Gulliver’s Travels

Author: Jonathan Swift
Publisher: Collins Classics
Star Rating: 2.5/5
Date Read: February 12th to 24th, 2014
My first review uploaded here in real time, rather than just as part of my backlog of reviews!

Whew. I finished. Go me!

12 days is much longer than it would usually take for me to finish a book less than 300 pages, but you know, there’s been an exam to study for, wakeboarding to do and just, well – this book was just a tad boring. I don’t know how else to say this but it was good and not good at the same time. Let me try to tell you how…

Gulliver’s Travels is firstly a satire of the travellers’ tales so popular at the time (released only 7 years after Robinson Crusoe – which I found rather boring and infinitely worse than this book) and secondly one of the first fantasy-type novels to be published, where Gulliver is thrown into various situations where he is the outcast to miniscule people, giant people, the scientifically advanced people of a floating island, and talking horses. The talking horses is the part that really got to me (despite being quite fond of horses!) but I will get to that later.

Lemuel Gulliver could either be the most unluckiest or the luckiest traveller in the world – depending of course on your point of view. First he is shipwrecked, then abandoned, then attacked by strangers and finally attacked by his own crew. It’s enough to wonder why you would keep heading back out to sea when you had a family and a profession as a surgeon at home. But then followed all the wonderful places he happened upon and people he met, that no other human being had ever laid eyes on (Really? No one else stumbled upon these other magic islands?). Then come some small adventures, mainly a lot of conversation. There is a pattern that follows whenever Gulliver washes up on an island – learn the language (as he is already proficient in languages this isn’t too hard to believe – except when he learns ‘horse’), befriends the natives – usually a king, queen or some other notable individual, becomes adapted to their ways, and then is either unceremoniously asked to leave or himself asks for a passage home – even when none of his hosts know where ‘home’ is.

Gulliver doesn’t have too many adventures within his adventures, instead as he learns the ways and laws of the people he meets, he compares them to his happy home in England, which at the start of the book he is very proud of and by the end he doesn’t want to return to. I was enjoying the satire until the story arrived at Part Four, where Gulliver lands on the home of the Houyhnhnms, or the talking horses. This is where it got way too far fetched for me to enjoy. The horses of this island pronounce distinguishable words through variants of neighing and our little adventurer is able to not only understand but become fluent in their language. These horses are able to, with the hollow between pastern and hoof, use tools and milk cows (are you thinking what? yet?) and keep a herd of brute-like humans known as ‘Yahoos’ for labouring, etc. It is here that our protagonist, kept as a pet, sees the evil of human nature for the first time and laments when he is told to return to his country and the other Yahoos who live there. He doesn’t want to be banished among the others of his kind because he can’t stand their deformities or their smell. Well somebody is up on their high horse now! (Excuse the pun.) I did agree with many of the observations made by Gulliver’s Master Horse but Gulliver only embodies the worst of humankind when he dreads going home to his wife and family, even though he has been gone for five years, and rejects the kindness of the man who rescues him and helps him home. There is so much Gulliver could do with his new knowledge but instead he locks himself up at home, sure he writes a memoir of his travels, but surely once you’ve been exposed to the villainy of humankind wouldn’t you be motivated to inflict some change? Nope, not Gulliver. Sit at home and cry that the horses kicked him off the island and now he has to live with smelly Yahoos who actually have been nothing but kind to him.

I actually think through writing this review I dislike the book and the man more than when I was reading it. 2.5 stars for the enjoyment I did get.


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