Gilliver’s Travels is coming! The adventure movie starring Jack Black and Emily Blunt will hit theaters in December.
But, of course, Gulliver’s Travels is also already here. The classic 1725 novel by Jonathan Swift is the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon-turned sailor who travels to many remote (and fictional) places in the world, including Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and Glubbdubdrib.
I think I spelled all those correctly.
Many people remember Lilliput, the land of the little people, but that’s really just one part of the story.
The people of Lilliput, Lilliputians, are very, very little people standing up to only six inches high. The people of Brobdingnag, meanwhile, are very, very tall, standing up to 72 feet high.
In other words, Lilliputians are one-twelfth the size of humans, and Brobdingnags are twelve times the size of humans. Swift’s world has a nice synchronicity, no?
Gulliver’s Travels is a classic tale of satirical jokes about human nature and parodies of the “travelers’ tales.” It is an easy-to-read book, but difficult to understand because social mores are so different now than the century in which it was written in.
The new words Swift creates for his characters and worlds don’t help either.
Swift splits Gulliver’s travels into four parts: “A Voyage to Lilliput,” “A Voyage to Brobdingnag,” “A Voyage to Laputa, Glubbdubdrib, Balnibarbi, Japan,” and “A Voyage to the Country of Houyhnhnms.”
It’s during Gulliver’s travel to Lilliput that he encounters the famous little people, the Lilliputians. He falls asleep onshore after his ship wrecks and wakes up, yes, roped to the ground by the tiny people. Once the Lilliputians realize he is harmless (and after Gulliver realizes he must show good behavior), he becomes a resident of Lilliput. He then helps the King and the court of Lilliput by stealing the fleet of their rival neighbors from Blefuscu. However, Gulliver refuses to do another task against Blefuscu, so he is charged with treason, but he escapes to Blefuscu, finds a boat, and sets sail for home.
Lots of action, but hey, we’re just getting started. This is an epic, after all.
Gulliver takes another ship out to sea and is abandoned by his companions after a storm. He is found by a farmer of Brobdingnag (the land of giants, remember), and the farmer’s daughter cares for Gulliver. Exploiting the local’s curiosity for Gulliver, the farmer turns him into an exhibit. The Queen of Brobdingnag hears of this and wishes to see Gulliver, whom she falls in love with (sort of — it’s complicated).
The Queen has a “traveling box” created for Gulliver because he is too small for all of their chairs and beds. An eagle takes his “home” and drops it in the sea where he is found and returned home again.
Gulliver sets sail yet again, but is attacked by pirates this time and is saved by the people of Laputa, a flying island. Gulliver then takes a detour to Glubbdubdrib where he encounters struldbrugs — immortal people that will be forever old. He is then taken to Balnibarbi and waits for a Dutch trader to take him to Japan. After talking with the Emperor, he returns home.
Whew! Lots going on, but like I said, it’s an epic tale.
For one last time, Gulliver sets sail again, now as the captain of the ship. His crew turns against him and abandons him in a boat. He lands in the country of Houyhnhnms where he first comes upon a race of deformed creatures who take a “human” form called Yahoos. He later meets the country’s rulers, the Houyhnhnms (meaning “the perfection of nature”), all of whom are horses. Gulliver comes to enjoy the Houyhnhnms lifestyle and rejects humans as merely Yahoos.
But eventually, the Houyhnhnms begin to realize Gulliver’s similarities to the Yahoos so ban him from their country. He returns home, becomes a recluse, and begins to talk to his stable horses for support.
How’s that for an ending? Wouldn’t quite fly in a Tom Cruise movie, would it?
How much of the book’s plot will the movie actually contain? We know the movie is “loosely” based on the book and seems to concentrate, not surprisingly, on the books most famous sequences, those in Lilliput, which, frankly, seems like a lost opportunity.
Swift wrote his book as a social satire, lampooning the mores and attitudes of his day. Might this be part of the upcoming movie?
If not, it seems like another opportunity lost.