As written by Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss, and edited by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss, the novel was intended to teach his four sons about family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance. Wyss's attitude towards education is in line with the teachings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and many of the episodes have to do with Christian-oriented moral lessons (frugality, husbandry, resignation, cooperation, etc). The adventures are presented as a series of lessons in natural history and the physical sciences and resemble other similar educational books for children in this period, for example, Charlotte Smith's Rural Walks: in Dialogues intended for the use of Young Persons (1795), Rambles Further: A continuation of Rural Walks (1796), A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons (1807). However the novel differs in that it is based on the model of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, a genuine adventure story.
Over the years there have been many versions of the story with episodes added, changed or deleted. Perhaps the most well known English version is by William H. G. Kingston first published in 1879. It is based on Isabelle de Montolieu's 1824 French adaptation Le Robinson suisse, ou, Journal d'un père de famille, naufragé avec ses enfans in which were added further adventures of Fritz, Franz, Ernest and Jack. Other English editions which claim to include the whole of the Wyss-Montolieu narrative are by W. H. Davenport Adams (1869-0) and Mrs H. B. Paull (1879). As Carpenter and Prichard write in The Oxford Companon to Children's Literature (Oxford, 1995), "with all the expansions and contractions over the past two centuries (this includes a long history of abridgments, condensations, Christianizing, and Disney products), Wyss's original narrative has long since been obscured.". The closest English translation to the original is William Godwin's 1816 translation, reprinted by Penguin Classics.
Although movie and TV adaptations typically name the family "Robinson", it is not a Swiss name; the "Robinson" of the title refers to Robinson Crusoe. The German name translates as the Swiss Robinson, implying a Swiss version of Robinson Crusoe, rather than a Swiss family named Robinson.
The Swiss Family Robinson follows a close family who have found themselves stranded on a desert island after a shipwreck. The story is told from the point of view of the father. The religious family is made up of their intelligent and resourceful father, a kind and caring mother, and their four sons named Fritz, Ernest, Jack, and Franz. Fritz is the eldest son, 15 years old when the family lands on the island, and he is often tough on his brothers despite his good intentions. Ernest is the second oldest, and he is intelligent and well-formed, though indolent. Jack is the third oldest son, he is bold, but often thoughtless. Last is Franz, the youngest son, nearly 8 years old when the family first is stranded. The father is trying to teach them about nature
The story follows the family's many good fortunes after they survive a shipwreck in a storm. They find themselves stuck on the ship, after being abandoned by their shipmates, but not too far from shore. Luckily, the family discovers many supplies on the ship, including clothing, tools, fish hooks, guns and gun powder, and various useful animals, such as cows, mules, hens, and pigeons. They find even more treasures on the endlessly fruitful island, and continue to prosper and make new and exciting discoveries.
There have been many adaptations of the novel with a wide variety of plots, characters, and endings. In the end they are all chiefly characterized by an improbable profusion and variety of animals -- penguins, kangaroos, monkeys, lions, grizzly bears, American buffalo, wild donkeys, iguanas, and even a whale - conveniently gathered together on a tropical island for the purpose of feeding and educating the boys, and instructing the reader.
The novel has in one form or another been adapted in a number of versions.
The adaptions into television series have also been numerous
There have been a number of adaptions into television movies:
A comic book series updated the adventures to outer space