Published in 1776, The Adventures of Captain Gulliver is an enchanting chapbook adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726).

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’.[1]

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.

[1] The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. by Harold Williams (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), Vol. 3, pp. 182–83.