It’s a bit bad that it’s been over two months since I last read an actual book. I guess that a mixture of post-Middlemarch fatigue and a lot of manga reading helped to fill in this gap… but it just shows how quickly time passes.
Like most people going into Gulliver’s Travels, I have seen pictures of the lead character being trapped by the little people of Lilliput. Honestly I thought that the entire book would be him shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe style, but on an island of little people. Turns out that this was just a quarter of the book and, in fact, Gulliver’s Travels is about his encountering of four very different societies as he finds increasingly violent ways to find himself abandoned on remote islands.
In order, he visits Lilliput (full of little people), Brobdingnag (full of giants), the various islands overseen by the floating castle of Laputa and, finally, an island full of talking horses that have enslaved primitive humans. All this makes for a really varied series of tales, all told through the somewhat gullible and subservient eyes of Gulliver.
The whole point of this novel is to act as social commentary and satire. Some of it is pretty obvious (like the horses and humans in the final section being a critique on the British Empire enslaving humans) whilst others have become less obvious seeing how this book is nearly 300 years old.
What is still evident, however, is how cutting he could be towards the leaders of the day. Also, it shows a lot of what prevailing opinion was at the time in terms of philosophy and social attitudes. There’s a whole wealth of literature out there about the misogyny of Gulliver’s Travels which pretty much boils down to this book being an example of how men treated women at the time.
The social criticism aside, Gulliver’s Travels is interesting because it is both a time capsule of the early 1700s and a very imaginative piece of literature. I mean, in this book we find one of the earliest descriptions of a machine that we would later identify as a computer. Similarly, he is able to really paint a picture of the scale of these places (the best of these being in the first Lilliput section), which is no mean feat seeing just how alien these far flung islands are.
Whilst a lot of the bit has been lost to time, the weirdness hasn’t. In fact I think the final chapter with the talking horses has probably become more bizarre over time. Just goes to show that books needn’t be discounted just because they’re very old.