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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gulliver's Travels

Title: Gulliver's Travels
Author: Jonathan Swift
Published: 1726

Gulliver's Travels is a satirical tale about a man's journeys to various previously unknown countries. It very clearly points out the idiocies of human behavior and thought in a humorous way. Gulliver boards four ships, and each time, through some misfortune or another, he becomes lost on an island and lives there for a time, learning the language and customs of the inhabitants.

First he comes to Lilliput, where the people are six inches tall, and the creatures and plants are of proportionate size. First he is feared as a giant, but when the leaders find that he may be useful to them in war, they seek to make him do their will. When he refuses to bring a nearby island into bondage to the Lilliputians, he discovers how quickly they turn on him while pretending to be friendly to him. He soon makes his escape.

His next voyage lands him in Brobdingnag, quite the opposite of Lilliput in that they are all giants, and he becomes their tiny pet. Although the not-so-little girl who looks after him loves him, the others use him for their own entertainment and gain. There are many dangers in this country, and finally his box is taken by a giant eagle who drops him into the ocean. He is picked up by a passing ship and is taken home once again.

His travels take him to a floating island called Laputa, where the people are brilliant in science and music, but are so occupied by their deep thoughts that they get little accomplished and are a benefit to nobody. The island floats (and rules) over other islands where our explorer also visits. He visits farms where nothing is grown but dirt, because they have discovered new ways of farming that are better than the traditional ways, but haven't gotten around to implementing them. The people live in poverty except for one man, who is looked down upon for his old fashioned farm which actually produces goods. Gulliver also visits an academy where all sorts of ambitious but useless experiments and inventions are attempted. He finally receives permission from the king to return to his home.

Not having learned that his voyages always seem to go wrong, he embarks on another one. This one brings him to a land where intelligent horses called Houyhnhnms rule over human-like beasts called Yahoos.The Houyhnhnms are so perfectly virtuous that he grows to love them, and the Yahoos so base and hateful that he despises his own race, and is ashamed to be a human. When he finally arrives home he cannot abide to be near other people, even his own family; he purchases some horses and lives in the stable with them.

This novel exposes every type of sinful inclination we have as fallen people, and gives us a beautiful example of sinless life in the houyhnhnms. Sadly, he never reaches the truth; that we will never be sinless until heaven, and the only way to get there is by relying on Jesus' atonement for us. Gulliver seems to be insane, easily swayed to others' ways of thinking, and perfectly willing to stretch the truth while believing in his own virtues.

This was an expertly crafted novel. I did like reading it, although at times it got a bit too ridiculous for my taste. It gave me plenty to think about regarding my own fallen nature.


Rob Ryser said...

Wow...your review makes me want to pick this novel up. I remember having to read it in high school but being the person I was then I retained none of it, and it is as if I never read it.

I liked the part about the land of the progressives. The farms of dirt remind me of thoughts that don't produce fruit. And of course the thinking of the one farmer that does produce fruit is looked down upon as old fashioned.

I do know a bit about Swift. He feels the best way to make a serious point resonate is to do it with satire. I recommend a short but unforgettable essay he wrote called A Modest Proposal. It does get over-the-top ridiculous, as you point out about the novel as well, but I never thought the same about abortion after I read it.

Raina said...

Wow; I just read A Modest Proposal and you're right! He really does use the shock factor to get the reader's attention!