Thursday, 14 February 2013

Gulliver's Travels

Very quickly, for anyone who may be interested, I've Lulued up a paperback collection of the first five years of these reviews - all added with more better grammar, and including a few I held back from posting for fear of pissing people off. It costs a fortune from my Lulu page - for which you should find a link on the right - and is shamelessly hawked at greater length here.

Now, returning to our regular programming, by special request, from December 2010:

Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels (1726)
Fuck! Can't believe it's taken me so long to get around to this one. I was expecting something within the range of worthy but dry and far too long, or at best moderately entertaining, but... wow! I can see why this is considered a classic and continues to inspire adaptations nearly three-hundred years later, albeit adaptations which miss the point and present it as a story about teeny tiny people whilst ignoring the other three quarters of the book with its giants, airborne islands, and talking horses. And the poo and wee, lots of pooing and weeing here.

It's a satire, and possibly one of the most sarcastic things I've ever read (I present this as a virtue by the way) and despite the talking horses and so on, it's also utterly convincing. For one moment the nerd in me considered that Gulliver may have breached some sort of dimensional rift and found himself alternately expanded to giant size in Lilliput or shrunk when in Brobdingnag (seeing as plants, animals and even weather conditions of those places are consistent to the native rather than the visitor), but then I realised I was missing the point.

Gulliver encounters at least four alien cultures wherein the excesses of human society, government, and progress are pushed to the point of absurdity, but human society, government, and progress being what they are, the absurdity remains plausible even at the lengths to which Swift took his creations. It's basically a great big four volume fuck off to everything that's stupid (in addition to satirising earlier, more earnest travel narratives) done with razor sharp wit, pornographic attention to detail, and plenty of bodily functions. Can't remember if the first instance of the latter is where the Lilliputians are obliged to dispose of one of Gulliver's turds with wheelbarrows, or if its the incident wherein he saves the Queen from burning to death by urinating upon her house; but the latter is the more pertinent seeing as it leads to Gulliver's exile; although the law demands that he submit to being blinded as punishment for taking a leak in public, regardless of the regal life saved by that act. It's bureaucracy gone mad. You couldn't make it up etc. etc...

The satire is gently introduced, piece by piece with a nudge and a wink, building up to Spinal Tap levels of parody when Gulliver arrives in Laputa, an island floating above the earth inhabited by a people whose science is so far advanced as to be entirely pointless: the pig method of ploughing a field by burying acorns and relaxing whilst the beasts turn the soil in search of food (presently requiring a lot more work than just ploughing it in the first place but the Laputans are convinced the method will one day prove worthwhile); the scientist busily attempting to separate turds into their constituent parts so as to reclaim the food that has been eaten. By the time Gulliver arrives in the land of the thoroughly civilised Houyhnhnms, he's clearly had enough of human society as mercilessly parodied in the preceding pages, and happily succumbs to Stockholm syndrome amongst this race of talking horses. Unfortunately, to the Houyhnhnms, Lemuel Gulliver is not much more than a civilised Yahoo, Yahoos being the brutish primal humans which plague their society and express displeasure by producing turds.

Being a classic, anything I may say about this book is probably irrelevant, but it's slightly shocking to realise that pretty much everything Swift was taking the piss out of is still with us only more so. Reading this actually reminded me of hearing Never Mind The Bollocks for the first time. Still relevant and still phenomenal.

No comments:

Post a Comment