Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Book #01

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Lemuel Gulliver, ship's surgeon and castaway, has awaken in Lilliput, where the size of the tiny inhabitants makes their concerns and quarrels seem ridiculous. A second journey takes him to the kingdom of giants, where again his size gives him new adrift by pirates, Gulliver's final voyage brings him to the land of the Houyhnhms, horses with reason, who share their domain with the brutish Yahoos. He returns to England a changed man.

I had always thought this was a novel for children; a fun, light-hearted piece on a normal-sized man who ends up on an island of teeny tiny wee people who tie him up. I'd never thought about this a great deal, and had never even considered what happened to him when he was inevitably untied. I didn't even know that, subsequent to this adventure, Gulliver visits a further three islands which have their own kinds of curiosities. How naive of me. In actual fact, the book was written as a parody of a travelogue, and was only redesigned for children in later years. The more you know.

Each of the places Gulliver lands in are used to deliver a swift (yes, I'm funny; yes, I meant it) slap to the face of humanity. We see Gulliver visit these strange places, and hear his social commentary on each of them. At first, we think of their inhabitants as odd creatures, with odd ways and customs. Slowly, however, we come to realise, as Gulliver describes human life and his home, that Swift is actually opening up a commentary on religious, social, and poltical issues prevalent in the 18th century at the time. Little did he know that reading this novel in 2015, many of the issues are still alive and kicking. 

It would take me an extremely long time to analyse each of the injuries Swift made to the human race, as he punched out with blows frequently, and without mercy. My favourite, however, was when Gulliver arrived in the land of the Houhyhms; horses with nothing but rational thoughts, who were calm, sage-like, and didn't understand the concept of a lie. The Houhyhms lived with dirty, violent creatures called Yahoos, whom Gulliver was taught to despise. By and large, we discover Yahoos to be the descendants of humans who arrived on the island and became more and more savage with each generation. My joy here comes from learning the etymology of the word Yahoo, and I will endeavour to use this as an insult whenever possible.

As interesting as Swift's social and idealogical satire was, and despite the frank brutality of it, something within the novel disappointed me. It was difficult to get through at times, with Swift content to hammer home his points, but forgetting to pay attention to his prose. There was no real plot, and no charcter development whatsoever. I realise this is probably slightly pedantic, considering the importance of this novel, and the impact it would've had in its day, however the words didn't sing to me, and I wasn't dying to read more.

This is definitely a must-read for literature lovers, but not something I'll be picking up again.

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