What is the surname of The Swiss Family Robinson? If you’re like me, you’d assume it is Robinson, but apparently, Johann David Wyss never actually used the name “Robinson” in the book. It turns out that “Robinson” is a genre based on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which started the whole desert island survivalist fiction movement. (Some say Defoe started the whole fiction movement, that Robinson Crusoe is the first real novel, but I don’t really know if that is true. I do know that book-length fiction was called a novel, because it was “novel.”)
I found it interesting that I would come across a mention of this genre right before watching the movie Enemy Mine, which is a robinsonade in a science fiction setting. Dennis Quaid is stranded on a desert planet — an island in space — and in true robinsonade fashion, nature is viewed as harsh and ungiving (as opposed to The Swiss Family Robinson, which views nature in a more benign fashion). Although Enemy Mine doesn’t follow the genre form of building a civilization out of that wilderness, Quaid does find a way to survive and to form a civilization of sorts with his marooned enemy, a Drac, played by Lou Gosset Jr.
The tagline tells the story: Enemies because they were taught to be. Allies because they had to be. Brothers because they dared to be.
The set, designed by Rolf Zehetbauer is magnificent, as is the make-up, but for me the most interesting effect of the movie is the subtheme of beauty and ugliness. (The Terran and the Drac each see the other as ugly.) Every time I see this movie, I am struck by how normal the Drac looks to me by the end of the movie, and I think how seriously damaging it is for us to beatify beauty. Sure, beautiful people are nice to look at, but so are those who aren’t quite so spectacular looking. It might take a while to get to know the person or to become used to a less than eye-catching appearance, but in the end, beauty means nothing. (Well, in the end, we are all worm food or a box of cremains, but let’s not go into that.)
I know one thing, though. If you were living a robinsonade life, stranded on a desert island with a less than attractive companion, as in Enemy Mine, you’d soon focus on what mattered most — survival. It is only in a world where survival is almost a matter of fact (at least for a while) that the differences in appearance can loom so large.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.