I vaguely recall watching a movie version of Gulliver’s Travels as a child that, I believe, starred Ted Danson as Lemuel Gulliver. What I remember from the film was a man journeying to different lands and encountering different kinds of creatures, including a land of miniature people followed by a land of giants. I always wanted to read the book the movie was based on, so I made it my book bucket list pick for April. I have always been drawn to fantasy stories, like The Chronicles of Narnia, and Gulliver seemed right up my alley.
In Gulliver’s Travels, we read the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon with wanderlust. He longs to leave England behind and travel the world, and he does just that– four different times. Each time, he leaves his wife and daughter behind.
Swift’s account of Gulliver’s adventures is broken up into four journeys. To me, the book read more like four short stories rather than one long story. Gulliver first finds himself held captive in a land of tiny inhabitants, all about six inches tall. Although he was eventually set free, it was to fight in a war against another group of tiny people. The two groups disagreed over how to properly crack an egg (big end or small end). Other than setting the tone for the kind of silly adventures Gulliver would be having, this story showed that Gulliver does have some morals. He refused to imprison the second group of tiny people, saying that he could not take away their freedom. This is not the only underlying message that Swift inserts into his story.
As Gulliver’s travels continue, he finds the tables turned and ends up a very tiny man in a land full of giants. He doesn’t like being on display and refuses to start a family with other tiny people as he can’t stand the thought of his family living in cages or being sold for entertainment and amusement. I couldn’t help but think of how we as people treat animals in this very same way – breeding them and raising them just for display and profit. I’m not sure if that’s the message Swift was sending with his writing, but it’s a contemporary message that I read into the story.
After each adventure, or misadventure, Gulliver finds himself returning home to England, sometimes after years have passed. He declares himself happy to be home and finished with traveling. But, alas, he always finds a reason to go back out again. Soon we read about flying islands, magicians who can conjure the spirits of the dead, immortal children, and a land of Yahoos, or beast-like humans. Here again, I felt like Swift was sending a message about the way humans act toward one another and animals. After visiting with the Yahoos, Gulliver returns home again to his wife, who is always waiting faithfully. This part of the story really bugged me. I guess it just shows the limitations of women in the early 1700’s. Gulliver was free to travel and wander and stay away for years while his wife was expected to stay home and wait patiently only to eventually be abandoned again when Gulliver can’t say no to one more adventure.
The last story ended rather abruptly I thought. There wasn’t much of a conclusion, just a quick ending to Gulliver’s latest travel adventure. All in all, it was an entertaining book, and I’m glad I read it and can finally mark it off my book bucket list. Have you read Gulliver’s Travels? If so, what were your thoughts on Gulliver and his adventures?