Daniel Defoe, despicable moral ambivalent or daring, dogged dreamer?

I first met Defoe (who was actually born Daniel Foe, adding the more aristrocratic “de” to separate himself from his very common father a tallow chandler) in a Children’s Illustrated Classics Robinson Crusoe. For those born to late to experience these wonderful introduction to the great stories of literature, they were chapter books with every few pages a lovely pencil action shot or charming evocative landscape. The pictures were part of the story, leading me both towards the original authors works and comic books. The footprint will stay forever with me, both in printed word and line drawing.

I found him again as a history and journalism enthusiast in my early adulthood, but as then I found the world so clearly devided between the good guys and the bad guys, his apparent ambivalence and choice to survive at all costs did not endear him to me even if he was one of the fathers of the novel and of modern journalism.

In this century Mr Defoe and I became reacquainted through the works of one of the great storytellers of this century, James A Owen. I compare his literary realities to Tolkien and Lewis.  In another time he would certainly have been an Inkling. If you have not read the series yet, begin now. If you have read them, then begin again as the last volume appears later this year.

In the Imaginarium Geographica series, that begins with “Here There Be Dragons,” Defoe is somewhat of a villain  although his real life adventures as a spy have always made me wonder of his true allegiance.  Like the Potter series, or most aptly referenced here “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, good and evil are most clearly delineated at the start and grow more shades of gray as the story progresses.

I will reread Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe again but thought to try his more controversial novel and am just about to finish “The Fortunes and Misfortunes of  the Famous Moll Flanders,” and have to says I am pleasantly surprised at the strong feminist tone of this novel and cannot wait to find a good biography of the man to help flesh out my picture of him. I still think he was a man whose instinct to survive was greater than his ethical adherence, whose need to be admired, liked and seen as “somebody” was bent by a youth of being a “nobody” and led to many of his own misfortunes. However, it was that uncanny ability to survive and thrive in a time of great change and social turmoil that helped bring into fruition the modern novel and journalism so I can only be grateful.

I recommend “Robinson Crusoe” for the easier and more moving read (yes, I have read the unabridged version and was just as enthralled) but recommend “Moll Flanders” for its social context and for those who like reality TV, I mean this was the Jersey Shore of its time!

Most importantly I recommend reading, turn off the TV tonight and open a book, any book, and let the screen in your mind light up with all the wonderful pictures and places the words can lead you. I have started a Book Club over on FaceBook called the “Imaginarium Geographica Classics Club” that I hope you all will join. Pick any author running about those pages and one book he wrote and add it to the comments section on the page. An exciting contest is soon to be revealed revolving around these books and authors.

Leave a Reply