In 1726, Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity, published a book named Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. Later, this book would be more commonly known as Gulliver’s Travels.
I found a copy on Project Gutenberg.
I don’t have much experience with books of this era, but it seems typical of the time that Gulliver’s Travels is presented as a non-fiction travel journal. It begins with an introduction to Lemuel Gulliver by his friend Richard Sympson. Then Gulliver (as he is known in the book – never “Mr.” or “Dr.”) introduces himself, and tells us of his childhood, his schooling, and his love of travel. It is that love of travel which causes Gulliver so much misadventure.
In Part I, Gulliver survives a shipwreck. He wakes up on a beach, where he is being held prisoner by humans not quite six inches tall. Despite a language difference, he wins the favor of the Emperor. He learns their language, and learns that the land is named Lilliput. He is given a place to stay, and is given liberty (within the limits of public safety), in exchange for whatever assistance his enormous size could provide.
He becomes involved in local politics, such as whether high- or low-healed shoes should be worn, and whether a cooked egg should be cracked from the large end or the small end.
He is accused of treason by his enemies, and escapes Lilliput. He returns home to his wife and children, but soon feels restless and returns to sea.
In Part II, Gulliver’s ship is blown off course by a storm. The crew finds land, and after finding it inhabited by humans over 70 feet tall, they flee, abandoning Gulliver.
This land is Brobdingnag. It is a 6,000-mile long peninsula on the northwest coast of North America. (Where present-day Washington State is, according to the map.) Brobdingnag is blocked from the mainland by 30-mile high volcanoes.
Gulliver is given food and shelter by a giant farmer. He befriends the farmer’s young daughter. The farmer exhibits Gulliver to the public for a profit, until Gulliver is bought by the Queen of Brobdingnag as a gift to her husband, the King.
Life in Brobdingnag is good for Gulliver, despite the bullying from the Queen’s dwarf, who now has someone smaller to pick on, and attacks from giant dogs, cats, monkeys, and birds.
The King is shocked by Gulliver’s descriptions of English politics.
One day, Gulliver’s traveling box, with Gulliver inside it, is picked up by a giant eagle and dropped into the ocean. He is rescued by a passing ship. He is brought back home to England, but finds that his years living among giants has permanently changed him.
At this point, I discovered that the copy from Project Gutenberg was incomplete. It ended after Part II. I downloaded a copy from the library, and continued. The Project Gutenberg copy had illustrations. The library copy did not have illustrations, but at least it contained the entire book.
In Part III, Gulliver accepts a job as a surgeon aboard a merchant ship. While at sea, they are attacked by pirates. Gulliver is set adrift in a small boat. He eventually finds a suitable island and goes ashore.
Above this island is another island, floating in the sky. This flying island, he will learn later, is name Laputa. It is perfectly circular, and is four and a half miles in diameter. It moves by means of a central lodestone.
The people of Laputa value science above everything else. They are constantly in deep thought, and special servants, called flappers, shoot dried peas at their masters whenever anyone needs their attention. The people of Laputa are good at theoretical science, but not so good at its practical applications. (Their music is terrible and their houses are poorly constructed.)
Gulliver leaves Laputa, and goes to the island continent below. This land is named Balnibarbi. He visits the metropolis of Lagado. Because Lagado is ruled from above by Laputa, all of its resources are put into scientific research and absurd experiments (heating ice to make gunpowder, for instance). Because of this, Lagado is full of poverty, hunger, and crumbling buildings.
Gulliver travels to the port city of Maldonada, on his way to Japan, by way of Luggnagg. The next boat leaves in about a month, so he takes a side trip to Glubbdubdrib, an island inhabited entirely by wizards. The governor of the island is a necromancer, and allows Gulliver to speak with many famous persons of the past. Gulliver decides that the ancient world was better than his own – the heroes were more heroic.
Gulliver returns to Maldonada. He travels at last to Luggnagg. There, he learns that, rarely, children are born as struldbrugs (immortal beings). Gulliver thinks immortality would be wonderful, but learns that it is, instead, a curse.
Posing as a Dutch merchant, Gulliver travels to Japan, and is hired as a surgeon on a ship to Amsterdam. After being away for five years, Gulliver returns home to his wife and children.
In Part IV, leaving his wife “big with child”, Gulliver accepts a job as the captain of a merchant ship. His crew mutinies, and leaves him on the shore of an unknown land.
This land, he discovers, is ruled by intelligent, rational horses known as Houyhnhnms. They use primitive, brutish humans known as Yahoos as labor. The Houyhnhnms don’t know what to make of Gulliver, who looks something like a Yahoo, except for his strange skin (the Houyhnhnms have never seen clothes). Gulliver doesn’t act at all like a Yahoo, however.
Gulliver is taught the Houyhnhnm language. He tells them of the strange land he comes from, where Yahoos are known as Humans, and Houyhnhnms are known as Horses, and how horses do the work for humans. He tells them of things Houyhnhnms have no concept of – ships, travel, government, money, and war. The Houyhnhnms are astounded, but believe him, since they have no concept of untrue statements.
Gulliver spends years with the Houyhnhnms, and as he tells them stories of the crude and brutal life back home, he comes to love the peaceful, communal life of the Houyhnhnms. He doesn’t want to leave. The Houyhnhnms can’t stand the idea of living with a Yahoo, and eventually ask him to leave.
Gulliver builds a canoe, and leaves the land of the Houyhnhnms. He has come to think of his fellow humans as the primitive and smelly Yahoos, however, and doesn’t want to go home. He looks for an island to live out his life in solitude. He is attacked by savages, however, and is rescued by Portuguese sailors, who bring him to Lisbon, where he finds passage on a ship to England.
Gulliver’s Travels ends a year after his reunion with his wife and family. He has only begun to tolerate them. He becomes a misanthrope whose only true friend is his horse.
I absolutely loved this book. It is filled with adventure and biting satire. I realize that this is a long blog post, and it may seem like I’ve covered the entire story – but in reality, I’ve written only an outline. It’s not really what happens in this book, but the ideas it presents, often in great detail.
- A book at least 100 years older than you