One suspects that Lemuel Gulliver did not have great guidance counselors in high school. Here is a man who believes the only proper response to a failed business model is to become a sailor. It’s like if all those Enron guys had joined up on some random ship rather than going to prison. Preferably the Titanic.
If the ancient seafarers thought that Jonah was such bad luck that he needed to be tossed over, imagine what they would have thought of Jonathan Swift’s titular hero. During his travels, Gulliver is shipwrecked, mutinied, or attacked by pirates no less than four times. The guy is a walking disaster. If Gulliver ever met Inspector Clouseau, the resulting explosion would be roughly equivalent to six hydrogen bombs.
But maybe it’s not all bad, because every time Gulliver ends up in the water, he usually washes ashore on some strange island that nobody has ever heard of (probably because it has an unpronounceable name like Brobdingnag or Houyhnhnm). Each island is roughly characterized by having people drastically different than Gulliver himself; i.e. their people do not run off and join the navy every time they bounce a check.
Lilliput is the first island Gulliver “discovers,” as well as the most famous to those who are marginally familiar with the story. Lilliputians are tiny people who tie Gulliver down with thread when he is unconscious, and then proceed to starve themselves by bringing Gulliver all of their food. They also build a giant wagon for Gulliver to ride in as he goes to visit the king, which makes about as much sense as me having my dog tow me on a bicycle from the bedroom to the bathroom. They waste all this energy and food for the same reason any government wastes resources when presented with something strange and different: They want to weaponize it.
The Lilliputians are at war with another race, and a giant who can stomp the enemy houses to pieces just by going for a morning jog figures to put them over the top. In this manner, Gulliver’s Travels is pretty much the Godzilla story told from the point of view of Godzilla. Maybe if the Japanese had stopped screaming and firing rockets, they might have learned that Godzilla was merely a failed businessman whose sailboat just happened to spring a leak.
The reason for the war has something to do with a dispute on the right way to crack eggs. Hey, wars have been fought for more ridiculous reasons, such as control of Texas. I suspect this is some sort of satire on the part of Swift, but the symbolism got muddled right around the part where Gulliver is sentenced to death for putting out a house fire by peeing on it (I’m not making this up).
Did I mention that Gulliver excels at vulgarity in his travels? After leaving Lilliput, he later finds himself on the island of Brobdingnag, in which Gulliver is tiny and everyone else is a giant, providing some insight into just how willing Jonathan Swift is to beat a good idea to death. Here Gulliver gets to frolic around on giant naked women and be disgusted by them. He is especially disturbed by their peeing. Maybe it will help him gain perspective on which hose to use the next time he sees a tiny house fire.
Gulliver makes a few other random stops (and ruins several more boats) before his last adventure lands him on the island of Houyhnhnm, which as you might guess is populated by philosophic talking horses. As you might also guess, Gulliver fits right in. The horses teach him that all humans are idiots, and Gulliver apparently recognizes this in himself. He in turn teaches them the English Constitution, proving that philosophic talking horses and cursed English nincompoops are perhaps intellectually equivalent.
While Gulliver’s Travels is a well-known tale and has been adapted many times, it has never really found much success outside of the original book. Its reputation as a children’s story is a little ironic, given all the peeing (or maybe not so ironic after all). As fate would have it, there is a big budget movie coming out later this year. Like most Gulliver adaptations, it seems to focus exclusively on Lilliput, but since it stars Jack Black, it also bodes well for some good urine jokes.
Next up, number ninety-five!