Was Gulliver’s Travels meant to be a children’s book?
“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”
Once upon a time… Oh, no! Gulliver’s Travels was not meant to be a children’s book. The story was conceived by its author as a mordant satire mocking English customs and the politics of his day. Then, what led to this misunderstanding? Let’s take a look at its fantastical elements: little people (Lilliputians), big people (giants twelve times bigger than a normal human), talking horses (Houyhnhnms) and feral animals (Yahoos). With the latter in mind, one might think that the misconception of this work as a children’s book is more than justified.
So, what underlies this four-part story? In each part, Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon, embarks on a voyage and is cast upon a strange land. In the first book, he becomes the giant prisoner of the six inches high Lilliputians, the characters who symbolise humankind’s excessive pride in its own feeble existence. In the second, he arrives in Brobdingnag, a land of giants. These giants epitomise the dimension of human existence visible at close range, under detailed scrutiny. Book three takes Gulliver to Laputa, a floating island whose inhabitants are so preoccupied with higher speculations that they are in constant danger of collision. The Laputans embody the pursuit of a form of knowledge that is not directly related to the improvement of human life. In the fourth book, Gulliver travels to the utopian island of the Houyhnhnms, grave and rational horses devoid of any passion, even sexual desire. The island is also inhabited by Yahoos, vicious and repulsive creatures used by the Houyhnhnms for menial work. Gulliver initially pretends not to recognize the Yahoos but eventually admits that they are human beings. The last, it is quite illustrative of the author’s conception of humankind. Hence, whereas the Houyhnhnms represent an ideal of rational existence, a life governed by sense and moderation of which philosophers since Plato have long dreamed, the Yahoos (humans) reflect the more disgusting side of humanity.
Who was the prodigious mind hidden behind Gulliver’s Travels? Gulliver’s Travels was written by the Irish Jonathan Swift, a poet, satirist and clergyman who devised this story as an audacious satire on the society of his day and a warning about human folly. It should be noticed that Gulliver’s Travels, which made fun of the political scene and certain prominent people in England, was published anonymously in order to avoid retaliation and was a great success. Is there anything else? Of course, there is! Among the many curiosities discovered by Lemuel Gulliver during his travels are mysterious and nonsensical languages. Nonetheless, it has been put forward a theory that suggests that these languages were not nonsense at all, but they were in fact based upon Hebrew! Additionally, Swift anticipated prescient visions of the future by naming and providing the exact size and speeds of rotation of the two moons of Mars (Phobos and Deimos) 151 years before they were discovered by Asaph Hall. Just below it is shown the moment when Gulliver was speaking to the Laputian astronomers:
«They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve around Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the center of the primary exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five: the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one and a half (Gulliver’s Travels).»
Finally, whether read as a novel, a travel fantasy, or a caustic satire, Gulliver’s Travels is one of the most thought-provoking reads and remarkable encounters between the literary imagination and science ever penned. In order to conclude, it is echoed one of Swift’s more encouraging quotes to keep in mind every sunrise:
“May you live all the days of your life.”