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  • Writer's pictureMartyn Rhys Vaughan


In our tour of the history of SF, we must not pass over "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathon Swift (1667-1745). Swift, who became something of an Irish patriot, wrote several works of a satirical nature. GT was written as another example of satire but can also be read as a straight adventure story.

The hero, Lemuel Gulliver, has many misfortunes in his travels, which often strand him in weird surroundings. His visits to the tiny people of Lilliput and the giants of Brobdingnag are well known and these names have entered the English language as adjectives. His account of the war in Lilliput between the Big-Endians and the Small Endians is a classic satire on religious intolerance.

Less well-known are his further voyages. In the 3rd voyage, Gulliver encounters the floating island of Laputa. Swift was not impressed by the newly formed Royal Society, considering them to be impractical dreamers. Laputa is a satire on unworldly scientists, as Laputa is populated by people who study mathematics, science and music without actually doing anything.

Examples of their futile pursuits include: extracting moonbeams from cucumbers; softening marble so it can be used as a pillow and detecting enemies of the state by examining their excrement. "La Puta" is Spanish for "The Whore", but it is not known if this is intentional.

On another island, Luggnagg, he meets people who have learned how to be immortal but not eternally young, so that they become more and more decrepit.

The final visit is the most significant. Gulliver visits the land of the

Houyhnhnms, who are horse-like creatures that are wise and peaceful. However, their land is also home to the Yahoos who are a bestial and disgusting form of human. The word "Yahoo" has, of course, also entered English. Gulliver is so impressed by the Houyhnhnms and disgusted by the Yahoos that he henceforth shuns human company.

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