Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Book 19 of 2013: Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Do you ever find books that you think you've already read, only to start reading and think 'hang on, this is all new'?

That was how I felt with Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. What I read, as a child, was a heavily abridged version which was full of illustrations and designed for children. So while I was aware of the story of Gulliver with the Lilliputians the rest of the story was completely new to me.

Richard Redgrave painting of Gulliver from Wikipedia
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a sailor who is shipwrecked and finds himself washed ashore where all the people are tiny. Gulliver's Travels follows his journeys first to Lilliput, the land of the little people; then to Brobdignag where Gulliver himself is the little person and all the people are giants (pictured above); from there his travels take him to the flying island of Laputa, then Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdrubdib and Japan; and finally to the Land of the Houyhnhnms. At each of these places Gulliver meets stranger and stranger races who have totally different lifestyles and beliefs to himself.

As I said above, I thought that I'd already read this before, but I quickly became aware that what I had read was obviously a children's edition which only dealt with Gulliver's trip to Lilliput. Everything that came after that was brand new to me. It wasn't exactly a long read, I was done with it within a week. I'd picked this to read purely because, just like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde it ticked two boxes for my reading challenges this year; Gulliver's Travels gave me the letter G for the Spring Challenge, but it was also one of the books from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

I much preferred the first half of the book to the second. I could have been quite happy just reading about Gulliver's experiences with the Lilliputians and the Brobdignagians. They formed a nice contrast to one another. It sounds silly but those places felt somewhat more believable than the places visited in parts three and four. I just couldn't understand why his wife would keep on letting him go to sea when every time he left he ended up visiting someplace even more bizarre than the last one!

It was actually quite a funny read; the humour has aged well considering that it was originally published back in 1726! About a year ago we watched the modern film version of Gulliver's Travels, with Jack Black, and there were bits that I assumed had been put in to appeal to modern audiences, such as Gulliver urinating on the palace to put out a fire, but nope! That was in the original!

There are places where the book is presenting a satire on various political groups of the day, which were a little bit over my head. That obviously dates the book a bit, but on the whole it's quite funny and I really enjoyed the style of it. It was written in the same sort of vein as a travel book which kind of made it all feel real. I loved that I was able to get totally sucked into the book, even if the last two sections did drag on a bit too much for me.

Definitely one that I'd recommend and will probably reread in the future.


  1. I know the story, but I don't think I've ever read it. I'll have to keep this book in mind if my TBR list ever wanes.

  2. It was a bit of a spur of a moment choice for me, mainly because I wanted a book that began with a letter G. I'm glad I read it though, it's one of those classic books that you feel like you should have read. ;-) I know what you mean about the TBR list, it only ever seems to go in one direction.


Let me know what you think. :-)