“Fine words! I wonder where you stole them.”

Sunday afternoons are mainly spent on the motorways connecting Nottingham to Surrey and then Surrey to Essex. This gives me the opportunity to listen to radio 4 which fortuitiously serialises a classic and it generally entertains . In February Matthew Broughton adapted Gullivers Travels in three programmes and it was marvellous. Sadly there is no link because once it played out its time on i-player, it was no longer available. If you are more compuer literate than me then you can get the entire three part serial  via |TORRENT| at RadioArchive.cc. I have asked Matthew via his blog if there is a way of buying a copy as it should be available on C.D. I want it in my collection so I can replay it.

In Matthews adaptation, the first episode deals with Lilliput and Gulliver discovers how easy it is to become embroiled in the petty dishonest politics of competing nations. In the second episode Gulliver is a miniature human in a land of giant inhabitants. From this perspective he can comment on how disgusting even the greatest beauties are. It is a satire on how vain and complacent humanity is, and can be seen as relevant today as we plunder earth and wreck habitats in the pursuit of business. The third episode deals with Gullivers disassociation from his fellow men.  He finds some sort of Eden with the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent and gentle horses which live alongside the ‘Yahoos’, or the verminous humans. Gulliver is forced to return to his family, whom he now cannot bear to be with, and retreats into a sort of madness.  Swift is commenting on the progress of science, and rational argument, showing finally that science cannot hold all the answers. Humans are different to Houyhnhnms, and live with all the contradictions and paradoxes that having a human spirit entails. The rational landscape the Houyhnhnms inhabit appears utopian on the surface, but they are dull; the complicated interplay of selfishness, altruism, love, hate, and all other emotions are unavailable to them, and consequently not a world for the human to fulfil themselves.

How relevant then is Swifts narrative to our modern world!  The absurdities get more high tech, but the principles remain similar.  It behoves us all to examine why we do the things we do, why we allow governments to pursue policies that bankrupt us and distribute the wrods resources in such an unequal manner that hunger and poverty ravage a huge portion of our species , while the one or two percent dream about holidaying in space.

When Swift first had it published he had it transcribed in a different mans handwriting and delivered it at night to a publishing house, assuring anonymity. John Gay (the poet) wrote to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery” – and it has never been out of print. However, the publisher excised some politically sensitive material, much to Swifts disgust.  The 1735 edition, published by George Faulkner with much of Swift’s original work reinstated, is now the accepted version.  Swift was an outraged man, and wrote the book to ”vex the world rather than to divert it’. I can feel his pain, since I am outraged on a daily basis at the absurdity of modern life. The methods Swift employ to highlight the political and personal follies of mankind result in a robustly entertaining narrative which was designed to disturb the reader as much as to entertain. How we managed to take this masterpiece and turn it into a childrens classic is itself a commentary on the amount of reality we are prepared to take.

A further volume to consider looking at is Martin Rowson’s savage re-imagining and distillation of this masterpiece.  It’s on my wish list as well. He has made a version that updates Swifts vision, youcan sample it here,http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/interactive/2012/mar/08/martin-rowson-book

It is worth going back to the original text, though the language may seem too archaic now for many tastes,  so I can only urge you to track down that Radio 4 adaptation as it retains the full flavour of the original and is totally listenable to . I shall update this if I get a reply about whether there will be a C.D.  Hope springs eternal. Some things cannot be missed.


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