Sunday, December 19, 2010

Humanity Stinks – Gulliver’s Travels

My encounters with “Gulliver’s Travels” have been many and sordid. When I was a kid I watched the Max Fleischer animated version of the story. I also watched the Ray Harryhausen version called, “The Three Worlds of Gulliver” (featuring an amazing musical score by Bernard Herrmann). I didn’t actually read the novel until my senior year in high school and at that point we only read the first two adventures – Gulliver’s visits to Lilliput and Brobdingnag. My first year in university we jumped to the final voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms. I never read the story of the floating island (with both teachers explaining that it was a satire of philosophy and scientific thought particular to the 1700s).

I was reminded of the book because I enjoying the musical work of Herrmann for his Harryhausen epics “Jason of the Argonauts” and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”. When I found out THAT Hermmann also wrote the score to the Gulliver film I was reminded of the novel I never read completely. Turns out I could enjoy it for free on my Kindle, so it was the first novel I downloaded (but not the first I read).

Anyway, I was surprised how entertaining the whole novel was. Being able to read all four adventures and be a bit older and wiser now, I think I found it a lot funnier than I did originally. But I also have to say that the third book is the least entertaining, and actually caused me to read “Nausicaa” instead. But I stuck with it to get to the fourth and nastiest bit of satire the voyage to the Houynhnms.

Did Swift really loathe humanity that much? Or was he driving his point home in as obvious a way as possible. The view of the yahoos and Gulliver’s constant comparison of them with humans is pretty fierce and nasty. At the same time Gulliver himself changes as the book progresses. The man at the beginning is not the man who ends up laving the land of the Houynhnms. So is Swift the bitter angry one or Gulliver?

Still the story takes a good hard look at humans and doesn’t like what it sees. And for all the social and government commentary in a book written in 1735 a lot of it is very relevant today. Would Mr. Swift find that funny or sad? One thing is for sure he would shudder with terror at the Jack Black feature bearing this story’s name.

What do you think of “Gulliver’s Travels”? Was Swift the angry one, or is Gulliver the bitter man? Do you think the stories are still relevant?

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