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4.2 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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."
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on December 19, 2000
I have trouble reading classic literature. I am an avid reader and I want to enjoy the classics, but just find it difficult to understand the meaning in some of the writing.
This, however, was a pleasant surprise. Although written in the early 1700s, the story itself was fairly easy to follow. Even towards the end, I began to see the underlying theme of the satire that Swift has been praised for in this work.
Being someone who reads primarily science fiction and fantasy novels, I thought this might be an opportunity to culture myself while also enjoying a good story. I was correct in my thinking. Even if you can't pick up on the satire, there is still a good classic fantasy story.
Essentially, the book details the travels of Lemuel Gulliver, who by several misfortunes, visits remote and unheard of lands. In each, Gulliver spends enough time to understand the language and culture of each of these land's inhabitants. He also details the difference in culture of his native England to the highest rulers of the visted nations. In his writing of these differences, he is able to show his dislike with the system of government of England. He does this by simply stating how things are in England and then uses the reaction of the strangers as outsiders looking in, showing their lack of respect for what Gulliver describes.
I found it very interesting to see that even as early as the 1700s there was a general dislike of government as well as lawyers.
I would recommend this book to anyone who reads the fantasy genre. Obviously, it's not an epic saga like so many most fantasy readers enjoy, but it's a nice break. I would also recommend this to high school students who are asked to pick a classic piece for a book report. It reads relatively quick and isn't as difficult to read as some of the others that I've tried to read.
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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.
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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.
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on January 25, 2003
Lemuel Gulliver is a surgeon/ship¨ˆs captain who embarks on several intriguing adventures. His first endeavor takes him to Lilliput, where all inhabitants are six inches tall, but resemble normal humans in every other respect. His next voyage lands him on Brobdingnag, where a grown man is sixty feet tall, and even the shortest dwarf stands thirty feet tall. On his third trip, he travels to several locations, including a floating island. During Gulliver¨ˆs final voyage, he is abandoned by his mutinous crew on the island of the Houyhnhnms, which are extremely intelligent horses. No evil or concept of lying exists among these creatures. The island is also inhabited by Yahoos, savage, irrational human-like creatures who are kept as pets by the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver wishes to spend the rest of his life on this peaceful island, but he is banished and forced to return to England.
I really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to people 14 or older. Since the novel was written in the 1700¡¯s, the words, grammar and usage are a little confusing. The reader also must have prior knowledge of 18th-century politics to get a full image of what Swift is trying to convey. At some points, the author goes into detail about nautical terms and happenings, and that tends to drag. Overall, the book is well-written, slightly humorous, if not a little confusing.
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on January 6, 2003
In Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver explores many fantasy islands where he landed on by accident; he keeps on wanting to explore more far away places. On Gulliver's first voyage, he gets shipwrecked on the land of Lilliput, where he meets people only six inches tall. These people are very curious at first, but then get used to Gulliver being around and helping where needed. On his second voyage, Gulliver lands on an island where people are sixty feet tall. Gulliver then gets treated like a circus animal when a man shows him off for money without feeding him well. Gulliver then finds a way home, back to England and sets off for more adventures that bring him to an island that floats in the sky and also to a land where beasts look like men.
One of the most emotional situations in Gulliver's Travels was when Gulliver was in Brobdingnag (his second voyage) and was used as a way to get money by being showed to many people who were curious. I felt bad that Gulliver had to live like a circus animal and on top of that, he was not being fed well. He was traveling with his owner to many places a day getting no respect what so ever by his owner who happened to be a farmer. A quote that I liked that shows how Gulliver felt was, "I was so tired with my first journey, and with entertaining company for eight hours together, that I could hardly stand upon my legs or speak a word." This quote clearly states that the farmer was over working Gulliver and how Gulliver felt about being showed to people. That is why this is a good quote that explains the main characters feelings.
Jonathan Swift is a very good writer because he gives good details in this novel about the lands in which Gulliver landed on. He also gives detailed descriptions on the government of each land. Jonathan Swift has a very creative mind that shows as you read through Gulliver's many voyages that are like fairy tales.
I would recommend Gulliver's Travels because it has a lot of creativity with all of the voyages that Gulliver goes on. It also gives detailed descriptions on the lands visited. The type of audience that I think would really enjoy this novel are the people who are interested in government and also culture. Even though these lands are made up places, it is still fun to see how Jonathan Swift expresses his creative mind through the lands visited and the people made up.
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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.
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on December 8, 2000
Gulliver's Travels is a great book with many adventures. Gulliver, the main character, takes many trips to different islands, where he learns the viewpoints of other people, on him and his country. He goes to a country of people that are only six inches tall. He begins to think that they can do no wrong. He soon learns that they are very corrupt individuals. He tells them about how his government works and they compare each other's. Gulliver thinks that his is the ideal government after this. The next stop for him is on an island of giants where he finds a better government than his. He is actually kind of embarrassed of his government. This occurs in book two. In book three Gulliver is brought to a floating island. He does not really interact with people like he did in the other books. He is really just Swift's mouthpiece. In book four Gulliver meets the horse like Houyhnhms. He starts to want to be a Houyhnhm. All in all this is a pretty good book and everyone should read it sometime.
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