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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".
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). It is often viewed as a subgenre of survivalist fiction.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
Apocalyptic fantasy robinsonade
Sears List of Subject Headings 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 however, exempts The Revelation of John and other biblical apocalyptic passages from this cataloging rule.
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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.
The Lost in Space TV series is an adaptation of the novel The Swiss Family Robinson. 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) remains through the series as a source of comedic cowardice and villainy, exploiting the forgiving (or forgetful) nature of the Robinsons.
Ordered by date of publication
- The Female American (anon., 1767)
- Iphigenia in Tauris (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1787) (based on Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides)
- The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss, 1812)
- Masterman Ready, or the Wreck of the Pacific (Frederick Marryat, 1841)
- The Coral Island (R.M. Ballantyne, 1857)
- L'Oncle Robinson (Jules Verne, 1870; unpublished until 1991)
- The Mysterious Island (L'Île mystérieuse) (Jules Verne, 1874)
- Godfrey Morgan (L'École des Robinsons) (Jules Verne, 1882)
- Two Years' Vacation (Deux ans de vacances) (Jules Verne, 1888)
- The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling, 1894) - the Mowgli stories
- The Island of Dr Moreau (H. G. Wells, 1896)
- I Robinson italiani (Emilio Salgari, 1896)
- The Purple Cloud (M.P. Shiel, 1901)
- The Admirable Crichton (J. M. Barrie, 1902)
- The Blue Lagoon (Henry De Vere Stacpoole, 1908)
- Baby Island (Carol Ryrie Brink, 1937)
- The Black Stallion (Walter Farley, 1941)
- Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954)
- Tunnel in the Sky (Robert A. Heinlein, 1955)
- Pincher Martin (William Golding, 1956)
- Danny Dunn on a Desert Island (Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams, 1957)
- The Survivors (Tom Godwin, 1958)
- Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O'Dell, 1960)
- Transit (Edmund Cooper, 1964)
- The Flight of the Phoenix (Elleston Trevor, 1964)
- A Far Sunset (Edmund Cooper, 1967)
- Friday (Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique) (Michel Tournier, 1967)
- The Other Side of the Mountain (La Montagne morte de la vie) (Michel Bernanos, 1967)
- Providence Island (Calder Willingham, 1969)
- Concrete Island (J. G. Ballard, 1973)
- Shipwreck (Charles Logan, 1975)
- Friday and Robinson (Vendredi ou la Vie sauvage) (Michel Tournier, 1977)
- The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel, 1980)
- Foe (J. M. Coetzee, 1986),
- Hatchet, (Gary Paulsen, 1987)
- The Island of the Day Before (Umberto Eco, 1994)
- Robert Crews (Thomas Berger, 1994)
- Life of Pi (Yann Martel, 2001)
- Nation (Terry Pratchett, 2008)
- Robinson Crusoe on Mars (film, 1964)
- Gilligan's Island (TV series, 1964-1967)
- Lost in Space (TV series, 1965-1968)
- Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. (film, 1966)
- Hell in the Pacific (film, 1968)
- Lost Flight (TV movie, 1969)
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (TV series, episodes 1990-1991)
- Cube (film, 1997)
- Cast Away (film, 2000)
- Survivor (TV series, 2000–present)
- Cube 2: Hypercube (film, 2002)
- Panic Room (film, 2002)
- Cube Zero (film, 2004)
- Lost (TV series, 2004-2010)
- Flight 29 Down (TV series, 2005-2007)
- Lost in Blue (video game, 2005)
- FreakAngels (webcomic, 2008-2011)
- Castaway on the Moon (film, 2009)
- Steampunk anthology, 2008, ed. Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, ISBN 978-1-892391-75-9
- (German) Die Insel Felsenburg, 1731, Johann Gottfried Schnabel
- Sears List of Subject Headings, 18th ed., Joseph Miller, ed. (New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 2004)
- Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index, 22d ed. (Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc., 2003)
- For historical examples, see "Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe & the Robinsonades Digital Collection" which has an overview of the genre along with over 200 versions of Robinson Crusoe and historical robinsonades openly and freely online with full text and zoomable page images from the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature
- TV Tropes Robinsonade Page
- For detailed analysis of the Cube trilogy see "Analysis of a Science Fiction Anti-Robinsonade: The Cube Trilogy"