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Robinson Crusoe, Home School Hero

Margaret Eustace France

Farther Adventures

Farther Adventures presents Crusoe as far less circumspect about aggression toward people who do not share his values than in Robinson Crusoe. Markley calls the Crusoe of the second book a "fanatic crusader," and while the Focus on the Family edition is unlikely to use the same terminology, it does not shrink from presenting the events that inspire Markley's characterization (Far East 179). Midway through Farther Adventures, Crusoe's crew systematically destroys a village and most of its inhabitants in retaliation for a crewmate whose throat was cut by the natives for the abduction and rape of a young girl. Crusoe protests and is left behind. Later Crusoe reveals that it is not the crew's actions that he finds reprehensible but their motivation; he brings up the story when explaining to his traveling companion what he would like to do to a Tartar village of idol-worshippers. It is his companion and fellow Christian, the Scots merchant, not Crusoe, who suggests that they target the idol rather than the villagers, and Crusoe and his co-conspirators sneak out of their caravan, burn the idol, and terrorize the villagers without conscience or consequences. The Focus on the Family edition draws attention to Crusoe's moral failing here. Wheeler takes Crusoe to task in a discussion question, writing: "What I find sadly amusing here is that the same righteous person who roundly condemned the mariners for the massacre after they at least had some provocation, was willing (even eager) to do the same thing here without any provocation...[A]t no time in the long saga does Crusoe appear less admirable than he does in this section" (Wheeler 266, italics in original). Wheeler insists that the reader or student try to account for Crusoe's inconsistency, drawing attention to a moment that might otherwise recede into the ceaseless torrent of incident and observation in Farther Adventures. Instead, Wheeler brings the violence forward, part of a strategy begun in the Focus on the Family edition of Robinson Crusoe. The Crusoe of Wheeler's Robinson Crusoe demonstrated a capacity to talk himself out of such acts through deliberate reflection. Even where acts of unjustified violence do occur, as in Friday's dance with the bear at the novel's close, Wheeler does not comment, as if reserving criticism of the protagonist for the second book. In Farther Adventures, Wheeler draws attention to unjustified violent acts while, in this case, inviting the reader to consider what constitutes a justified act of violence. To prevent Crusoe from carrying out this bloody plot, another Christian must intervene, not to counsel him that his aggression is inappropriate, but that it should be more focused. Tellingly, Wheeler directs his criticism not at the violence but at its source; the problem is not one of actions but their justification, paralleling Dobson's suggestion, contrary to Dr. Spock, that there is a place for corporal punishment in child-rearing, a place Focus on the Family continues to defend. To preserve the idea that violence can be an appropriate response in some circumstances, the Focus on the Family edition cannot simply protest atrocities as they appear in the text. Wheeler has to make finer distinctions in order to avoid any appearance of condemning Crusoe's actions for their violence rather than the intent behind them. As a result, Wheeler is so eager to clarify that it is the unjustified violence, not violence in general, that he objects to in this scene that he nearly endorses the actions on Madagascar. By underlining the difficulty of determining when and how to resort to violence, Wheeler carves out the role an organization like Focus on the Family could have for even the most independent, Crusoe-like Christian, by defending Christians' rights to use force in their own households, and giving them the sage counsel required to apply it.

The Focus on the Family edition of Farther Adventures takes many approaches that subtly suggest a proper context for violence. At times, Wheeler's editorial emendations close the distance between the reader and Defoe's occasionally gruesome imagination. Before returning to his island in Farther Adventures, Crusoe's ship encounters a storm-delayed vessel that had gone eleven days without rations. Crusoe brings two survivors, a young man whose mother starved feeding him the last of her food, and his maid. Over a hundred pages later, the maid revisits their ordeal and tells Crusoe that, dazed by hunger, she struck her nose on a bed and bled into a basin. Later, in a scene that James Maddox aptly calls "ludicrously horrible" (45), she drinks the blood and it preserves her until Crusoe's ship arrives. In the first edition, Crusoe observes that "[t]his was her own Relation, and is such a distinct Account of starving to Death, as, I confess, I never met with, and was exceeding entertaining to me" (203). Wheeler's copy text reproduces this wording. In the Focus on the Family edition, Wheeler includes the account of the creation and consumption of the blood-filled basin in full, but omits some of Crusoe's reaction, rendering it, "This was her own story and as truthful an account of starving to death as, I confess, I ever met with" (142). In the original and in Wheeler's copy text, the sentence leaves room for ambiguity — the clause "I confess" may function as an assertion of Crusoe's sincerity or suggest that Crusoe is admitting to something when he calls the story "exceeding entertaining." Maddox regards this moment as a consequence of Crusoe's craving for violent spectatorship (44–50). This idea — that Crusoe may be observing violence to suit his own desires—is minimized in the Focus on the Family edition; the possibility of taking pleasure from proximity to bloodshed might open up uncomfortable questions for Wheeler's Christian audience. Late twentieth- and twenty-first-century Christian entertainment unflinchingly accepts gore, at least in contexts where it seems to serve a function besides mere entertainment. Graphic violence in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004) and the Left Behind series of novels (which debuted two years before Focus on the Family's edition of Robinson Crusoe was issued by the same publisher) did little to hinder evangelical Christians from embracing them, as the violence was explained as part of each work's fidelity to Scripture. However, by erasing Crusoe's admission that he is stimulated by the bloody tale, Wheeler does not simply obviate the potential that the audience will share the thrill. Wheeler's omission of Crusoe's enthusiastic response to the maid's story makes the reader, not Crusoe, the spectator; rather than react to Crusoe's reaction, the Focus on the Family edition's readers must determine for themselves if they are "entertained" by the scene.

Wheeler presents the Focus on the Family edition of Farther Adventures as "a rather unvarnished, sometimes brutal story, complete with...acts of violence against helpless victims." In his introduction Wheeler praises this aspect of the story as evidence of its fidelity to its times, concluding that, "there is no Monday morning quarterbacking here, no revisionistic [sic] rewriting of the past" (xii). This first mention of violence, with its juxtaposition of jargon ("revisionistic") and sports metaphor, makes any objection to the book on the basis of its violent content seem both pretentious, and, by association, politically correct, even unsportsmanlike.

Wheeler's final caution about the book's violent content serves as the best example of the contradictory impulses in adapting Farther Adventures for the modern evangelical Christian family. Again, his warning comes in a guise that is strangely hostile to the idea of giving a warning on the basis of violent content, despite the youth and moral sensibilities of the intended reader. Wheeler opens "A Word to the Reader," by stating: "The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is a troubling book because it is an honest one" (lxv). After cataloguing the violence, disasters, and vivid acquaintance with mortality that was commonplace in Defoe's time, Wheeler begins to make the case that comfort with "the realities of life" is integral to one's identity as a Christian. Wheeler then takes a standard note on content and transforms it into a manifesto on the durability of the Christian stomach

Sadly, many people today, particularly among the media, perceive Christians as unwilling or unable to accept these realities. They believe that we deliberately close ourselves off from the world's ugliness, thinking that if we don't know it's there, it won't hurt us. But if Christians really believed this, we would not read our Bibles. After all, the Scriptures cover a particularly bloody period in human history, and biblical writers don't sugarcoat or shy away from discussing topics such as wars, slavery, idolatry, cannibalism, adultery, pride, incest, and treachery...Our consciences are not V-chips that block evil from our too-impressionable souls; rather, they are divine prisms through which we are to discern good from bad, truth from lies. (lxv)

In his final warning, Wheeler implies that the reader who shrinks from violence is not only cowardly, but also insufficiently educated as a Christian. The Christian unable to cope with Farther Adventures is guilty of both Biblical illiteracy and conforming to stereotypes propagated by "many people" and the media. The familiarity with the Bible Wheeler ascribes to his presumed audience distinguishes them from the mainstream because it makes them better equipped to contend with "the world's ugliness." Here Wheeler explicitly connects Christian identity to a facility with comprehending violence. This facility takes on particular import because, according to Wheeler, the ability is both deeply symbolic and widely misunderstood, making a particular relationship to violence part of what differentiates Focus on the Family's audience from the greater public. The weight of this separation becomes crucial to understanding claims Wheeler makes in the introductions to both editions. Continue . . .

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