Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gulliver's Travels

I was feeling so refreshed after Sense and Sensibility that I decided another light-hearted choice was in order. Unfortunately, I thought Gulliver's Travels would fit the bill.  A shipwrecked castaway lands in Lilliput, a land of tiny people. Plus, it's a satire of Robinson Crusoe-style travelogues. That's funny, right? Sure, for about twenty pages. After that, it's repetitive. And did I mention it's also a religious and political satire? That might be amusing, or at least illuminating, for someone who hasn't already analyzed the flaws of various political systems and the petty religious disagreements that plague societies. But for someone as bombastically fantastic as me, well... ha! I sound like Gulliver in Lilliput!
     Okay, Jonathan Swift had a great idea.  I do enjoy the fact that he lampoons pretty much everything, but it got old after a while.  Also, Gulliver's development from an optimistic humanist into a pompous misanthrope (I stole that phrase because it's perfect) seemed unnecessarily cynical. There's a difference between accepting people with all their faults and assuming from the outset that every human is horribly degraded, although in 1726 that outlook was probably par for the Protestant course...and also par for the Irish course.  Perhaps Swift (an Anglo-Irish protestant) can be excused due to his double dose of environmental pessimism.
      My linguistics nerdiness also found the names of his imaginary countries to be irksome. All the words were English nonsense, following the phonological and morphological rules of English.  It would have been more plausible had he created words inspired by other languages.  While of these sounds more like a foreign country: Glubbdubbdribb or Ngokumbu? Brobdingnag or Zhao Shang? Luggnagg or Schnezitskoya? And I bet you can guess which continents would be likely to contain Ngokumbu, Zhao Shang and Schnezitskoya, respectively.  Still, Swift's purpose was to lampoon his own culture and not others, so I can see why he would choose English-based names at the expense of realism.  Actually, considering that he has Gulliver explore lands of minute humans, talking horses and flying islands, he obviously wasn't too concerned about realism in the first place. And lest you think I disapprove completely of all his invented words, I am quite grateful to Jonathan Swift for giving us English-speakers the word yahoo.  English is known for its belief that it's impossible to have too many synonyms for one thing.  I, for one, am especially emphatic that it is impossible for English to have too many synonyms for barbarian.  On those days when your children are wilder than philistines, and such epithets as huns, savages, beasts, boors, and feral spawn have lost their magic, you can always resort to... yahoo.

Hero: Gulliver
Anti-hero: Gulliver
Yes, it's all about: Gulliver
Why must there be so many descriptions of his: bathroom habits
The above is almost as bad as the descriptions of: the giants' bathroom habits
There was a lot of: nonsense, improbability, satire of minor political events from the 1720s which even history buffs  are unlikely to remember today
There should have been more: merciless cutting by the editor
This book makes you want to: stop reading it
This book makes you glad you don't have to: read it again

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Oh, so that's what Gulliver's Travels is about. I only remember this book as the most excruciating read of my college career. Even worse than Faulkner, and that's saying something. And it really didn't help that I only understood .5% of my professor's lectures in that class. 31 years later and I still have nightmares...