Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

I always assumed Gulliver’s travels to be primarily a children’s book, most probably from the cartoons that were always around of the titular Gulliver being tied down to the ground by the Lilliputians and generally harassed through no fault of his own.

Thankfully, this book is so much more than that now iconic view of Lemuel Gulliver.  You see Mr Gulliver is a luckless (depending on your view, of course) ships surgeon who gets involved in many crazy voyages, chronicled within.  You would think he would notice the pattern of his lucklessness at sea and just stay at home, but there you go.

Like all classics, and indeed all good books in general, there is plenty of biting social commentary, satire and parody of the era to be enjoyed, that in many cases still rings true for today’s society.  Some of the references can be a bit obscure and so for maximum enjoyment it’s preferable to get an edition with notes for historical context, it’s definitely worth it.

From a modern point of view it is interesting to note the cyclical nature of history or perhaps the more honest view that we never learn from past mistakes.  Happily (for me, at any rate) Swift is always pushing you to consider the flaws and unjust way of society as a whole, and your place within that system.

Aside from all that though there is, in fact, a story to be enjoyed, it’s a ludicrous set up but one to inspire the imagination. Anyone who has ever looked at the old maps where they drew pictures of mythical creatures  and added the legend, here be dragons, cannot have failed to get that sense of curiosity and wonder about what might be there.  This book does exactly that even for todays totally globalised populace.

Throughout the novel the theme of contrast is always vigorously employed, whether between size, intelligence or a myriad of other things.  Although with the benefit of hindsight the similarities with the worlds failing, the views of races towards each other, social behaviours, politics etc makes for an interesting exercise in comparison.

Everyone loves the fantastical, and stories about the lands of giants, of flying machines and a civilization of horses who rule an island can’t fail to excite. The richness of the novel is probably a big factor in later authors’ own sci fi musings.  If you can get past the archaic style of writing, you are in for a treat with this one.

26 Replies to “Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift”

  1. This is one that I haven’t read in years so probably did not appreciate it for the layers it seems to have. Thanks so much for the review. I will have to revisit this one.


    1. I am always happy to provide an excuse for a reread. As a child the nuances would have gone over my head too, I am happy i waited until I got a good understanding of history, politics etc, before i tackled this one.


  2. I think one of the things I really enjoy about Gulliver’s Travels was that like most fantasies written then, it was actually a social commentary thinly disguised as fiction to escape the wrath of those in Power. He’s rather brilliant at this. I also like the pure fantasy side, wonderful escapism! 🙂


    1. It was fascinating to see how many sci fi references I could find (and there were many), I still wish there were lots of undiscovered places on the planet, although those caves in Mexico (Ithink) with the huge diamonds in are fascinating. Fighting the power has always been subtle in literature and art, I wonder what i shall read next that has similar themes.


      1. I would so love to visit those caves. Even though breathing and heat are a real issue. But it must be so surreal and visually intoxicating, like ‘another world’ sort of feeling to be there. Let me know what you pick out if you find one!


        1. It must indeed be out of this world, like those caves in the Arctic where they heat them inside then when the cold sets in and they refereeze they form the most unique and sophisticated shapes. I love nature but also my armchair, so it’s a tough call for me when it comes to these types of things hehe.

          It may take me a while to find something of the same calibre, I jest of course my bookshops are heaving with fantastic stuff. If you like your escapist and fantastical books, Umberto Eco’s Baudolino has every religious and middle/near eastern myth and legend you can think of. It’s a rich and fascinating book. In fact I may have to review it soon.


          1. I’m all for escapist and fantasy, as long as it’s well written (and the author has to be cool too – part of the whole reading experience for me is ‘getting’ the author and his/her perspective, whether fiction or non) Will do! 🙂


    1. Kids do love it too, but I’m sure a lot of it passes them by, especially the fourth voyage which would probably make them want to be sick into a hat, although for adults who like satire it’s cracking.


        1. Strangely I just finished The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which seems to have the same appeal, some of the jokes in the text that are aimed at an adults knowledge or just puns are fun.


          1. Um, I feel as though I seriously fail at life for not knowing The Hundred and One Dalmatians was a book first. Like, if I had just used my brain, that’s probably something I could have noodled out, right?

            Anyways, the point is, now I want to read it. Lol, I really don’t know where I’m going to get all the time to read all of the books you keep tempting me with! 🙂


            1. Haha, I should carry a warning about how much money you are likely to spend if you visit my humble blog. I never watch a film now, without checking of there is a book to read first. I am proper odd like that.


              1. You really should!!

                I am the same way about movies/books though. Books are so much more rich and fulfilling, I feel like you get a better idea of the story through reading the book than seeing the movie version – I’d much rather start out with more information and have it be distilled down than to feel like I’m getting an incomplete story by seeing the movie first!

                Of course this does result in my dissatisfaction when I finally do see the movie…I’m a purist, I hate when they change things!


                1. Haha, that is exactly the conundrum that we fine literary folk have. The inevitable sinking feeling whilst watching the first half hour of a film and think no, this isn’t right. I feel sorry for people who don’t read, and then i feel even more sorry for the same people as I rant at them about how superior the book is.


  3. Perhaps Swift is a bit hard to read for long periods of time, but his style – perhaps because it’s archaic- is beautiful. It’s just a great book. Ditto Robinson Crusoe. Good review!


    1. Robinson Crusoe is another one I haven’t got around to yet. I love the older style of writing, I think it’s good to have a bit of a challenge when you read, although after reading Voss, I feel I can tackle anything. As for the long periods of time, I am very tenacious and usually refuse to take a break from whatever book I’m reading, it may have been advisable for this one though I agree with you on that.


    1. There is definitely a lot more to be gained from it as an adult, the political observations are particularly sharp, I suppose it is two different books depending on your age.


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