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 December 26, 2014
This book encouraged me to pray and confirmed the importance of submitting to the Lord's will through intercessorynprayer. I loved this book because it is short and so concise and emphasizes the importance of the armour which the word says we are to put on to be effective in prayer.
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 January 12, 2004
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).
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 June 16, 2003
In this story, Lemuel Guilliver, a career ship surgeon, writes a travel journal about his fantastic voyages on the high seas. His commercial ventures never worked out as planned, either a storm or mutiny ending them before returning to England, but each time he had the good fortune of landing on an island unexplored by Europeans. On these islands he runs into a variety of natives--giants, 6" tall people, people who reside on a flying island, and horses that take human-like Yahoos as pets. Each is an interesting and entertaining story in its own right and without reading any deeper into the story, but that is not why this book is a classic.
The author, Jonathan Swift, was a master of satire. As an Irishman he despised British rule and resisted it through his writing. Because criticism of the crown and Parliament was a punishable offense, Swift projected the personalities and social events of the day into fictional characters in imaginary circumstances with wonderful effect. While telling a terrific fictional story, he was able to rail against the system and really make a name for himself as a satirist.
The one problem with reading a satire that is dated, is that many of the characters and social events about which the author wrote are obscured by the passage of time. I consider myself to be fairly well acquainted with British history and its major players, but without the assistance for excellent footnotes, I would have missed a tremendous amount in this story. It still would have been great without the footnotes, but would not have provided the same historical lesson, which is why I would recommend a version with a good introduction and footnotes regardless of why you are reading the story and how well you feel you know the history of Swift's era.
I liked this book quite a bit, though I agree with many other reviewers who think it might by a little much for younger readers. In cartoons, picture books, or movies, it can be dumbed down to a cutesy fairy tale, which is fine and will hopefully encourage children to read the real story later in life, but an unabridged version will be boring and go right over their heads. I think it is an excellent book for adults who like fantasy fiction or readers who usually like historical or political non-fiction, as it is an excellent review of Swift's times.
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.