Gulliver’s Travels – Part 3

Well, part 3 is a little weaker on the ‘adventure’ side (at least I would say so; I mean, it’s hard to top being a giant in Lilliput and a curiosity in Brobdingnag, isn’t it?) but maybe a little heavier on the thought provoking front…

Gulliver visits several different kingdoms this time (after once again having poor luck in his sailing choice – this time pirates).  The first is the ‘floating island’ of Laputa.

Descriptions of his first sight of the island are quite compelling and somewhat reminiscent to me of those scenes in the sci-fi movie, Independence Day, when truly gigantic spacecraft hover over our pitiful cities.  The inhabitants of Laputa are perplexing to say the least.  They are obsessed with math and music, almost to the exclusion of all other things.  They become so engrossed in their thoughts that they require special assistants to nudge them back to reality when they need to speak or listen.

In another section, in chapter 3, in which the means of propulsion and movement of Laputa are “explained,” I found the details strikingly similar to some of the attempts by the UFOlogist pseudo-scientists to explain the locomotion of flying saucers.  Laputa uses a gigantic lodestone and magnets, switching ‘on or off’ in certain directions.  Quite amusing.  I wonder if the modern day UFO people had subconsciously adopted Swift’s Laputan flying machine’s mechanics…  Swift spends a lot of time explaining this in part 3.

Maybe the most fascinating section of Part 3 was Gulliver’s visit to Glubbdubdrib (or “The Island of Sorcerers or Magicians”) where the ruler has the power to summon up the spirits of the dead to converse with (!)  How convenient.  Gulliver goes through a whole laundry list of famous historical characters, learning much along the way about history not always being the same as what is actually taught.  The Governor of Glubbdubdrib advises Gulliver that the spirits will always tell the truth since “lying was a talent of no use in the lower world.”  This section is again replete with references to Classical authors and works – much more so than Parts 1 and 2.

A new meaning of a word I learned in these two parts is “compass.”  I had always only know the common meaning of a device to “tell which was is north” but a couple times Swift uses it differently as defined by Merriam Webster.com:

1 a : boundary, circumference <within the compass of the city walls> b : a circumscribed space <within the narrow compass of 21 pages  c : range, scope <the compass of my voice>
Increasing my vocabulary here…

One of Swift’s use of this word was when the Governor was advising him to confine his questioning of the spirits to “the compass of the time they lived in.”

The other favorite section of Part 3 for me was the discussion of the immortals or the “Struldbruggs” of the land of the Luggnaggians.  When Gulliver first learns of these immortals he is very excited that “every member of the race is born with at least a chance of becoming immortal.”  In Chapter 10, Gulliver launches into a long description what he would do if he were fortunate to be one of the immortals, starting with the accumulation of as much money as he might need for immortality, etc. His hosts let him go on and on, but finally break the news to him that immortality is a curse and not a blessing.  They do not age to immortality in youthful bodies, but continue to become more & more decrepit and more and more misanthropic as they age.

The function of the Struldbruggs in their society is to serve as an example to the people that they need not fear death if the state of these pathetic immortals is the alternative.  Very interesting stuff.

I’m reminded of a great line from an episode of Star Trek (yep, semi-Trekkie/Trekker here) in the original series.  A human who has become immortal but is marooned on a largely lifeless planet says to Kirk, “Believe me, Captain, immortality consists largely of boredom.”  🙂

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