“Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”
To many of us, Lilliput is the children’s story of small people tying down a bigger person, with some mumbling about horses or political philosophy in the background. In truth, however, it is that and more: a mockery of traditional travel literature, a satirical view of government and religion, a study of human nature and corruption, even a questioning of the ethos of scientific progress and development.
Lilliput is wracked with civil strife between two parties, those who wear high heels and those who wear low heels. Neither side trusts the crown prince, of course; he wears one of each. They are also at war with another country, because one likes to break its eggs from the big end, and the other from the small: the dispute stems from a religious text which says people should break their eggs from the appropriate end, only neither side agrees which end is appropriate. A conflict reminiscent of religious feuds in his time, or political ones in ours, perhaps.
Though Lilliput, the land of little people, is the best known, the book actually covers four broad journeys: first Gulliver is relatively big, then small, then wise, then ignorant. Each country he visits has different forms of government, perceives humanity in a different light, and is flawed in their own way; in Laputa Gulliver finds a society fixated on science but unable to use it for practical ends, while with the Houyhnhnms he finds a society of horses ruled by reason and ruling the human equivalents, called Yahoos. All of them are entertaining, and readers will likely find their own favourites. For myself, I think I enjoyed most the acute observations by other societies about our own: nothing like an external perspective, whether six inches or sixty feet high, to lend objectivity.
Oh, and the egg breaking wars. “It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end.”