on 24 August 2001
This is not a children's book. Swift ensured that Gulliver's account is an easily readable piece of literature, but this is certainly not a book to be read on the surface. The depth of ideas and satire is unmatched by any other author. The first two chapters concentrate on the problems of our political systems and ridicule our customs. Gulliver is cleverly interposed in two worlds of opposites - in one he is a giant, in the next he is a dwarf. Swift uses this fact to show how everything is only relative to what you compare against. The final two chapters take a deep, long swipe at the failings of humanity - going right to the very bones. Again Swift uses the device of comparison and relatity to satirise his targets - the main one being humankind's lack of reason. DO NOT think that you have read this book if you have only watched it on TV, it is so much more than that. Read it if only to hear of the experiment to harvest sunbeams from cucumbers.
on 5 June 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.
I have always been aware of the name of this book, but had no real idea as to what the content was about. So, I set about to broaden my horizons, and I am glad that I did. Compared to other classics, the language is a lot easier to read, which is surprising given the age of the book.
Broken down into 4 parts, most people would be familiar with Liliput in part 1. I was under the misconception that the book was about that and nothing else. The following 3 parts I had no idea existed. Part 2 sees Gulliver as the small person as opposed to the giant in Part 1. Part 3 involves a flying island and Part 4 the Houyhnhnms, that I still struggle to pronounce.
There is a lot of satire to this book, which was often lost on me, but as a book it is a good read and as it is free, you have nothing to lose.
on 20 September 2013
I enjoyed the more famous chapters about the hero being the prisoner and later the guest of miniature people, and then later being the pet and exhibit of giants. I also enjoyed the sections where he lands up at a country where horses are in charge and yahoos (uncivilized and savage humans) provide the power and transport.
However, I was conscious of not knowing enough about late Stuart politics and philosophy to understand a lot of the satire.
on 2 January 2014
Everyone should read Gullivers Travels. Bought for my daughter to read. If your only experience of Gullivers Travels is the popular image of his visit to Lilliput ....or even worse the Jack Black film (aaaargh!!) ....then you must read this intelligent and thoroughly entertaining book. Cannot recommend enough. You will not be disappointed! And if you thought a yahoo was a search engine you should definitely get reading!!
on 23 August 2007
It's a good read and probably every bit the masterpiece its reputation claims. The problem with satire, however, is that it doesn't stand alone. Parody, on the other hand, ought to make sense in itself, but obviously more sense if the object of the parody is understood and familiar. Satire only seems to make sense if you know the original.
The section in Lilliput describing the bloke with different sized heels on his shoes, for instance, is very funny, but only when the footnote has provided the context. He is described as having to negotiate a political line between the faction that likes high heels and the other that likes low ones. He makes awkward progress with both groups, since he can barely walk or stand up straight in a pair of shoes made up so he can have a foot in each camp. The reference is beautiful. It refers to High Church and Low Church in the Anglican tradition, and therefore to Whig and Tory, the opposing political parties of the time. To stay sweet with both, certain royals kept a foot in both camps, making their progress as ridiculous as the rough-shod Lilliputian.
In the books three sections, Gulliver is too big, then too small, then everyone is a horse except for the noxious Yahoos, of course. It was still a lot of fun and, probably, hard witting. The trouble, again, was knowing the targets. If today's Yahoos are considered... perhaps Swift might have googled his yahoos if he had been writing today.
One last observation is about well-known classics in general. The most famous scene from Gulliver's Travels, at least the one most depicted, is of Gulliver strapped to the ground by Lilliputian string and twine, while the little blighters run all over him. In Don Quixote, an equally quintessential scene is the tilting at windmills, mistaken by the knight for giants. It is interesting that both of these much quoted scenes appear very early in their respective books. I wonder if that might have something to do with certain people never getting very far through them!
on 12 June 2001
Gulliver's Travels is widely regarded as a children's book, when in fact it is a comic and yet strongly political view of English society from many different perspectives. The ludicrous places that Gulliver visits are all based on England, but with just one of 'our' features completely overemphasised, ie our love of science and reason, in order to parody it and to highlight faults in society. I love Gulliver's travels, because it is one of the few so-called 'classics' that are accessible to the modern reader; the fact that children can read it shows how clear Swift's writing is. In fact, it's like a reverse Harry Potter - the grown-up's book that kids love too!
on 25 December 2004
The literary worth of this text is beyond doubt, but this edition isn't suitable for serious reading. An understanding of its contextual allusions and references is necessary to appreciate the satire of 'Gulliver's Travels', but this edition lacks notes.
This nearly 300 year old classic deserves its reputation, but it is a novel of two halves. The first two books of the four, in which Gulliver visits respectively Lilliput (very small people) and Brobdingnag (giants) are very good, funny, adventurous, imaginative and bawdy and would be worth 5/5 by themselves. However, I found the latter two books when he visits the flying island of Laputa and other lands; then in the final book, the land of the Houyhnhnms (intelligent horses subjugating primates who resemble degraded humans) duller and a lot harder to get through. They contain a lot of quite clever satire on the human condition and on civic life in Europe, but are rather overegged and over long, with little plot so rather a slog. 2/5 for the latter half, so overall 3.5/5 (rounded up to 4/5 on Amazon - when will they allow us halves?).
on 1 January 2011
"Gulliver's Travels" is one of those books that is instantly recognisable by name. Unfortunately, of those relatively few people that have read it, many are only aware of the first section of the book (the visit to Lilliput), and even then they miss the bitingly accurate social commentary that is woven into the tale.
Swift was making some extremely harsh comments about the society in which he lived; and I would suggest that much of his satirical writing could be seen to be as accurate today as it was at the time of Queen Anne. Certainly I suspect that he would recognise a similar corruption in modern politics, the law, medicine and social behaviour that he knew and despised some 3 centuries ago.
The book is fairly easy to read; for best understanding, it would be worth doing so in short bursts and probably by re-reading sections. Some of the satire is easy to miss, such as the concept of the "low" and "high" heel parties, and the man who wears a pair of shoes that have one high and one low heel; he finds it difficult to walk the line between the two political views. In other cases, it is a belligerent statement of contempt, such as the behaviour of the "Yahoos" in the land of the "Houyhnhmm" (pronounced Winnim") and the comparison to human society.
The story could be read as a childrens tale of fantastical adventures and nothing more; but re-reading it later in life can reveal an amusing, albeit harsh reflection of human foibles.