on February 21, 2004
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.
on February 14, 2013
Doesn't get better than this. A hilarious, disturbing, and thought provoking novel. Even people who dislike 18th century literature will find this one engaging.
on June 5, 2010
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.
on December 11, 2003
_Gulliver's Travels_ has been comfortably wrapped in a bookcover of sorts which presents it as a cozy fairy tale for young readers. Yet I know of no book so utterly anti-human. Gulliver, the narrator, is an elegant writer who sets himself up as an ideal vehicle for irony-- that is, he is totally sincere. He states the facts, often in terms of measurements, and records his travels quite faithfully. He's a bit dull, perhaps, but at least he's a careful observer. And in so recording his observations he undermines, completely turns on its head, all that we value in humanity. How? Gulliver-- Swift, really-- reduces everything to a matter of perspective or proportion. It's a shockingly decedent approach. For suddenly the fair perfumed skin of a young lady, enlarged hundreds of times, is a dark-haired surface with moon-craters and a horrid stench. Is this who we really are? Only our eyes and nose cannot detect the truth? The pleasant image of Gulliver tied in tiny ropes by a tiny people is destroyed by a certain Swiftian madness, a sense that humans are-- in short-- vile. Read closely then try walking down the street and looking these two-legged creatures in the eye.
on November 13, 2003
This is of course one of the most famous works of literature in the world, especially thanks to the Japanese, who realised a consistent amount of cartoons for the home-video market inspired by it.
I must say I was not very surprised by this work, as I knew from the start whre everything would go. The letter and the spirit of Gulliver's Travels are one of the most divulgated to students from primary till high school. That's why I particulartly liked the account of Laputa, which is one of the lesser known episodes (and I looked forward to it, since Italo Calvino had done a remarkable publicity for it once). Especially the Academy of Sciences of that noble country had an interesting Sadian feeling (Swift is one of those philosophic minds which delight in fustigating philosophers); plus, you could witness the explosion of a dog.
There's rather a disquieting feeling hanging around these pages. From neurotic midgets who receive rains of urine on their heads, giants with a deformed and stinking skin (not different from our own, if we could magnify it adequately, the author says), to people who after they've come home from a long voyage, prefer talking to two horses and have to hold a handkerchief in front of their nose when they're with their wives and children. Vanitas vanitatum, memento mori. No wonder Swift was an Irish clergymen. But this exposes also a difficulty in his social criticism; generally, we point towards him as a spur to reform. But, how can a work with such a deeply rooted convinction in the decline of humanity stimulate to politicalaction. rather, ity is an invitation to a stoic ideal of life, not unlike Voltaire's in "Candide".
on September 24, 2003
Gulliver's Travels was a book that was the required reading in my high school senior english class. At first, you think of Gulliver's Travels as a kid's book due to the cartoons that were put out. But as you read it, you discover it is full of satire for adults.
Jonathan swift writes about how people act or fail to act. Such as in the case where Gulliver finds himself in the land of Giants. Many people there are huge, larger than life- sports stars, models, movie stars, politicians of today- but they fail to see their own faults, acme, blemeishes as Gulliver describes them. Then you have the land of Lilliputians, who represent small people in society trying to be something there not, and always trying to push others around. Their election for mayor is funny in that the official who jumps the highest wins! Sorta like our elections today, the canidate who puts the biggest show wins.
Jonathan then writes about the way he feels society should be in the land of the horses, noble, honorable, loving.HHMMM And he takes a shot at humans calling them "Yahoo's", stating they are dirty, filthy, self-centered and how they throw their dung around like monkeys.
Some say Jonthan Swift was an eccentric and crazy, others say he was a genius. Read the book and you be the judge.
on May 9, 2003
Considering the topic of this book, I feel it necessary to discuss some of the stated perceptions regarding it:
--Apparently some people believe this a children's book, sort of like the cutesy, toned down puppet shows that have passed for adaptations. A question of no doubt: This book was intended as an attack.
I see in Swift something like an anarchistic mind--a man so revolted by every tribal persuation that passes for religion or for politics (often equally consumed, the two supposedly seperate ideas fused and bunched together, every contradiction in tact--!) and yet so disillusioned with every so-called 'independent movement', (be they political, social, or that stale haven of the two of them: Someone's brand new church--)that really all the poor man could see left was No hope--
Whether this is a lesson for children, whether it's appropriate to allow them to see all of the horrors and the insanity of our secualarized community filled with warring faiths and the greed and the snivelling of a competitive open party system, this is for the parent(s) to judge. If nothing else Gulliver's travels is a shattering portrait of a wide-ranging variety of communities all against both each other and themselves, all living together in a community defined by dicisiveness.
Other comments I saw were purely academic: the charts and the lists, the textbook schemata of some condescending mind seeming to boast that they 'get it', when all that they really come across as having gotten is someone else's rather passionless point of view. The quoting of others, the application of philosophies that have today become so common place towards human understanding that these cyrpto-psycholo-intellectualticians undermine Mr. Swift (not to meant pre-date themselves in guess of who represents whom) in their praise, giving the man no credit for intuitive insight. Certain people rank this book as the 'best ever', or--worse yet!--as the compartmentilized 'best SATIRE ever'. Now surely this book is a work of the satiric art. To put it a better way: the whole present concept of satiric intent would not exist without the pulsing heart of Jonathan Swift's works. But to apply a ranking to something that can only be taken subjectively is meaningless.
Swift was a man truly without fear. In an age when people could be excommunicated and possibly executed for making fun of those in power, this angry monk scribbled out bitter complaints about the self-serving absurdity of nearly everyone in power. Then, to judge in all fairness, he turns the blame on the victims, telling them that they don't have to take it, that after a while there is no one left to blame for their suffering but themselves. This satire is all-inclusive and can therefore not be conceived with an agenda. It is poking fun. It is the narrative of progressive exaggeration. It is a masterpiece--
Now of course we all need to justify our opinions by naming and accepting who or what we represent, but Swift acknowledges that this is just opinion, the one sacred thing to all of mankind. We create our own reality by applying our beliefs to our surroundings And if the whole world is out to get you, ultimately, you must be doing something terribly wrong to be so hated.
I urge you--all of you, even those who much prefer an outlook able to provide for happy endings--read Gulliver's Travels. Take your time. And see who you are, taken to the logical extremes relating to your religious, political and community affiliations. And then laugh at the folly of the individual trapped in this world.
on January 6, 2002
This is, along with "A Modest Proposal", one of Jonathan Swift's infamous understated, biting satires. At the very least edgy, and often outright misanthropic, Swift's writing is not for the optimist. However, his writing here is both brutally honest and imaginative, always delivered with a straight face. It's a clever book, and his adventures are always interesting. As simply fantasy, the book also succeeds - it raises many points about the situations Gulliver gets himself into that a lesser writer would never have thought of.
The only real disadvantage of "Gulliver's Travels" (and the reason it only gets four stars) is the occasionally excessive prose. One section in particular during Gulliver's stay at the Floating Island is almost a sedative, and these parts show up often enough to make the reading an occasional chore. Nevertheless, this is still one of the best satirical novels around, and the story is entertaining on its own. It could have used some editing, but it's very good regardless.
on December 11, 2001
Gulliver is portrayed by Swift as an average man of average courage, honesty, compassion, and intellect, a typical Englishmen. But there is nothing typical about Gulliver's travels. What Swift has accomplished by making Gulliver the embodiment of common English values and beliefs and then having him visist far away lands that are really the mirrors of English society is an interesting satirical device. He forces the English reader to unknowingly judge English society, not according to some higher law or pristine observer, but through the lens of their own cherished values. This effectively turns English beliefs and values in on themselves as a test of their merit. Swift echoes this structure by first having Gulliver visit a land of little people, which causes one to ovserve them with scrutiny of Gulliver, who is now the little one. After a series of defferent looks at society throug the first three voyages, Gulliver travels to Houyhnhnmland where the narure of people themselves are given the strongest censure, by being directly paralleled with the loathsome Yahoos. Here Swift bluntly attacks almost every aspect of society, which is then compared to the Yahoos point by point by the Grey Mare. Gulliver and the reader finally identify themselves completely with the Yahoos, and Gulliver decides to abandon Yahooism forever. But, he is then immediately banished brom the island by the Houyhnhnm assembly. This poses an interesting question: What is Swift's final message then about man or his future? The fact that Gulliver is unable to stay with the Houyhnhnms or adher to their principles after leaving the island, does not mean to me that man is doomed. I think Swift is saying man will always be Yahoo, but at the same time I think he is advocating an awareness of our Yahoo nature. And, if we can see ourselves through unmuddied reflecting glass and be honest about our Yahoo nature then we can strive honestly for Houyhnhnm values and abandon saying, or believing in ourselves, "the thing which is not."
on August 29, 2001
Gulliver's Travels are broken up into four parts. The first two parts are the most famous, where Gulliver visits a land in which he is a giant and another in which it is filled with giants. Although they are very good, I found them somewhat boring. This is probably due tot he fact that I had heard these stories in so many variations already, they no longer had that originality to them. The next two parts however I found to be excellent. Several authors have expounded upon these stories or have continued them in one form of another of them. It is good to finally find the source of such great insight. For example the world in the clouds is quite humorous, and Douglas Adams makes a similar use of this satire in one of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe series. The island of wizard's where you can call up any of the dead to have them tell their part in history can be seen in "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" by Philip Jose Farmer (a Hugo award winner.) The final part about humans being nothing but Yahoos, and inferior to Horses is brilliant. A reversal of roles with other animals to give us a new perspective of ourselves is imitated in other such classics as "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells, "The Island of Dr. Monreau" also by H.G. Wells, "Planet of the Apes", "Animal Farm" by George Orwell, plus several Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes.