Published: 1726 (so early you can get it at Project Gutenberg for free)
Genre: travel writing/fantasy
Length: 268 pages
Setting: various fantastical islands around the world, 1699-1715
Interest: Lilliputians came up in conversation somehow and the kids didn’t know the reference. I resolved to fix that by reading them the source material.
Summary: The book chronicles four journeys of Gulliver. The first is to Lilliput, inhabited by a race of beings 6″ high. Gulliver is a marvel in the country because of his prodigious size. On his next journey, he is shipwrecked in Brobdingnag, a country inhabited by giants. Here, he is taken care of by a child as he is a shown around the country. On his next journey, he is shipwrecked and rescued by the floating island of Laputa. There, all the highest ranking people are so busy thinking, they can barely interact with the world. He also visits Glubdubdrib and talks to ghosts of historical figures. On his final voyage, his crew mutinies and sets him on the island of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms are a peaceful, horse people who are served by vicious Yahoos, that look like hairy, dirty humans. Gulliver is particularly enamored by the Houyhnhnms and seeks to emulate their behavior, even when he is sent back home.
Final thoughts: While I enjoyed the Lilliputians, the stories went downhill from there. (That must be why we only remember the Lilliputians and not the other creatures Gulliver encounters.) I was surprised the kids never asked me to stop out of sheer boredom. The Houyhnhnms were the worst – lots of talking about government and the nature of humanity and very little action. I did find it very amusing that in the third book, Gulliver visited the floating island of Laputa, the ghosts of Glubdubdrib, and Japan! Magical Japan! Where he didn’t have to trample on a crucifix, like other Europeans. For some reason, I thought it funny that Japan was classed with the other fantastical countries Swift made up.
The writing style is much different from our current style – lots of long, complicated sentences full of descriptive words and dialect from the country Gulliver was visiting. (Gulliver always mastered the language in a short time.) There very little dialogue, but instead the book is mostly descriptions of what happened to Gulliver and his surroundings, as well as discussions with the natives about the state of affairs in Europe compared to whatever country Gulliver was visiting. Swift never shied away from describing bodily functions (peeing and pooping are plot devices several times in the stories) and his favorite phrase is “I shall not trouble the reader” with any more details.
Overall, it was a hard slog as a read aloud, but I’m glad we did it. We’ll find something a bit more modern to read next.
Title comes from: it is descriptive of the main character and his activities in the book
Reading challenges fulfilled: 70/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge
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