Gulliver Amongst the Yahoos

Gulliver's Travels illustration by James Gilray, using George III as the King of Brobdingnag
and a General Napoleon in the role of "Gulliver"

Gulliver's Travels is a prose satire and the best known writing of Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift. It is a book I never read all the way through and I suspect I am not the only reader in that position. It's not that the book is terrible, but it is tough reading, in a vocabulary unlike ours today and in a style also unlike today.

Even its full title is ponderous: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. Published in 1726, a long title of explanation was not unusual - not unlike today's titles for non-fiction books and academic papers which almost always have a good title, a colon, and an explanation.

Swift's book is one of those classics that is well known but unread. It is a satire on human nature, politics and the genre of travelers' tales that were popular at the time.

Swift claimed that he wrote the book "To vex the world rather than divert it."

November 30 is Swift's birthday. I imagine that if he were here to celebrate, he would be disappointed that his book is not popular reading, but pleased that it is a "classic" that is still in print. I think he would be amused by the many adaptations for the screen that have been made. And I think he would find much of our current society the stuff of satire.

Gulliver travels on four voyages. He finds exotic places and meets strange creatures. The scenes most people recall are his meeting with the race of miniature people in Lilliput and, on another voyage, a race of giants in Brobdingnab. The latter place is located on the western coast of the North America.


One of his interesting visits is when he is rescued by the people of the flying island of Laputa. It seems quite sophisticated as it is a kingdom devoted to the arts of music, mathematics and astronomy. Unfortunately, they seem unable to use their knowledge for any practical purposes.

Laputa rules the land below by bombing them with rocks when necessary. At the "Royal Society" kind of Grand Academy of Lagado, they research idiotic things quite seriously: extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, softening marble to use in pillows and mixing paint by smell.

One piece of research done there that might actually be useful in our current political climate of conspiracies is examining the excrement of suspicious persons. This "muckraking" could possibly be a useful tool for today's investigative journalists.

The only version of Gulliver I read cover-to-cover

The most disgusting race of beings he encounters are called Yahoos. Gulliver eventually realizes that they are actually the humans like himself.

Here is the Gulliver's Travels in an American animated feature film version made in 1939 by Fleischer Studios. It is based very loosely on only the Lilliput and Blefuscu lands Gulliver finds in his first voyage.

Paramount Pictures wanted a feature-length animated film as a response to Disney's groundbreaking first cel-animation film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was a big hit. Gulliver's Travels was the second animated feature film produced by an American studio.

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