Don’t make children read Robinson Crusoe

Spaniel Defoe.tif

Here we have a gratuitous addition of a drawing I did last year because it’s actually relevant!

I really enjoyed Robinson Crusoe. I like the fantasy of being stranded on a tropical island, surviving my my wits and whatever the surrounding environment provides, and being forced to confront the meaning of life in total isolation. I think I’d be a badass at it. I know I wouldn’t. I’d actually curl up in a ball on the sand and wait for the sea to eat me. But this is one of these situations where you get to believe you’d be incredible because you’re not stranded on a tropical island. I’m still in my jammies at 3pm. Things would have to go REALLY badly wrong for that to happen.

Robinson Crusoe is not a book that anyone should force children or teenagers to read, ever, but inexplicably people do, usually in the US. These people are wrong and bad and should reconsider their life choices. Here are some reasons why:

  • Have you looked at this book? It’s a dense wedge of niche information about trying to create a blast furnace out of nothing but spit and ingenuity. When did you last meet a teenager who gave a fuck about that? When did you last meet anyone who cared about that for over 300 pages? Look I’m not saying that we don’t exist. Like I said I eat this shit up. But I am saying we are a bunch of total weirdos who shouldn’t be allowed near either spit nor ingenuity. Teenagers – people in general – prefer books about interactions between characters, and you don’t get a whole lot of that in a book that mostly only has one dude in it. You don’t instill a love of reading in anybody by making it a chore.
  • Robinson Crusoe is a man from York. This means that the book is roughly seventeen times better read in a broad Yorkshire accent. Which is why you should get a good audiobook version and absolutely not attempt to read any part of it aloud if you have any other accent.
  • Robinson Crusoe is what the values of today dictate that we have to describe as “of its time.” This is a phrase that means “racist and/or misogynistic as all fuckery” 100% of the time. A work can be messed up or plan wrong about something and still have artistic merit. I get all of that. But I still don’t think that kids should be forced to sit there through hours of “and the hero of our tale doesn’t think that you in particular, second row and third from the left kid, should be considered a full human! Let’s look at how this dear sweet stupid little savage is taught to adore his white master and move away from cannibalism!”
  • Anybody who thinks that the above isn’t an issue, particularly with teaching this book in schools, and it’s all just twenty-first century political correctness gone mad, do fuck off.

So anyway that’s my thinking about Robinson Crusoe. If you’re wondering what the gibbering fuck this has to do with pens or ink there is a connection. Robinson Crusoe tries to keep a diary of his adventures on the island. He has pen, paper and ink to begin with. When he’s out of paper he improvises. When his pen breaks he can just grab some plumes from the local birdies. When he runs out of ink he is utterly stumped. So the writing stops at that point. Yes. The guy who recreates all manner of technological solutions using just the stuff available to him on a deserted island. That guy. He finds a way to smoke charcoal for fuel. He doesn’t at any point in his several decades on the island realise that if he grinds up some of that charcoal and mixes it with water he’ll have carbon ink – the versatile permanent ink that humans have been using for thousands of years. Oh sure, it does work better if you add something a little sticky to the mix, but no doubt there’s some kind of tree resin or thoroughly boiled small animal that could provide that. This annoyed me so much that I was almost yelling at him.

Later on in the book when (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU’RE STILL WAITING TO CHECK OUT THIS BOOK THAT IS 300 YEARS OLD) he is rescued by some Europeans who show up and take him home, he laments his lack of ink and one of them says (not EXACT words here): “why didn’t you just mix up some charcoal and water, you fucking idiot?” and he says “oh yeah I never thought of that.” My personal hypothesis on this is that Defoe genuinely forgot that this could be done, but when someone else pointed it out he couldn’t be bothered to rewrite in any way.

Most fountain pen ink used today is dye-based, rather than pigment-based. This actually works better for most purposes because anything that contains particles runs the risk that they’ll all get stuck in the feed and stop the flow of ink completely. The problem with dye-based inks is that they’re usually not all that great from a permanence point of view. Rain will run them all over an envelope. They’ll fade in direct sunlight. It’s not a problem if you want to write a load of Stephen Universe fanfic in a notebook and shove it in a drawer only to be found 25 years later and read aloud at your 40th birthday party to much hilarity. But it doesn’t work well for documents that have to last, be legible for a long time, and be difficult to alter. Iron gall based ink has a better level of permanence but can also be pretty damaging in its own right. It’s not great for pens, and over time it will also destroy paper. J. S. Bach’s original works were written with iron gall ink, and it has now almost totally destroyed the paper on which it was used. Nobody can figure out what to do about this so they mostly just stand around going NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

OK… nobody is going to be looking at your fanfic in a few centuries, so it doesn’t matter. So where does carbon ink come into this? It’s available today – most notably from Platinum, who make a kind of carbon ink which they swear is safe for fountain pens. It isn’t, of course. Not really. It’s slightly sticky and slightly gritty, and it will mess up your feed and nib if you don’t keep it moving along. But it has a level of permanence that is better than any other ink I’ve used, and that is important for my purposes.

I draw. I do not draw particularly well. It is not great art. It is stuff like this.

party pelican013.jpg

But because I am working with drawing inks, being able to have a black outline underneath which can be smeared, smudged and washed over without budging, is extremely helpful. As soon as Platinum Carbon Black is dry you can do any of these things without a whisper of a smudge, and at this point you’ll have to tear it from my cold dead extremely stained hands. As long as you treat it with respect, this ink will look after you. Don’t leave it sitting in a pen unused for more than a day or two. Don’t let it dry out. It’s worth picking up the pen that Platinum make specifically for the purpose, because it works really well with the ink, because it’s fairly cheap and because it comes with a desk stand that makes it look quite fancy and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. I think that’s probably because they’re marketing it at the official documents crowd. But I’ll take it.

I physically can’t keep Orianna out of these pictures. She lives on my desk.

4 thoughts on “Don’t make children read Robinson Crusoe

    1. She finds the weirdest stuff to lick. Give her people food and she doesn’t know what to do with it tho. Except cinnamon buns. She’ll smash her way into a steel vault for those.


  1. And now I feel I must read Robinson Crusoe and stop reading Tess of The D’Urbervilles for the elebenty billionth time. Charity shop – here I come!


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