Monday, 18 March 2013

Gulliver's Travels, Part IV and Final

        It's finally time to say "goodbye" to Lemuel Gulliver.  This final entry is partly synoptic and partly interpretation with a dash of opinion thrown in.  I hope you enjoy the recipe.

        Well, our intrepid traveler is at it again.  He is home for only 5 months before he leaves his family... again.  And his wife is pregnant... again.  It has an interesting parallel to the multiple deployments of military members over the past 20 years.  The only thing is that Gulliver is not driven by any other purpose than to satisfy his own itchy foot.

        After the usual contrived episode to get him to the place of his new adventure, he encounters 'animals' which are repulsive to him on any number of levels.  They are sporadically hairy and foul of manners and habits--these details come into play a little bit later.

        Gulliver then comes into contact with the rational ruling population which look suspiciously like horses.  This horse race (heh, heh, no pun intended, maybe) is called "houyhnms" and the spoonerism-like pronunciation is related to 'human' in a somewhat obvious way.

        The houyhnms are as surprised to see him as Gulliver is to see them but he doesn't learn the reason until later.  First he must spend time mastering yet another language, this one based on neighs and snorts.

        For me, I admit, this is where the enjoyment of the story, and the satire, wanes.  As Gulliver describes the supreme rationality and capability of the houyhnms, he simultaneously degrades his own race.  This is mirrored in both the description of humans to his master (who only sees them from his knowledge and perception) and the discovery that the repulsive creatures Gulliver took an instant dislike to are humans, after a fashion.  It's as if all the ugliness of sinful human nature is worn on the outside and dominates the minds of the 'Yahoos' without the veneer of civility.

        It's not just that he takes every opportunity to praise the emotionless rationality of the houyhnms or that he describes the antics of the wild Yahoos in such a negative light that decreases my enjoyment.  It's Gulliver's overwhelming contempt for human life after he returns to his home.  He describes his hatred and disgust for the creatures (even his own family) but he spends the next few years only tolerating them rather than trying to help them understand his new-found zeal for rationality.

        This is where a single reading will not suffice to unpack everything that Swift is trying to say in regards to human nature, passions and the role of rationality in relationships between people.  Or even a divergence into how true converts should be expected to act when confronted with their old life.  Or something completely different.  Or a combination.

        Which leads me to ask you, my reader, how deep do you think we should go?

        Does this book beg a 2nd, 3rd or more reading?

        Does every--or even, any--book deserve that much work?  What would make you decide to give a book a subsequent or more reading?

        Then, how much interpretation do you think comes through the author's intent?  The reader's experience?  Culture or upbringing?  And the ultimate question:

How do you decide if it's worth the extra effort for you?

Next up in the reading list:  The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (no relation)--on AUDIO!

After that:  Information:  A History, A Theory, a Flood by James Gleick (Geek Book Alert)

Next classic:  Up for suggestions.  Peruse the Great Books library list here and give me some options.