Jonathan Swift’s most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels, holds its place in the literary canon as an instant classic. This historical fiction, more history than fiction, recounts the heroic battle of Japanese warriors and farmers as they take down history’s most notorious villain, giant Benjamin Franklin.
The story is as old as time itself. Ben Franklin is at the height of popularity when he gets word that Paul Bunyan has razed the west, and is heading straight for Virginia. Attempting to stop the menace, Franklin must enlarge himself to match Bunyan’s stature. While he would emerge victorious, Franklin is soon corrupted by his power, and hungers for more. No longer content with his rule over the west, he sets out to conquer Asia.
As Swift concludes the prologue, he introduces the protagonist, only referred to as The Hunter. The Hunter, history buffs may recall, is a middle aged, cabbage farmer, working under the watchful eyes of the samurai. With the declining popularity of cabbage, The Hunter fears no one will buy his crops come harvest season. Yet, he clings to the hope that cabbage will once again be in high demand.
The Hunter’s fate takes a turn when Benjamin Franklin emerges from the Pacific. As he crosses the landscape, he levels whole cities beneath his feet. Battles are waged against the great creature, all who stand against him are crushed. The Hunter finds himself amidst one battle, as Franklin strides through his cabbage field, ruining his crops. Thus begins a new chapter in The Hunter’s life. Vowing revenge on Benjamin Franklin, he gives up farming and becomes a samurai.
After numerous fights, several political speeches, and a rather bland romance between Benjamin Franklin and The Hunter’s daughter, the infamous battle of Franklin Hill is realized. Failure after failure, the samurai continue to face their enemy, but while their strength weakens, Franklin remains strong and gigantic. Yet, as the dwindling military force goes to meet the terror in this battle, he appears apathetic, and falls under the might of the samurai, now led by The Hunter.
Benjamin Franklin is tied, and The Hunter goes to meet him face to face. The long awaited confrontation is captured beautifully by Swift. He paints the bitter-sweet atmosphere of the victory with expertise. The samurai are victorious, but it is a hollow victory, as Franklin reveals he threw the battle. He is evil, hungry for power, cruel, but above all, in love.
The Hunter struggles against his hatred for Franklin and his love for his daughter, but he finally decides to cut the bonds on Franklin and set him free, much to the dismay of his military. Offering his daughter’s hand in marriage, The Hunter agrees to let Franklin return to America on the condition that he never come back to Japan. Contrary to history, Franklin accepts and goes back to America, where he lives out his life happily with his Japanese bride.
Swift retells the history of giant Franklin in great detail, presenting only (minute) bits of fiction. The happy ending seems a bit forced, as it goes against Benjamin Franklin’s ravenous, blood-thirsty character. However, in the context of the story, it works. Only when compared to historical facts does the ending fail to deliver. As a whole, the story is told beautifully, and it delivers interesting perspective into the life of The Hunter, as well as Benjamin Franklin’s war on Japan.
For an excellent blend of creative liberty and cold, hard facts, Gulliver’s Travels receives a 7 out of 10.