Published in 1714 by Daniel Defoe, a notoriously controversial political pamphleteer, Robinson Crusoe marked the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. Before the end of the year, the first volume had run through four editions. Now, that’s some 18th century bestselling! From Tom Hanks in Cast Away to Ridley Scott’s The Martian, Robinson Crusoe has had such an endless legacy that there is a word dedicated to its descendants to mark a genre: Robinsonade. It is a profound commentary on society, a tale of isolation and new beginnings, but Ol’ Matty dares to say that this is not a colonialist fairy tale, unwittingly locking horns with many critics including James Joyce. I think you can take him, bud.
After a brush with death in the form of vengeance crazed unicycling bears and angry tribes, Ol’ Matty finds himself safe in a fellow castaway’s hideout. As his friend makes the bread, hunts the meat and gathers the other ingredients, Ol’ Matty makes himself useful, somehow, by regaling the tale of Robinson Crusoe, the tale of a young Englishman who defies the will of his parents, rejects the comforts of civilisation to become an adventurer, and finds himself alone and desolate on a deserted island, struggling turn the wilderness into his own utopia, or even, perhaps, a communist commune. Depends how generous you’re feeling.
I’m noticing that every time Ol’ Matty tries to tell a ripper story, he just can’t find the right audience. Rob seemed downright bored by the telling of Robinson Crusoe, and leaves to investigate some riff raff armed with muskets, despite the M16 wielding grizzly hunting our hero outside. Ol’ Matty followed, armed with a club (sandwich), discovering that Rob had declared war against a group of invading pirates. There was no time to lose.
I mean, of course Ol’ Matty joined the pirates. Who was this Rob guy anyway? It’s not like Rob has the ability of Crusoe and can defeat castaways and pirates alike by mastering fate and the island itself! After all, if Rob and Crusoe were one and the same, that would completely throw our deep and gritty story’s canon. In the first battle for island supremacy of many, I’m sure (knowing Ol’ Matty), our hero and his bafflingly loyal band of buccaneers do battle against some Rob dude and even an older enemy. Look at us, we’ve got recurring characters and intrigue!
All the same, Ol' Matty has created a wonderfully tropical, topical and delicious word sandwich with all the perseverance and self-reflection of Defoe’s landmark novel, salvaging the shipwreak that is 18th century history (bread), swimming deeply into introspective story (meat), meeting nuanced and individualistic characters (cheese), foraging through thoughtful themes (sauce) and whatever he apparently feels fit the setting. I think it’s his way of making sure he adds salad. Well, he can’t seem to make friends even when he’s one of the few options, but he can make an effort.
Robinson Crusoe (1719) is a confessional novel by Daniel Defoe. I say confessional for Defoe was quite cheeky, as the story is written as the journal of the titular character and his castaway adventures. Indeed, the first edition credited the work's protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a travelogue of true incidents. It was not a hard sell, as this is a contender for the first English novel of all time. And yet Ol’ Matty has the audacity to claim Defoe is as relatable as a university student! I told him not to drink the seawater.
Crusoe is the archetypal story of the castaway on a desert island, a wasteland turned to personal kingdom ripe with grapes and scrapes of all kinds, including pirates, cannibals, and the wrath of nature itself. I think there was some Grenache somewhere, too. That’s a kind of grape, right? Not that it’s in the book, just Ol’ Matty was drinking it while reading Crusoe on the island, and during his adventures on the island and also when recording on the island. I wonder if the island has AA?
Love stories? Love hearing about the tales of old with Ol' Matty but want to know them yourself? Want to join the Book Club Sandwich but don't have the time or desire to sit down and read? Well, you dolt, check out Audible, where you can drive to your destination and faraway lands all at once. P.S. Audible, please sponsor me.
For more short stories like the one featured here, Dandelion by Lore Segal, see The New Yorker either online or subscribe to have the magazine delivered for those delectable morning reads. You sponsor me too, New Yorker.
I have only ever read the book with my own eyeballs so I can't personally vouch for any version on Audible, however there is an Amazon Classics Edition that I think the reader matches the tone of Crusoe in an entertaining way. This is Robinson Crusoe, narrated by Steve West.
In terms of film adaptations, in my opinion, Cast Away with Tom Hanks is your best bet, along with The Martian if you want a version IN SPAACE (that’s not 1964’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars). If you want to see the traditional Crusoe in action, there’s the TV Show Crusoe, which I thought was pretty neat as a tike (but have not since revisited), Man Friday, as mentioned, is an alternate version of the story that reverses the roles of Crusoe and Friday to make a criticism against Western Civilisation, and one of my favourite filmmakers of all time, Luis Buñuel, made an adaptation in 1954.
Until next time, my Quixotes!
Ol' Matty's sources:
https://www.sbs.com.au/movies/article/2015/10/02/how-george-clooneys-o-brother-where-art-thou-accent-was-family-affair> - O’Brother Where Art Thou, George Clooney’s Accent’s origin
<https://www.biography.com/writer/daniel-defoe> - An overall biography of Daniel Defoe.
https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/s/alexanderselkirk.html – The potential source material, most likely, of Robinson Crusoe
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/apr/19/robinson-crusoe-at-300-its-time-to-let-go-of-this-toxic-colonial-fairytale – The Guardian’s attacking article, attacking interpretation of the text rather than the text itself.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robinson_Crusoe - Robinson Crusoe, good ol’ Wikipedia
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rPXjCy83zg – Man Friday, the full film on YouTube.