The Blagger's Guide To... Gulliver's Travels

'It is read from the cabinet to the nursery'

*Fans of Martin Rowson's "Abuses of Literacy" in these pages will be pleased to know that Rowson has brought out a whole book, Gulliver's Travels, based on the 1726 original by Jonathan Swift. Complete with a Lilliputian prime minister who bears more than a passing resemblance to Rowson's Tony Blair ("tough on eggs and tough on the causes of eggs, we then scrapped old eggs altogether and replaced them with our new, modern, triangular egg ...") and other rather familiar characters, the book stars a descendant of the original Gulliver. It is published by Atlantic at £16.99.

 

*Rowson's previous books include graphic adaptations of The Waste Land and Tristram Shandy, as well as a collection of his columns for this paper, The Limerickiad Volume 1: From Gilgamesh to Shakespeare, published in November by Smokestack Books. His first novel, Snatches, was published in 2006, and his 2007 family memoir, Stuff, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. In 2008, Vintage published his atheist manifesto The Dog Allusion: Gods, Pets and How to be Human. When Ken Livingstone became London Mayor in 2000, he made Rowson his Cartoonist Laureate for a fee of one pint of London Pride per year. However, Rowson found his new boss hard to caricature. "Ken did cartoonists a great disservice when he shaved his moustache off," he said at the time. "Cartoonists always need a feature to focus on and I struggled for some time before homing in on his baggy eyes."

 

*Rowson is not the first to see echoes of the Blair government in Swift's book. In 2004, Martin Jenkins and illustrator Chris Riddell produced Jonathan Swift's Gulliver for children (Walker Books), which shows Blair being prodded and pinched to remind him of his promises to the islanders of Balnibarbi.

 

*Other adaptations and additions include Memoirs of the Court of Lilliput, published in 1727 by an anonymous author; Gulliver's Fifth Travel – The Travel of Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and Then a Captain of Several Ships to the Land of Tikitaks by Ukrainian sci-fi author Vladimir Savchenko in the 1960s; El último Viaje del capitá* Lemuel Gulliver (Captain Lemuel Gulliver's Last Journey) by Argentinian Edgar Brau in 1988; and the surprisingly awful 2010 film starring Jack Black and Emily Blunt.

 

*Gulliver's Travels was first published anonymously, after Swift had it transcribed in another man's handwriting and delivered at night to a publisher's house. It was an immediate success – the poet John Gay wrote to Swift that "It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery" – and has never been out of print. However, the author's anonymity meant that the publisher could excise several politically sensitive passages, removing much of the satire, to Swift's disgust. The 1735 edition, published by George Faulkner with much of Swift's original work reinstated, is now the accepted version.

 

*The name Gulliver is composed of a "gull", a dupe or a fool, and "ver", which indicates veracity.

 

*A Ladybird Classics version of Gulliver's Travels will be published in July 2012. It is also available in an edition published by Cambridge University Press, in an audio version, read by Andrew Sachs, and as a Kindle ebook.

 

*Martin Rowson will be talking about his book this evening at The Independent Bath Literature Festival. Go to bathlitfest.org.uk for details and tickets.

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