Gulliver’s Travels as a Children’s Book
Gulliver’s Travels has established itself as a classic for young children. Much of Gulliver’s Travels’ literary excellence lies in the element of fantasy embedded in it. Its appeal to young minds is due to the fact that it is, on the surface, an adventure story and a fanciful account of strange and wonderful lands. The young mind is greatly attracted by adventures and by fanciful accounts such as we come across in Arabian Nights’ Entertainment. However, it is not enough to describe this book in these terms. It is much more than an adventure story or a fairy tale or a children’s literature. On a closer examination it will be found to be a satire, and a bitter one on mankind in general and on English politics and politicians of the time in particular. The four voyages along with their incredible backdrops are enough for entertaining young readers who do not engage themselves in inferring the complicated meaning underneath the story.
Gulliver’s Travels tells the story of the various voyages undertaken by a man called Lemuel Gulliver. Every voyage is an adventure in itself. In the course of the first voyage, Gulliver gets ship-wrecked and has to swim to the shore to save his life. On the sea-shore he falls into a sound slumber and, when he wakes up, he finds himself a prisoner in chains, In the course of the second voyage, Gulliver’s ship is overtaken by a fierce storm. When, after the storm, the ship casts anchor and a few sailors including Gulliver go to the shore. Gulliver is captured by a giant. In the course of his third voyage, Gulliver’s ship is overtaken by pirates. In the course of his fourth voyage, Gulliver is attacked by the members of the crew of his own ship and is bound hand and foot. Thus each time Gulliver goes through certain difficulties and dangers. All such adventures are sure to fascinate young readers who will find the story to be gripping.
Gulliver’s experiences in the various countries which he visits are also such as will hold the young reader’s attention. Every land which Gulliver visits is a wonderful land, and Gulliver’s experiences everywhere are strange or exciting or amusing. In Lilliput the people are pigmies, hardly six inches in height. The very idea that there are human beings so small is funny. The manner in which several ladders are applied by the Lilliputians to Gulliver’s sides so that they may climb up in order to provide food to him is even more amusing. In the metropolis of Lilliput, Gulliver becomes an object of curiosity, and he is given the name “man-mountain“. Gulliver helps the King of Lilliput to defeat the forces of the enemy country which is called Blefuscu. The manner in which he cripples the enemy fleet is exciting as well as amusing. Then there is the funny episode of Gulliver’s extinguishing a fire in the palace by urinating on it. The customs of the Lilliputians are also a source of great amusement to us.
Broodingnag is another strange and wonderful land. This land is inhabited by monstrous-looking giants who are twelve times the height of Gulliver. Here too Gulliver becomes an object of curiosity for the inhabitants though for the opposite reason. The animals and the insects in this land are also very huge. For instance, a cat here is three times larger than an ox in England; a rat here is of the size of a big dog in England; the flies, the wasps, the monkeys, and the eagles are also proportionately large. So are the apples and the hailstones. Gulliver meets several mishaps here, and they are all bound to interest the young reader.
Laputa is yet another wonderful land. Laputa is an island which keeps flying through the air at a height of about two miles from the earth. The manner in which flappers draw the attention of their masters to anything needing their attention is very funny. The mutton, the beef, the pudding, and other eatables are here given geometrical shapes or the shapes of musical instruments. The experiments which are in progress at the Academy of Projectors in Lagado are also very interesting like the schemes which are being developed at the school of political projects. Gulliver’s interviews with the ghosts and spirits of the great dead on the island of Glubbdubdrib are also a source of great interest. His experience of the immortal persons is yet another episode of the same kind.
Gulliver’s last voyage takes him to the land of the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms. Here too the element of the marvellous predominates. This is a country in which the horses can talk to one another and can even teach their language to a human being. Gulliver picks up the language of the Houyhnhnms and then has regular conversations with his master who is a horse and with whom Gulliver is able to exchange ideas and information. The Houyhnhnms have a wonderful organization and a perfect system by which they govern themselves. The Houyhnhnms who are governed wholly by reason represent perfection, and by contrast with them the Yahoos are hateful and detestable. The account of the way of life of the Houyhnhrms and the Yahoos is also a part of the fanciful story which Swift tells us in this famous work.
The three voyages that Gulliver undertakes are colorful enough to arouse reader’s interest. The description of these voyages are characterized by it quaintness. The peculiarities of these various inhabitants, the alien qualities of their practices and customs, and overall the adventurous spirit of Gulliver makes the reading an enjoyable experience. The improbabilities of incidents, as an experienced reader is sure to think about Gulliver’s account, undoubtedly continues to entertain the young readers. The unique charm that the accounts exude has never-failing appeal to this young genre.
Despite the enchanting experiences and improbable incidents that suffuse the four voyages, Gulliver’s Travels cannot be categorized as an adventure tale because of the undercurrent of satire that runs through the entire book. There is certain seriousness of tone that pervades all through the book and which in fact carries Swift’s message to his reader’s. It is a bitter comment upon human vanity, pride and follies.