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Tony Grist

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Liliput [Sep. 30th, 2008|10:19 am]
Tony Grist
I did Gulliver's Travels for "O" level. I remember a fat, little hardback with tiny print, an orange cover and no pictures.  I remember understanding it was some sort of satire- and feeling nothing for it whatsoever.

I was discussing it with Judy the other day (she's teaching it at Vandebilt)- but my opinions were too far out of date to be worth anything, which is why I'm reading it again now.

I've finished Book I. Liliput. The most familiar part. Gulliver gets pegged to the ground by the little people. He pisses on the royal palace to put out a fire. He kidnaps the Blefuscan fleet. At first I thought the interest was purely cultural-historical. No doubt this was all very entertaining in its time, but fantasy has moved on.

But Swift is stealthy. It's all in the tone- that affectless tone that runs you smoothly from the reporting of a sea voyage to impossible marvels to a political satire that gets blacker and blacker. You think you're reading one sort of book and it turns into another sort of book and then it turns into yet another. It's like the three stages of a stage illusion- as Christopher Priest names them- the pledge, the turn, the prestige.

And when it comes, the final revelation of the all too human wickedness of the cute little people is like a punch in the solar plexus.

It's a very short book, written with great economy. Swift's 300 year-old prose has such clarity it barely needs annotation.

Gulliver himself is an innocent, indeed a bit of a dope, who tells us more than he knows himself.  It's a hard trick to pull off- and occasionally it's not clear whether he's being very, very simple or very, very ironic, or- to put it another way- whether the voice is Gulliver's or Swift's.  Like most other humorists, Swift  will sometimes sacrifice artistic integrity to a joke.

The best joke- the abiding joke- is that these funny little people presume to manage Gulliver with their proclamations and granting of honours and duplicitous political proceedings- and to a large degree pull it off- when he could so easily kick their towns to pieces and squish them all.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2008-09-30 11:45 am (UTC)
I read it when I was in school the second time, finishing my degree, and I loved it, for all the things you say here. :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-09-30 12:53 pm (UTC)
I was too young first time I read it.

I guess I'll start part II this afternoon.
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2008-09-30 02:23 pm (UTC)

Gulliver's travels

When I was at school I was a bit of a misanthrope, and whenever I was feeling particularly misanthropic, I read it with great pleasure, particularly book 4. I was also very fond of horses at that time, and used to read it with the thought "the more I see of some people, the more I like my horse."

Nowadays when kids feel like that they arm themselves with high-powered guns and charge around shooting up their schoolmates instead of sublimating it in literature.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-09-30 09:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Gulliver's travels

I used to have fantasies about shooting up my school. And then the movie If came out- which was about a group of kids playing out that dream for real- and I realised I hadn't been the only one.

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From: senordildo
2008-10-01 03:22 am (UTC)
I used to consider myself my misanthrope, until I read Gulliver's Travels. I don't think I've ever read a book that hates mankind so profoundly as that one.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-10-01 08:58 am (UTC)
It takes the biscuit, doesn't it?
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2008-10-04 07:00 am (UTC)
Do you know T H White's Mistress Masham's Repose about a little girl who finds Lilliputians and has to learn that they are people, not toys?
In return, they deal with her tyrannical guardians.
The setting is Stowe.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-10-04 09:27 am (UTC)
I don't know that. All I've read of White's is The Once and Future King. Mistress Masham sounds fascinating.
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2008-10-04 09:34 am (UTC)
My paperback was published in the 1960s, so I don't know if it's still in print.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-10-04 01:18 pm (UTC)
The library might have a copy. And if they don't, they could always get one through inter-library loan.
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