Mar 26, 2013

Gulliver's Travels

When I was a kid in the 1960s, books were strictly divided into "boy" and "girl."  Boys got tales of swashbuckling adventure: Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe. Girls got families and horses: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little Women, Misty of Chincoteague.

Both boys and girls got Swiss Family Robinson and Gulliver's Travels, maybe because they had both families and swashbuckling.

The main illustration was invariably Gulliver on the beach, tied by innumerable tiny ropes. It was strangely erotic, with Lilliputians walking all over Gulliver's body (one standing directly on his bulge, as if it was a little hill).  It was hard to resist imagining a comparison between a Lilliputian and Gulliver's  endowment.

Our adaptions of the original 1726 novel contained none of Jonathan Swift's misanthropy or biting social satire, just a man shipwrecked in Lilliput; and maybe, if we were lucky, Brobdingnag, the flying island of Laputa, and the land of the Houyhnhnms.

Like the original novel, our books contained no heterosexual romance.  Indeed, after Gulliver's stay among the sentient-horse Houyhnhnms, he can barely stand to be in the same room with his wife. But film versions always had to add some.

The 1939 Fleischer animated version popped up on tv occasionally. It stayed in Lilliput, and had Gulliver facilitating a Romeo-and-Juliet style romance.

The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960) saddled the hapless merchant (played by gay actor Kerwin Mathews, left) with a fiancee who shares in the adventure.

In 1996, the tv movie Gulliver's Travels starred Ted Danson of Cheers (left, reacting to someone standing on his bulge).  He was back home, telling his loving wife about his travels.

The only exception was The Adventures of Gulliver (1968-70), a Saturday morning cartoon that had a very buffed teenage Gary Gulliver (voiced by Jerry Dexter) shipwrecked in Lilliput, looking for his father and a buried treasure, and evading an evil pirate.  His dog is there, too. Quite a lot of plot for 17 episodes.  But no heterosexual intrigues, although the king had the foresight to name his daughter Flirtacia.