is it about this amazing story that so carries us along? Its words?
They are rather simple. Its high flowing style? Not really.
What is the magic in these pages? After all, the story is almost
three hundred years old and should long ago have been consigned
to the trash-heap of forgotten tales.
It turns out that
when the famous words flowed like a torrent from Daniel Defoe's
pen in 1719, it was more than a well-sculptured tale for children,
more than the studied work of a master story-teller. Much more!
Added to the genius and experience of the author, I found there
were no fewer than three distinct streams of vital influence that
were flowing together to make the story what it was. Each one added
a fresh dimension of vividness to the tale.
Story of Flesh and Blood Happenings (1)
First of all, there was the astonishing claim that the story was based
in true, real-life experiences.
"The Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" is fiction,
obvious make-belief. But it turns out to be only half fiction. The other half
is the story of the author--Daniel Defoe, the intrepid businessman and
adventurous politician. His real life story is woven into every line.
It was all very real to him, very personal and close. "There
is a life and very well known too (obviously his own), which chimes part for part,
line for line with the inimitable story of Robinson Crusoe," he clearly
Real Island (2)
Daniel Defoe knew
of the delightful stretch of green grass near the little river, "not
more than 100 yards wide and twice as long, descending in irregular
steps down to the sea" and bounded at its head by a cliff "as
steep as the side of a house." It had been an ideal location
for visiting landing parties to pitch their tents, within sight of
their ships that had been anchored just below.
Daniel Defoe simply
took up into his vivid imagination this wealth of information and
rolled the calendar back sixty years. He placed his lonely, shipwrecked
mariner there for "twenty-eight years, nine months and eighteen
days," and the lonely island took on concrete form. Since he
was then able to describe real places from first-hand information,
he was able to make his delightful story spring to life more vividly
than ever could have been done otherwise.
Cargo to be Carried (3)
The third surprising
factor that colored the story of Robinson Crusoe was that the author
was fired with a compelling message he wanted to share with his readers.
When Daniel Defoe's pen began dancing across the pages, his thoughts
flowed vividly because he had something to say. His heart was full
and it spilled over in a torrent of words. He was constructing a gripping
adventure story as his vehicle and was loading onto it a valuable
By his own description,
these thoughts were the famous story's "brightest ornaments."
They were designed for the "infinite good of the reader."
They were the moral and spiritual elements he was weaving into his
On the one hand,
he was seeking to guide the reader toward the building of a solid
character. The well-rounded man, like his lonely hero, would be industrious,
self-reliant, honest and contented. He would be tolerant, even toward
people of nationalities other than his own, including the black races,
to whom kindness and consideration should be shown. He would be tolerant
too of people of other religions. At the same time, he was pointing
to a line separating hope from despair, meaningful living from mere
dead-end existence--the possibility of a vital personal relationship
with none other than the Maker of Heaven and Earth Himself. With such
a life-changing secret in his hands, he felt compelled to share it.
To share the Secret effectively, he had to lead his readers away from
conventional places and accustomed thought patterns of the day. He
had to take them to a place where a man could be essentially alone
with God Himself, a place where each one could give a from-the-heart
response to Him.
That is why "Robinson
Crusoe" had to be! It was the only way Daniel Defoe could take
his readers and lead them to see, and hopefully also to experience,
the Secret he had learned.
Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" burst on the London
scene on April 25, 1719 and the book was an immediate success. Its
entrancing tale struck a chord in the hearts of the people of England.
ornaments" of the tale drew special interest, heightened by the
attempts of some unscrupulous printers to remove them from the text
of the story. Such attempts "are as wicked as robbing a man on
the highway," retorted the incensed publisher.
Many came to understand,
through the story, Daniel Defoe's new dimension in life and came away
determined to find the same thing. With others, the early fluttering
of desire arose and lingered, waiting for their full realization in
Will Come a Day..."
In some places the
story of Robinson Crusoe met with criticism and sarcastic rejection.
"But," Defoe wrote prophetically, "there will come
a time when the minds of men will be more open, when the guidelines
of virtue and Christian living will be more gratefully received than
they are now, and one generation will be strengthened by the same
teachings which another generation has despised."
That day, in part,
came through a silver-voiced preacher who came to Bristol in 1738.
His name was George Whitefield, and he too emphasized a personal relationship
with God through repentance and faith. The seeds that had been sown
through the Robinson Crusoe story began in a new way to bear fruit.
England was swept by a new spirit of religious fervour, and the way
had been prepared, in part, by such widely-read books as Pilgrim's
Progress and The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
Now, we find ourselves
a further three hundred years down the road. A new interest has been
developing in the well-worn tale, and new enquiries are being made
into the meaning it carried.
Crusoe lives again! (From the Introduction to "The
Real Robinson Crusoe").