Robinsonade

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Robinson Crusoe in an 1887 illustration

Robinsonade is a literary genre that takes its name from the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. The success of this novel spawned so many imitations that its name was used to define a genre, which is sometimes described simply as a "desert island story".[1]

The word "robinsonade" was coined by the German writer Johann Gottfried Schnabel in the Preface of his 1731 work Die Insel Felsenburg (The Island Stronghold).[2] It is often viewed as a subgenre of survivalist fiction.

Literary form[edit]

Robinson Crusoe and "robinsonades" share plot elements with William Shakespeare's The Tempest, but the story emphasis and story message are markedly different.

Robinson Crusoe was influential in creating a colonialization mythology—as novelist James Joyce eloquently noted the true symbol of the British conquest is Robinson Crusoe: "He is the true prototype of the British colonist…". Later works expanded on and explored this mythology.

Themes[edit]

In the archetypical (and eponymous) robinsonade, the protagonist is suddenly isolated from the comforts of civilization, usually shipwrecked or marooned on a secluded and uninhabited island. He must improvise the means of his survival from the limited resources at hand.

Some of the common themes include:

  • Isolation (e.g. desert island, virgin planet)
  • A new beginning for some of the characters
  • Encounters with natives or apparent natives
  • Commentary on society

See also themes for subgenres below.

Topianism[edit]

Unlike Thomas More's Utopia and romantic works which depicted nature as idyllic, Crusoe made it unforgiving and sparse. The protagonist survives by his wits and the qualities of his cultural upbringing, which also enable him to prevail in conflicts with fellow castaways or over local peoples he may encounter. However, he manages to wrest survival and even a certain amount of civilisation from the wilderness. Works that followed went both in the more utopian direction (Swiss Family Robinson) and the dystopian direction (Lord of the Flies).

Subgenres[edit]

There are many works which do not fall into one of the listed subgenres. Swiss Family Robinson, for example, is not a robinsonade proper (see below) because it sees nature as more bountiful than in Robinson Crusoe.

Robinsonade proper[edit]

The robinsonade proper is closer to the type, in that it also contains:

  • Progress through technology
  • A storyline following the triumphs and the rebuilding of civilisation
  • Economic achievement
  • Unfriendliness of nature

It is slightly dystopian about the friendliness of nature, but slightly utopian about the powers of human achievement.

Science fiction robinsonade[edit]

Robinsonade also includes many space-travel science fiction works. The earliest is Lucian's True History, in the 2nd century AD (and thus well before Defoe's book)

The basic premise is that our cosmonauts (astronauts) arrive at new worlds, terraform them if necessary, then live and prosper there, building a civilization where none existed before. The vastness of interstellar space, and the constraints of relativistic physics, may keep them isolated for thousands of years from other human or non-human (possibly robotic) settlements scattered across the galaxy, hidden amongst hundreds of billions of other stars and planets; and in their new life, they may meet aliens, just as Robinson Crusoe met Man Friday.

A classic example of an SF robinsonade which has all the elements of the robinsonade proper is Tom Godwin's The Survivors.

Apocalyptic fantasy robinsonade[edit]

Sears List of Subject Headings[3] recommends that librarians also catalog apocalyptic fantasies—such as Cormac McCarthy's popular novel The Road, or even Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers—as robinsonades. Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index[4] however, exempts The Revelation of John and other biblical apocalyptic passages from this cataloging rule.

Film[edit]

Robinson Crusoe on Mars is the story of the survivor of a space ship crash on the planet Mars.

Enemy Mine is the SF story of a human and enemy alien who crash land on a barren planetoid and eventually cooperate to survive.

Comics[edit]

Years later, Gold Key Comics, produced a comic series, titled Space Family Robinson, in the early 1960s and later producer Irwin Allen, created his own version of a similar concept, about another Space Family Robinson, known as Lost in Space, for CBS.

The first appearance of a space-faring Robinson family (unrelated to the series' Robinsons) was in a comic book published by Gold Key Comics, The Space Family Robinson, December 1962. Space Family Robinson was published as a total of 59 issues, from 1962 to 1982. The first issue was published in December 1962. With issue #15 (January, 1966), the "Lost in Space" title was added to the cover.

The book "Silver Age: The Second Generation of Comic Artists" by Daniel Herman explains that that when the Lost in Space TV series came out in 1965, it was obvious that it was inspired, at least in part, by the comic book, but CBS, the network airing the show, had never acquired the license from Western Publishing. Rather than sue CBS or Irwin Allen, Western decided to reach a settlement which allowed them to use "Lost in Space" for the title of the comic book. Since CBS and Irwin Allen licensed shows to Western, Western didn't want to antagonize them. Also, the TV show title probably helped sales of the comic book.

Television[edit]

The Lost in Space TV series is an adaptation of the novel The Swiss Family Robinson.[citation needed] The astronaut family of Dr. John Robinson, accompanied by an Air Force pilot and a robot, set out from an overpopulated Earth in the spaceship Jupiter 2 to visit a planet circling the star Alpha Centauri with hopes of colonizing it. Their mission in 1997 (the official launch date of the Jupiter 2 was October 16, 1997) is immediately sabotaged by Dr. Zachary Smith, who slips aboard their spaceship and reprograms the robot to destroy the ship and crew.

Smith is trapped aboard, and saves himself by prematurely reviving the crew from suspended animation. They save the ship, but consequent damage leaves them lost in space. Eventually they crash on an alien world, later identified as Priplanis, where they must survive a host of adventures. Smith (whom the show's writer originally intended to kill off)[citation needed] remains through the series as a source of comedic cowardice and villainy, exploiting the forgiving (or forgetful) nature of the Robinsons.

Examples[edit]

Literature[edit]

Ordered by date of publication

Other media[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Steampunk anthology, 2008, ed. Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, ISBN 978-1-892391-75-9
  2. ^ (German) Die Insel Felsenburg, 1731, Johann Gottfried Schnabel
  3. ^ Sears List of Subject Headings, 18th ed., Joseph Miller, ed. (New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 2004)
  4. ^ Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index, 22d ed. (Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc., 2003)
  5. ^ It has been cited as the first robinsonade before Defoe's work. Derrick Moors (1988). "Imaginary Voyages". The La Troube Journal n.41. State Library of Victoria. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 

External links[edit]