The first of February apparently was Robinson Crusoe Day, with a plethora of activities, books, lesson plans and more being offered around the Internet, for readers small and not-so-small. It’s Feb 1 because that’s the day Alexander Selkirk — who may have been a key inspiration for Robinson Crusoe — was apparently rescued from the island of Juan Fernandez. Certainly, there are other possible models, among them a narrative by Ibn Tufayl that was “a sensation among intellectuals in Daniel Defoe’s day“:
Nearly eleven years back, on the occasion of Ibn Tufayl’s narrative being adapted for children, Martin Wainwright argued that “Tufayl’s footprints mark the great classic”, Robinson Crusoe.
That may be. But whether or no the 12th-century Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Alive, son of Awake) influenced Defoe’s 1719 desert-island novel, the Andalusia-born philosopher’s work is interesting on its own two feet.
The narrative tells the story of an orphaned boy, Hayy, who is raised in the wild by a gazelle, and how he comes to grips with human reason and human society. Some call it a philosophical narrative, some a coming-of-age novel, some a compendium of Islamic science, some proto-science fiction. The narrative has inspired numerous adaptations; in addition to the one in 2003, in 2011 Iranian-American director Mohammad Ghaffari adapted it to the stage, also apparently suited for children, as it continued in Minneapolis’s Children’s Theatre Company.
Hayy ibn Yaqzan was also re-translated by Lenn E. Goodman and published in 2003.
An open-source version of Hayy ibn Yaqzan’s original English translation, by Simon Ockley, pub. 1708. Not exactly suited to the modern reader, but: