Home Photography Writing About


Gulliver's Travels and Showing Versus Telling

Classic literature is an indulgence of mine. I have it in my head that I want to be refined and classy and well-read, so between every few contemporary novels and non-fiction I read classics. This time it was Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift book cover

(I remember as a child watching an old movie about this and for some reason the scene where Gulliver pees on the Lilliput palace is stuck in my mind. Hee hee. And no, I will not see the Jack Black version; I refuse.)

I know most classics are stuffy and terribly packed full of big vocabulary that is outdated and rather pretentious, but I like the challenge. As I was reading this one though, I realized how terrible the telling was. It felt like a historical account written by Ferris Bueller's teacher. I wanted to see what happened and deduce for myself what it meant, but Jonathan Swift kept throwing philosophical ideas at my face. Seriously, I felt as though it was a silly account of Utopia by Thomas More.

But where Utopia has its place, Gulliver's Travels is supposed to be a fun, quirky read. It just wasn't.

I'm wondering if the ideal book has changed or if they were saying 'show me don't tell me' back in the 1700s.