From Robinson Crusoe to the Swiss Family Robinson, tales of shipwrecks and survival have always been a source of escapism and inspiration for many a fertile mind. This article highlights four fantastic literary works that do just that.
Photo by John McNab on Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons Licence.
With shipwrecks old and new in the public eye many land-lubbers may prefer to stick to fictional sea travel, rather than embark on their own ocean voyage. Yet being cast away on a desert island somewhere, miles from civilisation, surely has its own benefits. If you have ever dreamt of getting away from the rat race and having your own space to think and contemplate the wonders of the universe, there is no better place to do so than at sea. Here are a few select works of literature that truly capture the spirit of the cast-away, and may inspire you to set sail yourself.
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe’s sea-faring classic from 1719 really established the cast-away genre in the modern world. Taking inspiration from ancient texts such as Homer’s Odyssey, the book documents the marooned Crusoe as runs away from home and voyages around the world, eventually eking out a living on a desert island, befriended only by the ingenious native Man Friday. The book has been turned into several movies, and has inspired dozens of homages, pastiches and rewritings down the years, but the thrilling original is still the best. Perfect reading for anyone setting sail on a bareboat charter by themselves, if only to ensure they don’t get cast adrift and end up suffering the same shipwrecked fate as the poor Crusoe.
The Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss
Published barely a century after Defoe’s ground-breaking novel, the Swiss Family Robinson is a lighter, more family orientated take on the cast-away theme. The book deals with the Swiss family named in the title who are washed up on an East Indian island after their journey to Australia is interrupted by a storm. The family, overseen by their father, quickly get to grips with life on the island, building homes, mastering the wild animals, implementing agriculture, and living by a rigorous set of morals. The book was intended as a kind of manual for young people, setting out both practical advice for living in the wild, and spiritual guidance to help them grow and mature into adults. Yet the book is no dry sermon, and generations of children have enjoyed reading this fun filled classic.
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
When sailing into the vast unknown oceans it can often seem like we have entered into an alternate reality, far away from our previous life on land. And no book characterises this sense of strange discovery better than Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel the Life of Pi. A magical realist piece charting the eponymous cast-away, the book takes from Buddhist philosophy, Latin American poetry and 19th century sea-faring novels to weave an incredible and enlightening story. Anyone who has travelled great distances across the sea on a boat charter will recognise the otherworldly feel highlighted in the book, though, unlike the novel, they were unlikely to have shared deck space with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker who happens to be perfectly fluent in English!
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
While the rest of the books on this list show how the experience of becoming a cast-away can be a rewarding one, William Golding’s seminal work Lord of the Flies charts the rather unsavoury aspects of being cut adrift from society. A chilling work, the book documents the survival, and animal savagery, of a group of boys who end up on a desert island far from home. While the boys soon organise themselves into a society of sorts, matters soon get out of hand, and murder, intrigue and subterfuge all combine to make this a hair-raising thriller of epic proportions.
John is a travel writer who has authored dozens of articles on sea-faring subjects, bareboat charter breaks and cruise holidays.