The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson – Plot Synopsis – Book One: Survival

The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson – Plot Synopsis – Book One: Survival


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BOSTON – AMERICA – 1830’s – David Robinson finds the comfortable life as chief clerk in his father-in-law’s shipping firm tedious . He accepts the offer to open a new branch for the firm in Canton in China, and embarks with his wife Elizabeth and children, Ernst, Joanna and Christina and the family dog, Bruno, on the perilous sailing voyage.

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Aboard the ship the children meet the crew: a novice seaman Ben Thomas (and there is certainly a hint of mutual attraction between him and Joanna), Billy Cobb, the black cabin boy (with whom the young Christina strikes up an immediate rapport), Emily Chen, an aristocratic Chinese girl, who is aloof and cold – and very mysterious…

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But she pales in comparison to the mysteries surrounding Parsons – an old seadog with a criminal bent. Believing the Robinsons have treasure in their cabin, Parsons sends his half-wit brother Seth, to steal it as a raging storm brews. David surprises Seth and in the ensuing struggle, Seth is accidentally killed. Parsons accuses David of murdering his brother and traps the family in their cabin, as the passengers and crew struggle to the life-boats to abandon ship – and the storm threatens to sink it. Surely the family will meet their doom at the bottom of the ocean…

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Against all the odds and amidst a thrilling sequence, the family survive the storm, climb up on the deck and find that they are stranded on a reef, with the rest of the crew and passengers gone…

They make a raft and manage somehow to reach the nearby island, taking with them useful items from the ship, including chickens and Bruno.

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During the raft trip Christina accidentally falls overboard in the shark infested waters and is feared drowned.

The distraught family pray to the dear Lord for deliverance, set up a temporary shelter on the island and cling to each other through the night in an attempt to find refuge from their anguish and fear as they listen to the new and wild sounds of the night on the island (is it wild life, and are the family truly alone, or is the island also inhabited by natives?)…

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The following day, amidst a surprising twist of events, Christina is reunited with the family – the cabin boy, Billy Cobb makes his presence felt and all concerned realise that it was he who rescued Christina and saved her life.

Unknown to the family, Parsons and Ben have also survived the storm and landed on the opposite side of the island in the ship’s dory. They too set out to explore – and look for life – on the island.

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David, Ernst and Billy go back to the wreck to salvage what they can, including a musket, pistol and a small cannon. But they face enormous danger when the ship slips off the reef and sinks while they are on board, (having survived the storm, it would appear that David , Ernst and Billy have finally gone down with ship).

David, Ernst and Billy manage somehow to escape with their lives and row back to shore – and are reunited with relieved members of the family. But any celebrations are short lived when Elizabeth advises that she, Joanna and Christina had an unexpected encounter while they were bathing in the tropical pool/waterfall with wildlife, which they survived – but she cannot help but feeling that someone or something is on the island watching them…

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Emily Chen is discovered hiding on the island, much the worse for wear. However, as soon as she is fed and clothed, she resumes her snobbish demeanour. Nonetheless, the family see it as their duty to provide her with food and shelter.

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For all that, living on the island has its fair share of danger, and it is uninhabited – the island is paradoxically also reminiscent of paradise and each member of the family finds themselves invigorated and stimulated with the ‘natural world’ and feeling that they could survive on the island for a thousand years. Equally though the next minute, the notion of being cast-away forever is a fearful one and all concerned do not wish to remain shipwrecked for any longer than they have to…

Elizabeth is adamant that a shelter is built in the trees/off the ground as the best defence against any unexpected encounter). Shortly after finding a suitable site for their treehouse, Parsons and Ben discover the family and a fight ensues between David and Parsons.

Celebrations are in order and the entire family remain resolved to conquer each and every adventure they encounter during the course of their lives as cast-aways on the island.