Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Swift, Jonathan

(1667-1745) Writer, satirist and cleric, of Yorkshire descent but born and raised in Ireland; most noted as the author of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World (1726 2 vols; many subsequent editions, often cut; eventual vt Gulliver's Travels 1821). Gulliver's Travels, firmly in the tradition of Travellers' Tales, was a remarkable feat in the creation of imaginary worlds as a vehicle for Satire upon the political and religious establishments of the day. It works as both Fantasy and Science Fiction, for it requires the suspension of belief engendered by Fantasy while relying on the verisimilitude encouraged by scientific probity for Swift's satirical barbs to strike home. Its acceptance, and its later devolution into Children's Fantasy, demonstrates that the fantastic elements were the most immediate, which is how the book is remembered today. Gulliver's experiences in Lilliput and Brobdingnag (among Dwarfs and Giants) work almost on the level of Fairytale, but the later travels to Laputa and the land of the Houynhnhnms are less popular because they lack the creation of "Sense of Wonder" in their intellectual endeavour to militate against, respectively, scientific and capitalist institutions. Nevertheless it is in the section on Laputa that JS allows the supernatural to intrude. On the island of Glubbdubdrib Gulliver encounters a community of sorcerers who can summon the spirits of the dead, allowing him to converse with Alexander, Julius Caesar, Aristotle and others. On the island of Luggnagg he meets the Struldbrugg, who are immortals (> Immortality), though they become senile in their 80s. Gulliver's Travels was immediately popular and spawned many Sequels by Other Hands, starting with the pseudonymous Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, Vol. 3 (1727) as by Lemuel Gulliver, which took Gulliver back to Brobdingnag.

JS was a prolific essayist and pamphleteer. His early career, as secretary for Sir William Temple (1628-1699) for most of the period 1689-1699, brought him into contact with the work of Charles Perrault, who had introduced an argument about the relative merits of ancient and modern writers in a series of books starting in 1688. Temple extended the argument in his essay "Upon the Ancient and Modern Learning" (1690; in Miscellania 1692), which JS would have transcribed, and this prompted JS to write the Fable "An Account of a Battel Between the Antient and Modern Books in St James's Library" (written circa 1697; in A Tale of a Tub 1704; vt A Full and True Account of the Battel Fought last Friday between the Antient and the Modern Books in St James's Library 1710 chap), usually known as "The Battle of the Books", in which the authors of renowned books take sides in a battle over the cause. JS may well have been the first writer in English to use the fairytale technique of Perrault in A Tale of a Tub (written 1696; 1704) which has at its core a simple narrative of a father who has triplets and, upon his death, leaves them each a coat which will grow with them and last them all their lives, provided they don't change it. This Frame Story allowed JS to digress into a series of discourses in which he could attack the establishment. It was the publication of this work (albeit anonymous) that established JS's reputation.

JS used aspects of the fantastic in other Satires, such as A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit (1704 in A Tale of a Tub; 1710 chap), where he challenged the growing interest in metaphysics, and most notably in the creation of the character Isaac Bickerstaff, who wrote a series of mock prophecies in Predictions for the Ensuing Year (1708 chap), the first of his Bickerstaff Papers. [MA]

further reading: Gulliver's Travels, The Tale of a Tub, and The Battle of the Books (coll 1919); other compendia of interest are A Tale of a Tub, The Battle of the Books and Other Satires (coll 1909; rev vt A Tale of a Tub and other Satires 1975) ed Kathleen Williams; Jonathan Swift (coll 1984) ed Angus Ross and David Woolley.

Jonathan Swift


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.