The classic story of Gulliver and his imaginative world adventures
Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
Published 1726, 318 pages
I thought it was time I read a classic. I’ve read a few over the years; enjoyed some, others not so much. Gulliver’s Travels was not an easy read due to the old-time style of writing, but I was determined to finish it! The story itself was actually fairly entertaining.
The story is told in four parts - four different voyages that Gulliver takes, leaving his wife and children for a period of several years each time.
On his first voyage he is shipwrecked and washes on shore at Lilliput, an island inhabited by people only 6” tall. When he awakes, he discovers he is tied up because the people fear him. Eventually they come to trust him and he becomes a favorite of the Royal Court. When he is accused of treason for a couple of reasons, a kind friend helps him escape and is able to find a ship to return him home to England.
On his next voyage, his companions abandon him and leave him on a peninsula in North America. He is found by a 72-foot farmer and is taken care of by his daughter Glumdalclitch. The farmer displays Gulliver for money which eventually makes Gulliver sick. Fearing he is going to die, the farmer sells him to the Queen of the realm. She takes care of him and builds/makes small furniture and utensils and clothes for him to use.
“For the queen took up at one mouthful, as much as a dozen English farmers could eat at a meal, which to me was for some time a very nauseous sight.”
“I one day took the freedom to tell his Majesty, that the contempt he discovered towards Europe, and the rest of the world, did not seem answerable to those excellent qualities of mind that he was master of. The king heard me with attention; and began to conceive a much better opinion of me, than he had ever before.”
One day on a trip a huge eagle picks up the traveling box that Gulliver is in and flies away eventually dropping him in the water where he is picked up by a sailor who returns him home.
On his third trip, his ship is attacked by pirates and he ends up near India where he is rescued by the flying island of Laputa. It’s a mobile island that hovers above ground and flies over towns below. Gulliver also has a few side trips to other nearby lands (including Glubbdubdrib [loved the names of some of the places and people], a land of magicians. This was my least favorite story line as he had discussions about science and experiments, some of which I barely understood.
“Besides, as it is in the power of the monarch to raise the island above the region of clouds and vapours, he can prevent the falling of dews and rains whenever he pleaseth.”
“Because it is a general complaint, that the favourites or princes are troubled with short and weak memories; the same doctor proposed, that whoever attended a First Minister, after having told his business with the utmost brevity, and in the plainest words; should at his departure, give the said minister, a tweak by the nose, or a kick in the belly, or tread on his corns, or lug him thrice by the ears, or run a pin into his beech, or pinch his arm black and blue; to prevent forgetfulness.”
On his final trip, his crew mutinies and abandons him on an island where deformed human savages similar in look to himself (named Yahoos), and talking intelligent horses (Houyhnhnms) live. A horse takes Gulliver into his household and teaches him their language. Gulliver admires the Houyhnhnms’ way of life and compassion and determines to live his life the same way. Unfortunately, some of the Houyhnhnms feel that Gulliver is a danger to them and demands that he leave. He builds a canoe and leaves whereupon he is rescued by a Portuguese captain of a large ship who returns him home. However, he can no longer stand being around Yahoos (even his own civilized humans) and becomes a recluse in his house avoiding his wife and children and spending his time talking to his horses.
Here’s a sampling of the language of the book:
But I shall not anticipate the reader with farther descriptions of this kind…
I desired the secretary to present my humble duty to the emperor, and to let him know, that I thought it would not become me, who was a foreigner, to interfere with parties; but I was ready, with the hazard of my life, to defend his person and state against all invaders.
When Gulliver displeases the emperor: “Of so little weight are the greatest services to princes, when put into the balance with a refusal to gratify their passions.”
…I returned to my house, without waiting to congratulate with the emperor; because, although I had done a very eminent piece of service, yet I could not tell how his Majesty might resent the manner by which I had performed it…
I found this comment about drinking, being drunk, and having a hangover pretty observant:
"That, wine was not imported among us from foreign countries, to supply the want of water or other drinks, but because it was a sort of liquid which made us merry, by putting us out of our senses; diverted all melancholy thoughts, begat wild extravagant imaginations in the brain, raised our hopes, and banished our fears; suspended every office of reason for a time, and deprived us of the use of our limbs, until we fell into a profound sleep; although it must be confessed, that we always awaked sick and dispirited; and that the use of this liquor filled us with diseases, which made our lives uncomfortable and short."
Also, a bit of a distraction for me was the spelling of words. I guess back in the 1700s this is how these words were spelled, and I always knew what the word was and what was meant, but it definitely caught my eye when I saw them, such as: shewn (shown), chuse (choose), tryal (trial), prophane (profane), intreated (entreated), publick (public), stept (stepped), whipt (whipped), and many more.
If you don’t mind reading a somewhat challenging book and like fanciful stories this could be the one for you! Does this type of book appeal to you? What's your favorite classic?
top photo: YlaniteKoppens @pexels; boat photo Terrie Purkey; vintage photo JoannaKosinska @unsplash