Who would have expected that I would come away from this book liking it so very much? Trying to read it on my own, I failed, but reading it in class helped me to see it in context, and appreciate it as a funny, thoughtful, and sometimes cruel work, a satire that can be real fun and thought-provoking once you get into the right mood for reading it. Jonathan Swift was an Irish-born Tory who possessive of a famous aversion to humantiy in general. (Or so I am apt to classify him. There is something charming about misanthropes, one can really sympathize with them when one is cranky.) His Captain Lemuel Gulliver ends up stranded in various wondrous and edifying lands. I needn't tell you about Lilliput (six inch high people) and Brobdingnag (giants), but you might have forgotten Laputa, the floating island, and the land of the H----'s (don't bother me with the bloody spelling), those uber-intelligent horses. It's that last part, with the H----'s that is pretty shocking even today. You and me are both Yahoos of a kind, and Gulliver sails back to his people in raft with a sail made from Yahoo-skins. With Yahoo meat as provisions. But there are lots of disturbing, warped things in this book. I remember passages in Brobdingnag with the most fondness. There Gulliver, reduced to the status of a plaything, is quite helpless, and delightfully so. He is dropped into a bowl of cream by a dwarf and embarrasingly discommoded by a pet monkey. The ladies at the court take a perverse delight in bouncing him up and down on their breasts. Gulliver, being tiny, is able to note the physical human imperfections of his captors magnified--cancerous lumps, blemishes of the skin, moles and wrinkles appear in all their sordidness. And what interesting things these are to read about, in retrospect. I think that we as modern human beings--I mean as Westerners, swamped in our materialism and complacency--need to sample the muck in our "entertainment" sometimes, just to get in touch with reality. Tear yourself away from MTV, from the supermodels and the actors, from semi-kiddie porn anime, and admit that the physicality of our human bodies can be pretty disgusting. And also the psychology of Us, when we don't study ourselves and our values-- Gulliver himself is a little man, a contemptible nincompoop most of the time. I didn't notice it while I was reading the book, but afterwards, I thought about it, and decided so. When he recommends gunpowder to the King of Brobdingnag, he even comes across as significantly--stupid. (Is there logic in presenting a country of giants with the ability to make gunpowder, when you and the rest of your kind are 1/100th of their size? Derr. Not really. Even if you want to suck up to said king.) But it's Swift on whom I can't quite place my finger... The more I think about him alongside his book, the more ambiguous he seems. Does he really mean to present the values of the H----'s as Good with a capital G in all particulars? (I was struck with their arrogant bitchiness, myself. Perhaps Swift would dislike me.) How about the Lilliuputian way of raising children, is that meant to be construed as desirable? (I do like it better than the cruel Puritanical strain of childraising, all that honor your mother & father ad nauseum beyond the bounds of compassion kind of crap--but the Lilliputian way doesn't seem to allow for that thing called love, either...) I dunno. You tell me. Ahh, but don't tell me Gulliver's Travels is outdated, or boring, 'cause I won't believe you.Read more ›
Its actual title is "Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World" as if by Lemuel Gulliver, but most people know it as "Gulliver's Travels" and the actual author is Jonathan Swift. The book works on numerous levels, it could be viewed as an adventure story for children, an early example of fantasy/science fiction, a general satire of humanity, or a more specific satire of events, society, and politics in which Swift lived. The latter was undoubtedly the way it was taken when first publish ed in 1726 and amended in 1735, but that is the most difficult way for the reader to view the book today. The Penguin Classics edition of "Gulliver's Travels" is of great assistance in helping the reader appreciate that aspect of the book, with a fine introduction by Robert Demaria, Jr., and detailed notes throughout the text to help explain many of the references.
Part I, "A Voyage to Lilliput" is the best known part of the book. This section has often been used in isolation of the other three parts of the book. This is the story where Gulliver is shipwrecked and washed up on a distant shore, only to find himself a captive of the Lilliputians, who are 1/12th the size of Gulliver. Swift is very detailed in discussing the minutia of Gulliver's experience, from how much he has to eat, to how he relieves himself. Swift satirizes the court of King George I, and of course travel books where the authors stretch the truth. Gulliver starts as a captive, becomes a loyal subject, but then is forced by his own morals to refuse the requests of the King of Lilliput which allows his enemies to work against him. As a result, Gulliver is forced to flee and as fortune would have it he makes it back to home.
In Part II, "A Voyage to Brobdingnag", Gulliver once again goes to sea, and is this time abandoned when he goes to look for fresh water. This time Gulliver finds himself in a somewhat reversed position, still captive, but this time by people who are 12 times his height. The notoriety of Gulliver's existence results in his again being a favorite of the court. Gulliver tries to impress the King with stories of Europe, but his stories of the use of guns and cannons has the opposite affect. This time Gulliver is rescued by luck when a giant bird drops him in the sea where he is found and returned again to England.
Part III, "A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan again has Gulliver at sea, and his fortunes are worse yet, as his ship is taken by Pirates and he is marooned on an island. Here he is rescued by a flying island (Laputa) which is a kingdom where math and the arts are of paramount importance but they have no interest at all in Gulliver's information regarding other lands. Gulliver then travels to Balnurabi where he visits their Academy which is a satire of the Royal Society at the time. Gulliver decides to go to Japan to make his way on a Dutch ship back to England, but since he has time he first goes to Glubbdubdrib. Here he discusses history with the ghosts, and learns of the immortal Struldbruggs who spend most of their existence old and infirmed. Gulliver then makes his way back to Balnurabi and on to Japan, where he manages to avoid a ceremony where he would have to trample on the crucifix before returning to England. This is the last of the sections which Swift wrote, and is the most unusual.
Part IV, "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms" starts with Gulliver breaking his promise to remain at home and returning to the Sea. Once again misfortune sets in and his crew mutinies and eventually leaves him on an unknown shore. Here Gulliver meets the dominant species, the Houyhnhns who are like horses. The humans of this land are called Yahoos, and their behavior and actions convince Gulliver that the Houyhnhms are preferable to his own species. In the end Gulliver much prefers life among the Houyhnhms to that among humans (Yahoos), even those in England. The Houyhnhms decide that Gulliver is a danger to their society, and so they exile him. Gulliver is rescued, no thanks to his own efforts, and finds himself once again among humans. Despite being treated wonderfully by the Portuguese captain, Gulliver cannot stand being among humans, and even when he makes it back to his home in England, he prefers to spend his time in the stables with the horses. This section contains my favorite part of the book, where Gulliver tries to defend European "Civilization" to the Houyhnhms by discussing European wars.
If one is looking to read "Gulliver's Travels" as a Children's book, then there are better editions than this one to choose. If you are looking to read the complete book as an adventure story or a general satire, then there are several editions which contain the complete novel, though this one will work for that as well. If you are looking to read it to understand the more specific and detailed satire that it offers, then the Penguin Classics publication is a very good choice of editions. In addition to the introduction and the notes mentioned before, there are also some textual notes discussing the differences in the 1726 and 1735 editions. For the most part, this book sticks with the 1726 edition, but there are several places where Robert Demaria, Jr. opts to use the 1735 text. This is also discussed in the notes and in "A Note on the Text" which precedes the novel.Read more ›
This book is probably the best known full-length satire of society. In it, Swift mocks what he feels to be the all the iniquities of the 18th century. And of course, it's far from being a children's book. There are four voyages and only the first two are known in the popular imagination. In each voyage, Gulliver goes to a country/countries that are radically different from those known and stays with the court/government learning about the country and sometimes helping out. Part 1 is a voyage to Lilliput. Here, the people are very very small. This is the most well-known part, containing famous satires such as that of the Big-Endians and Little-Endians. The small characters generally satirise the characteristic of pettiness. Part 2 is a voyage to Brobdingnag. Here, the people are very large. As such, they satirise the opposite quality - that of being overbearing. Here, Gulliver is paraded as a pet. Part 3 is a voyage to Laputa (and other islands including Japan). Here, Swift mocks scholarship and science. Each of the several islands has a peculiar trait to do with science. Here, you'll find such classics as the novel-writing machine and the country where the linguists decided that words are too indirect to communicate being signs of signs so everyone carries a large sack of objects to point to in direct communication - which sounds like something from a modern academic, except this is interesting. Part 4 is a voyage to the country of the Huyhnhnms. Here, Swift departs from tongue-and-cheek and becomes biting. The country is a utopia populated by benevolent horses and the humanoids are wild and uncivilised so they're "looked after". As a result of the horses' brilliance, Gulliver becomes disgusted with the human race after seeing the difference. Obviously like all parts of the satire this is not to be taken literally - that Swift despised people. That's the basic content but nothing can describe the joy, humour, wit and imagination used in the book. It has everything and is an absolute must for anyone who's ever saw something funny/wrong with society (ie. all).Read more ›