it: “O drug! What art thou good for?!” he cries.

“…the Devil deludes mankind to their ruin, he has a secret access to our passions and our affections, to adapt his snares so to our inclinations as to cause us even to be our own tempters and to run upon our destruction by our own choice.”

After eight years picks himself up and, turning away from sad thoughts, turns instead towards God; fortunately for him he has Bibles with him. He finds solace in what he reads, as if it’s written just for him in that place, such as from God’s words:

“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Crusoe, at this point, starts to give thanks to his God. He learns a valuable lesson in how to manage his own well-being, rather than getting downhearted or depressed such as when he sees a ship’s sail on the horizon, too far away to do anything about – he recognises ‘his folly’ and gets on with building a comfortable home for himself, something that is within his control. For many years he does battle with his own fears, namely the imagined threat of ‘savages’, in this Defoe reveals:

“Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself, when apparent to the eyes; and we find the burden of anxiety greater, by much, than the evil which we are anxious about…”

Crusoe, with aid of his circumstances, detaches himself from the world, he is removed from the wickedness, the list, the pride, the coveting – he is in a prime position to master the Ten Commandments and Seven Deadly Sins and become master of his own world and his Virtues. He as no rivals or competitors or dispute, and no waste. Is this heaven?

In some ways I struggle to relate to Crusoe though, such as how he shoots not only goats for food and necessity but the kids and their mothers too. Turtles that neither he or Defoe appear to appreciate can live for over a hundred years are fair and regular game. He seems to have little heart in this regard and neither does he seem emotional when finally, after decades of solitary confinement on the island, he has has opportunity to leave. There is no glance around at what he is now leaving behind, all that he has build up, the animals he has reared and the pets he has obtained; indeed, when he mentioned (in his diary-like fashion) that he had a pet dog it seemed inconsequential. He had pet cats too, but felt forced to kill many of them due to them becoming pests. I was saddened at this, and also sad at us leaving the island when he himself wasn’t.

I found Crusoe, also, in the short story I recently read for Anonymole, keeping a calendar on a post; I would probably do something similar.

That was just one of the short stories I found myself reading in December and I decided I would continue this with further readings, on a weekly basis. This week I chose to read from the book of ‘Great true stories of the islands’ by Claude Williamson which includes ‘The Original Robinson Crusoe’ by George Winslow Barrington of ‘an account of Alexander Selkirk’s island life’.

4 comments

  1. Another version, Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique, a novel by Michel Tournier. It won the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française. “Vendredi” is of course “Friday”.

    • Ah, brilliant, thank you; I’d not heard of that one. In that version we learn that Crusoe names his island Speranza (Hope)… he sure does a lot of hoping.

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