Gulliver’s Travels and children’s literature
Within the first couple of weeks of being published, Gulliver’s Travels was already being read by adults and children alike, who were all drawn to Swift’s winning combination of adventure, fantasy and social satire. In a letter sent to Swift on 17 November 1726, John Gay reported on the book’s generation-spanning success: ‘From the highest to the lowest it is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery’.
Though Gulliver’s Travels is frequently read in its entirety by children, this pocket-sized pamphlet is an early example of how the novel could be abridged and adapted for young readers. Not only does it include eye-catching woodcut illustrations, but it also omits Gulliver’s voyages to Laputa and Houyhnhnms Land in Parts 3 and 4, sections of the book in which Swift’s misanthropic commentary on humanity is most evident. This version of the story focusses on Gulliver’s adventures among the pint-sized Lilliputians and the giants of Brobdingnag.
There is added appeal in the diminutive size of the chapbook, which imitates the distortions of size and perception explored in the story. It is also perfectly in proportion to the small hands of its intended readers – creating both practical and aesthetic links between the themes and materiality of the text.
 The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. by Harold Williams (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), Vol. 3, pp. 182–83.
- Full title:
- The adventures of Captain Gulliver, in a voyage to the islands of Lilliput and Brobdignag. Abridged from the works of ... Dean Swift. Adorned with cuts.
- Book / Image / Illustration / Woodcut
- Jonathan Swift
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- Satire and humour, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Politics and religion, Rise of the novel
Jonathan Swift initially did his best to conceal the fact that he was the author of Gulliver's Travels. John Mullan explores how Swift constructed the work to operate as an elaborate game, parodying travel literature, pretending to be an autobiography and containing obviously false facts presented by a deeply unreliable narrator.