Thursday, January 29, 2009

Robinson Crusoe

And now for an extremely rare mid-week post:

So I was intrigued when I read about "Literacy Thursdays" on Jennifer's blog. Jennifer is my high school buddy Stephen's wife, who I have not yet actually met (it's complex). The idea is to write about your favorite children's book and link to her blog.

So I had two book ideas, The Once and Future King by T. H. White and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I've only read TOAFK once, and was utterly blown away, but it's been awhile, and I didn't think I'd do it justice. If your library card is burning a hole in your pocket, you will under no circumstances be disappointed. Really.

So that leaves Robinson Crusoe. OK, I hear ya, it's not your Peter Rabbit, Chronicles of Narnia kind of children's lit. But it used to be that this book was the province of daydreaming 12 year old boys. So for you people with older kids, I submit the predicament of poor Robin the castaway for your reading. Heck, I'd recommend it for anyone. If you currently have a pulse, read it.

Having been published in 1719, Robinson Crusoe is old. It's in fact considered the first book in the English language written in a brand new style called the novel. I say that only to make the point that its language can be daunting. I actually suggest listening to it (unabridged) narrated on tape/CD if you're not hip to the older-style English. Like watching Shakespeare (rather than reading it), you'll pick up on what's going on in spite of some of the opaque phrasing.

But it's just that distance from the present day that makes this such a good read. Everything, and I do mean everything that happens in this man's unfortunate(?) life is interpreted through the prism of God. I won't bother with much of the well-known plot, other than to say that sea squalls, multiple shipwrecks, cannibals, escapes, gunplay, a desert island and basic survival are all involved, and the events take place on at least 3 continents. This is a busy dude.

In Robinson's 1st person narrative, he feels, as maybe we all have at one time or another, that he's disobeyed God and has received a just reward. But he gives thanks for God's provision during his many miseries and dangers. Virtually alone on an island for years on end with a Bible, he reconstructs his forgotten knowledge of God, and reinterprets his life from the bottom up. If you've ever wondered about the action of God's Will (Crusoe also uses the term Providence), then this book gives a unique look at one man's daily attempts to understand that. What does God actually do in the tedium of our lives? What does that mean to us? How should we react to Him as He acts? Robinson has years to ponder these questions and do little else. An example of his thoughts and one of my all-time favorite quotes:
How strange a checkerwork of Providence is the life of man! and by what secret differing springs are the affections hurried about, as differing circumstances present! Today we love what tomorrow we hate; today we seek what tomorrow we shun; today we desire what tomorrow we fear; nay, even tremble at the apprehensions of.
It may sound dry. But this isn't an intellectual's book. You go along with Robin as he attempts to get food, make clothing, fight cannibals, make tools, stay sane, and generally cope with his incredible situation. Oh, and he trains a parrot, too. It's darn good fun to see him do it, no matter your age. I mean, there's a reason I'm recommending it almost 300 years after it was written.

Many times I'll hear people try to distill a Scripture or a Bible class down to something "practical." "What does this mean to us?" I'll hear someone ask. "How to do we apply this passage in our 'daily lives'?" they'll say. If you can reason to yourself about God while making a dugout canoe, you're well beyond these questions. In every mundane task, Robin sees God, and I can learn a lot from that alone.

When I first read Robinson Crusoe, I expected something like RLS's Treasure Island with fewer cast members. What I certainly didn't expect to find was a book that is as spiritual as any "religious" book I have ever read. I hope you'll try it, and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have.


Jennifer said...

Interesting. I haven't ever read it, but we just might have to try it. I think Cavett will have to put on a few years though. Thanks for playing this week and your name will be in the drawing!

Looking forward to try number 2 next week!

El Comodoro said...

Don't worry, it'll be around when he gets there. But it's worth popping in the car stereo for the grownups in the intervening 8 or 10 years.