The Swiss Family Robinson Report
By: Shelby Larson
The English Novel (Part 1)
Research has always been seen as tedious to some, but to others, it is seen as an adventure. I would consider myself one of the people who see this as an adventure. Heading to the archives has never failed to bring me amusement, and this time was no different. The search started with us, as a class, going up to the archives to research The Swiss Family Robinson television show. Each person was able to select a box and an episode for themselves. I was being drawn to box 86 and within that, folders 10-13. Folders 10-13 was the episode labeled “The Bell.” It was a ghost story of sorts with a dash of treasure hunt. All four of the drafts were written by writer Sidney Ellis and spaced out very neatly between the months of October and November. The dates consisted of this: D1-October 1, 1975, D2- October 17, 1975, D3- November 4, 1975, and D4-November 7, 1975.
On the whole all of the drafts were all significantly shorter than the previous draft as well as more precise. There was less dialogue and more setting and exposition in the later drafts, this gave the actors and the setting a chance at showing how the scene is meant to be felt instead of simply telling the viewer. Between drafts there were also scenes that were cut altogether because they had no purpose in advancing the plot of the story. For example, in D1 there were scenes focused on the children and their little adventures such as getting a pebble stuck in a shoe or searching for gold while they waited for the men to return from exploring the cave.
I quickly established the main characters and their roles on the island. Karl and Lotte were the mother and father figures to the whole group but were biological parents to both Ernst and Fred. There was a girl by the name of Helga on the island as well and her father was Captain Wagner, the captain of the ship that foundered on the rocks and was lost at sea. She called Karl and Lotte her aunt and uncle. Finally, we have Jeremiah who is an old drunk sailor who has already been stranded on the island for seven years before the Robinson shipwreck.
The family dynamic has a powerful impact on the story and how they all interact with each other. For instance, Karl is the father and man in charge. He is the patriarch of the island like a king or a leader. He makes the rules and what he says goes. For example, Karl sticks up for Lotte when the kids are putting her or Helga down for being a girl. Sometimes they are equals in decision making but not always. Another interesting dynamic among the family is the relationship Fred has with Lotte. He is very dependent on his mother and thinks the world of her, almost to a fault. He starts fights with his brother and Helga over things he considered rude. Finally, even after all the family went through they are happy to be together at the camp working with the animals and doing chores. They hug and have a happy ending together and that is important to note because living on an island together is hard and being a family that sticks together and helps each other is important to survival and sanity. It is interesting to note there was a separate document found in a different box from the network stating that Karl was originally deemed too harsh as a father and needed to be revised before the show aired. The entire show was also reviewed by the network and they decided it needed to be a more family oriented show and softer for the audiences to digest.
While the family became a unit over the course of the show they also had some questionable value and judgment calls. It was not only the family but also the others as well; Jeremiah and Helga are also to blame for blatant racism and misogyny. In other Robinsonades, these issues come up as well. They are full of racist ideas and actions as well as the typical patriarchal society of men being superior to women. For example, in the scene where they are separated after a cave in the men are the ones who are able to explore and adventure for treasure while Lotte had to watch the children. She was the mother and nurturer so it was her responsibility to tend to the young ones. Another example is how the women in general are seen as lesser beings in all the drafts and a liability on adventures. Fred has no faith in his mother’s ability to be amazing and climb a mountain and beat his father in a race. On Page 13 in D1 the achievement is downplayed by the fact that Karl says he rigged the race just so she would like him and page 10 in D4 that detail is no longer there. They are on a deserted island and still the women are wearing skirts and dresses when the men get to wear pants and shorts, practical clothing for adventuring on an island. The racism is obvious too when they are in the temple. Jeremiah calls it savage and possibly Aztec or something native but Karl thinks they are Egyptian and even notes that their civilization was better than ours was at the same time. They try and make it seem like they are not racist but in the end the point that gets to all the other characters is that these “savage” outsiders are evil and so is their demon religion. It doesn’t help that they see iron water come from the ground like blood and blame the heathen savages for these misfortunes.
Ways that this is a Robinsonade are very clear. Karl is the king of the island almost by fate or Providence. The island seems to support every type of landscape, so it is good for farming, adventuring and living safely on. Just as Crusoe was able to cultivate the land exactly how he needed to this family is also doing the same. Another way it is like one is in the way the Anglican white people see the “savage” people and their religion and try to reform it or at least make no effort to understand their ways. They demonize the unknown and try to fix or avoid it. It might have also been fate that they found these caves with all these artifacts and things in them. It was there for the white savior to find. Finally, it is clear to see that they see themselves as the only people entitled to the island. They are constantly talking about how all these other people are “outsiders” but in reality they are not native to this island and they are the real outsiders. Other ways were listed above in the racism and the misogyny.
I don’t think they are showing this anymore because of all the negative things explained above. They were able to get away with it then by citing other shows at the time that were able to get away with it but that sort of behavior would not work today. People would reject this show in a second and it would give the network a horrible reputation. No network would jeopardize their future to support an outdated and racist show such as The Swiss Family Robinson.