Houyhnhnms, Humans, Dufflepuds, and Narnians: The Voyages of Jonathan Swift and C.S. Lewis
Gulliver’s Travels has enjoyed a royal position among literature as the ultimate sea voyage novel for the past three centuries. Since its inception in 1726 by Irish author Jonathan Swift, the book itself tells readers “it has never been out of print” (Swift 2). This story’s reputation has cast an influential shadow over many tales and novels that have come after it, whether their authors meant this to be intentional or not. One of the tales in which Gulliver’s legacy resides is found in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the series of classic children’s novels that are known to be highly allegorical. The fifth volume of the Chronicles is titled The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and encompasses a yearlong exploratory sea voyage commanded by King Caspian of Narnia and two of the four sibling rulers of Narnia’s Golden Age, King Edmund the Just and Queen Lucy the Valiant, who are determined to find seven lords of Narnia that were banished to the insular outskirts of the kingdom by a treasonous former ruler. Gulliver’s adventures and those of the Dawn Treader’s crew have a very similar overarching plot: both main characters set sail to explore a series of mysterious, unknown, and secluded islands; both find strange beings and customs inhabiting the land; and both reluctantly return home with changed perspectives of their own culture. This is just the surface, and more parallels lurk in the stories’ details.
As Jared C. Lobdell rightly points out in his essay, the works of “Fielding, Defoe, and Swift- and Lewis like them-…are examples of ‘Englishness’” (Lobdell 214). The character of Eustace Scrubb, cousin to Lucy and Edmund, can be described at the beginning of Dawn Treader as nothing but an “up-to-date…advanced…vegetarian, non-smoker… teetotaler” (Lewis 9) lover of England who believes “it would make anyone sick to hear Caspian showing off his funny little toy boat as if it was the Queen Mary” (Lewis 33). His attitude towards foreign ways parallels Gulliver’s mindset during his earlier voyages, where he often looks down upon others as inferiors whose “defect[s] among them…have risen from their ignorance, by not having hitherto reduced politics into a science, as the more acute wits of Europe have done” (Swift 269).
While Gulliver’s English haughtiness is not addressed until his discussions with the Houyhnhnm master during his final adventure, Eustace’s annoying refusal to embrace anything Narnian is brought front and center in the text. Funnily enough, the change of heart that both of these character experience eventually is accompanied by a change in physical appearance. After seven chapters of moaning about his forced inclusion on this expedition, Eustace “sleeps on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, [and] he becom[es] a dragon himself” (Lewis 87). Once he has been transformed back into his human self, he has come to respect the ways of his Narnian shipmates and “it was…clear to everyone that Eustace’s character had been rather improved by becoming a dragon” (Lewis 95). Gulliver’s change also turns in favor of the foreign company he resides with when he begins adopting the mannerisms of the Houyhnhnms, “trot[ting] like a horse” (Swift 565) and neighing while he speaks. This pleases his horse peers but alienates him once he returns to England.
One of the most obvious similarities between Gulliver’s Travels and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the number of strange beings that both parties run into while on their voyages. C.S. Lewis himself mentioned that a “lavishly illustrated copy of Gulliver’s Travels…fascinated and delighted [him with] the humanized animals” (Schakel 137). A very strong parallel can be drawn between the Dufflepuds that the Narnian crew encounters while sailing near the end of the Eastern Ocean and the Laputans that Gulliver finds after being cast away by pirates. Physical appearances of both beings are far from ordinary. Laputans appear to Gulliver as cross-eyed, “their heads…all reclined, either to the right, or the left” (Swift 315) with clothing decorated with celestial and musical images. Likewise, the Dawn Treader’s crew can see that each Dufflepud “had a single thick leg right under it…and at the end of it, a single enormous foot” (Lewis 153).
The ridiculousness of these people’s appearances seem to be a physical symbol of their strange and counterintuitive logic, both of which are described with numerous examples in their stories. Upon his visit to the academy in Lagado, Gulliver observes researchers “extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers”, developing methods to build houses roof-first, and mixing paint colors based on smell and texture alone (Swift 357-60). These absurd practices are as equally impractical as to how the Dufflepuds function. They are “all for washing up the plates and knives before dinner…they said it saved time afterwards” and they have been seen “planting boiled potatoes to save cooking them when…dug up” (Lewis 151). Both races of people are left in the stories completely unchanged by their encounters with more rational outsiders, content on continuing their odd practices.
The topic of greed is addressed in both of these novels, and both are dealt with in ways that deeply disturb the characters. While traveling in Luggnagg, Gulliver hears of the struldbrugs- a person born among the Luggnaggians marked from birth as an immortal. His mind immediately runs wild with the plans he would have if born with this supposed gift, exclaiming that he would “procure [him]self riches”, and “be a living treasure of knowledge and wisdom” (Swift 420-1). The fanciful ravings come to an abrupt halt when the natives inform naïve Gulliver of the mental decay, physical deterioration, and rejection that the immortals experience that cause them to become a great burden on society. Gulliver’s immediate backpedaling from his presumptions leave him feeling that his “keep appetite for perpetuity of life was much abated” (Swift 431). This same frenzied reaction happens in Voyage of the Dawn Treader as Caspian and Edmund discover that the water that fills a lake island turns any object to solid gold, including the body of one of the lost seven lords. Upon Caspian’s realization that “the King who owned this island would soon be the richest of all the Kings of the world” (Lewis 118), Edmund turns on his friend and attempts to draw his sword. The hasty greed that welled up inside these Narnian kings is very similar to the sudden temptation that Gulliver has at the idea of immortality, which he also equates with extreme wealth.
The final moments of each book are bittersweet. As Donald Glover put it, “the action is centered not in the search, but rather in the irrepressible attraction of the sought after” (Glover 155). For Gulliver, his life will never return to normal because his view of humans has been warped during his time observing the humanoid Yahoos, and he spends the remainder of his existence mourning his exclusion from the country of the Houyhnhnms. Caspian, reminded of the kingdom he rules, laments the end of his journeys while crying, “Oh, I can’t bear it…I’m to go back. Alone. And at once” (Lewis 216). Both The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Gulliver’s Travels have a highly allegorical and transformative motif that leave both the reader and the main characters craving more adventures and exposed to some of the same inconvenient truths.
Glover, Donald E. C.S. Lewis: The Art of Enchantment. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981. Print
Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1957. Print.
Lobdell, Jared C. “The Ransom Stories and Their Eighteenth-Century Ancestry.” Words and Story in C.S. Lewis. Ed. Schakel and Huttar. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991. 213-31. Print.
Schakel, Peter J. Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. Print.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. United States: Project Gutenberg, 2009. Ebook.