Should a literature entry for Fine Art Tuesday be what is considered “great” literature? If so, what are the criteria and who gets to make the selections?
This occurs to me because, in looking at my shelves for inspiration for today’s post, there really isn’t a lot of what your English teacher would have considered “great literature”. I don’t own the Harvard Classics, nor do I have some master reading list of “500 Books You Must Read Before You Die”. I read what interests me. Often, it’s on a subject I want or need to learn about. I’ve read a lot of history, particularly 20th Century history. If it’s fiction, it’s usually science fiction, although the occasional popular fiction slips in.
One book on my shelf is The Swiss Family Robinson. I’m betting that there are some people who only think of it as a Disney movie (and one you might want to buy a copy of before it’s canceled), but it was a book first.
My copy reminds me of one of my good memories of my mother. I don’t remember the occasion, but we made a special trip to town to buy me a book. This was when a trip to a real bookstore was a treat for me. (Kids, ask your parents to describe the now-archaic term “bookstore”.) I picked out what was probably, to her, a painfully expensive edition of The Swiss Family Robinson, large sized and lavishly illustrated. She bought it and didn’t complain about the price. I still have that book, and I plan on reading it to the Putative Grandchildren.
This book is one of three books that, I now realize, warped my mind in the direction of prepping. (The others are My Side of the Mountain and Robinson Crusoe, and we may talk about them on other Tuesdays.) The story of a shipwrecked family who have only themselves and limited resources, other than what the land provided, was something fascinating to me. I had had read it 2 or 3 times before Mom bought me a copy of my own.
The book was written by Swiss author and pastor Johann David Wyss in 1812. Inspired By Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, he wrote his story to teach his children various values and lessons he thought important, such as “family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance”. I suspect my parents, who tried to teach me those things, hoped the book would be a good influence.
Some seeds take a while to grow.
The book was edited by his son, also Johann, and has had many different editions in a variety of languages, some with more or less content than my version, which is the “Illustrated Junior Library” edition, edited by William HG Kingston and illustrated by Lynd Ward. I may search out some other ones for fun. There is also a sequel, Willis the pilot, which may (or may not) have been written by Wyss. Something else to search out.
Perhaps a good definition of “great literature” is that of “books which have a great influence on you”. By that definition, The Swiss Family Robinson is truly great literature.