Book Review: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Wherever your life’s travels take you, never share a vehicle with anyone named Gulliver for doom is sure to visit you.  I am pretty sure this advise will serve you well.

Earth: the final frontier.  These are the voyages of Lemuel Gulliver.  His on and off again mission: to satire English life in the 18th century, to use imaginary beings to point out the faults of mankind, to baldly criticise those in power except for royalty which either Jonathan Swift was totally fine with or they were too prickly of a target for his barbs.

As you can probably tell, reading “Gulliver’s Travels” reminded me of “Star Trek”.  And, as you can probably tell from my rating, we’re talking season one of TNG.  Ugh.  Through a series of voyages, Gulliver finds himself on a variety of uncharted islands inhabited by previously undiscovered intelligent species.  The only thing missing is him making funtime with the native women.

My guess would be that the biggest problem with this book is time.  While some of the material covered is timeless, the time Gulliver spends with the Liliputians and the Brobdingnags comes across as very stale because of the temporality of the topics.  Add to that the fact that writing about really short humans (the Liliputians) and really tall humans (the Brobdingnags) is no longer terribly original and you find yourself with some tedious reading to get through.  This part is not all bad though.  Swift’s description of the Brobdingnags especially really makes you reflect on the concepts of beauty as he attempts to convey the hideousness of massive pores and freckles or the repulsive nature of a 72 foot tall woman’s breast.

Gulliver’s travels do get slightly more interesting from there.  His next stop is the flying island of Laputa which is inhabited by people who pursue science purely for science sake and the preposterousness that can come from that.  It isn’t exactly good satire, but it’s at least entertaining to read Gulliver describing all the ridiculous experiments that Laputans dedicate themselves to the detriment of their daily responsibilities to society.  The only other interesting part in this adventure is Gulliver’s reflections on immortality as he meets the immortals of Glubbdrubdrib who live forever but still age normally.

Gulliver’s final travels find him on the island inhabited by Yahoos (primitive men) and Houyhnhnms (intelligent horses).  This adventure was actually enjoyable to read.  The Houyhnhnmns are the only non-human in appearance race and he uses them to portray Swift’s ideal lifestyle for humanity.  That he uses a non-human race reflects Swift’s belief of the unlikelihood of humans to ever reach that idea.

Oh, I should also mention my love of the paragraph.  Paragraphs break up stories nicely and provide bite sized chunks of information to digest.  Swift hates paragraphs.  They go on for pages in this book.  This may or may not be on purpose.  There is a fake foreword from the editor who spends some length describing how Gulliver uses meticulous detail in describing even the most non-interesting events and how he had to force Gulliver to pare down his descriptions of things.  At the onset of the book, I found the caveat that Gulliver is a horrible storyteller amusing.  After finishing the book, I think Swift may just have been an asshole.

One thought on “Book Review: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

  1. Jaime

    For those of you old enough to remember the Banana splits TV show. “We’re never going to make it, We’re doomed”

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