A Colossal Disaster: Film Adaptations Of Gulliver’s Travels By Jonathan Swift

There were 55 versions of Gulliver’s Travels written between 1727 and 1985. Some for adults, while others for young children, yet, none of these are like the original story. In this century, readers face the struggle of reading a novel, then discovering when they watch the film, it is often different from the book, that is why we are looking at the original Gulliver’s Travels which was written by Jonathan swift, and two film adaptions of the novel, then we will compare them all, as well as look at some general information about film adaptations, issues that may come up during the process and finish with a discussion of all the topics at hand and how the original story was altered in the movie which unfortunately is the case with many other adaptions.

Summary of the original text

Part one

Gulliver’s Travels was written by Jonathan Swift in 1726. There have been many adaptations of the original text since then. Before looking at a couple of adaptations, we will take the time to review the original novel, with paying close attention to parts one and two since the 1939 and 2010 adaptions focus solely on these. At the beginning of part 1, Lemuel Gulliver started out as a Surgeon on a vessel for Captain William Prichard (Swift 65). This ship was blown into a rock, and all of his shipmates died, while he made it to an island and met some extremely small human beings who called themselves Lilliputians who at first tried to capture him. They viewed him as a hero after he prevented an attack from some Blefusculians. After spending some time with them, it was clear that he did not fit in. One day, the maid of honour fell asleep, and the imperial majesty’s apartment caught on fire, the Lilliputians tried to help, but they couldn’t get the water fast enough so Gulliver pees on the castle and with having an extremely political setting, they were often upset by Gulliver’s actions even if he tried to help. In the end, Gulliver was Impeached, and chose to leave Lilliput before they could try him for his crimes and go to Blefuscu. While in Blefuscu, he sees a boat floating on the sea, and swims to it so that he can bring it back to the land and fix it so that he could leave, a month later he was ready to sail.

Part two

The following is a description of part two, after returning home, Gulliver did not want to stay at home for very long, so he decided to go sailing once again. He lands on the island Brobdingnag, a land full of extremely tall giants where he is taken care of by a young girl named Glumdalclitch (Bauer and Cregan-Reid 2018). When the queen got word of Gulliver, she wanted him to come to the castle, where Gulliver was purchased and had to stay with Glumdalclitch. Gulliver tells the king of the world where he is from as well as how a gun would benefit the army, but the king does not like this idea. At the end of part two, he is picked up by a large eagle, and then is saved by normal sized human beings.

Parts Three and Four

To prove a point that adaptions are rarely have the same story line, it was decided that parts three and four of the original novel will not be talked about, this is due to the simple fact that they aren’t even mentioned in the movies.

Multiple film adaptions of the novel


The 1939 version of Gulliver’s Travels directed by Dave Flescher is a cartoon adaption of the book. It starts with Gulliver in a boat by himself stuck in the middle of a bad storm, and when the boat wrecks, he swims to the island and falls asleep. Gabby, a small Lillipunian finds Gulliver on the beach, and when he runs back to tell the king, he is busy signing a marriage contract for his daughter and the prince of Blefscue. This all fell apart when the king of Blesfecue wanted Blefscues song played at the wedding, and he declares war and keeps his spies in Lilliput. While this is happening, Gabby repeatedly tries to tell the king a giant is on the beach, finally the King listens to him, and everyone gets together to go see the giant. They tie him, lift him and place him on a cart to move him outside of the castle in order to show the king. They started to take his things including: pocket watch, telescope and a gun which was accidentally fired and ended up waking him up; this is when he discovers that he is tied up.

At this time we are half way through the movie, and the Blefuscians start to attack, but run away when they see Gulliver, this impresses the king, and everyone is happy that he is there to protect him so they try to show their appreciation by making him clothes, as well as giving him a hair cut and shave. King Bumbo of Blefscue sent a note to his spies to get rid of the giant, they decide that they will use his gun, and meanwhile Gulliver is celebrating with the Lillipucians. Gulliver puts some of the Lillipucians to bed, the next day he is walking with Gabby and the spies accidentally set a fire, and he uses water to put it out from the river. After this, Gabby catches the prince with the princess, but Gulliver stops the fight and rescues the prince and brings him to the princess; this is when they create a new song for both nations. King Bumbo sends a note to his spies, tells them that he is attacking in the morning, but the spies do not get it, Gabby does, and he tells everyone heads to the beach to protect Lilliput while the spies stay and kidnap Gabby. Gulliver tries to settle the situation, but the Blefuscians attack, so he grabs all of the ropes and drags them to shore, but the spies were waiting for him and the prince sees they have set the gun up so he tries to save Gulliver and falls off the cliff. Gulliver picks him up and pretends that he has died to prove that war is bad, but he was alive, and they all started singing the new song of both nations and build him a ship to go home.


The second adaptation that we will talk about is the 2010 version of Gulliver’s Travels; Lemuel Gulliver being played by Jack Black. Weinman states that it “is yet another opportunity for Hollywood to ruin a classic book” Gevirtz tells us that in this version of the film the main character, Gulliver, works as a mail clerk at a New York newspaper office and is sent off to the Bermuda Triangle by his boss. He goes through “an inter-dimensional portal” to Lilliput (Weinman 1). He discovers once he wakes up that little people have tied him down, and he tries to escape, but the Lillipucians bring him back down and he passes out once he hits the ground. He is chained up after he meets the royal family, and there was another prisoner Horatio who had flirted with the princess. Blefucian spies sneak into Lilliput and light a fire to distract everyone so that they can kidnap the princess, but Gulliver ends up saving her and putting out the fire with urine to save the king. The Lilliputians throw a banquet for their hero, and he ends up lying saying that everyone from his land looks up to him and he is the president. They welcome him and look for his boat; but in the meantime he tries to help Horatio get a date with the princess until they find the vessel and take him there. He found his phone, and listened to messages from Darcy, she is mad that he plagiarised and thinks that he didn’t even go on the trip; this in turn makes him upset.

In the second half of the movie, Gulliver is promoted to General of the Lilliputian army, soon after the Blefuscians attack and he stops them. Now Vice General Edward, he is filled with anger after the princess rejects him and seeing everyone worship Gulliver so he goes to the Blefuscians to asks them for help to build a robot so he could get rid of him. Vice General Edward ends up challenging Gulliver to a duel, and due to the fact he had a robot suit, General Edward won, and Lemuel was vanished to an island of giants. After being played with as a doll by a little girl, Gulliver is rescued by Haratio, during which the princess is kidnapped again and Darcy arrives to Lilliput. Gulliver rescues Darcy, fights vice General Edward once again, and wins after Haration helps him. The princess is allowed to marry Haratio, Gulliver gets together with Darcy and they make their way back to New York.


As the reader has had time to review the original novel as well as the film adaptions of Gulliver’s Travels, it would appropriate to address some of the differences in the story that have been betrayed in the movie. Let us start with the fact that the 2010 adaptation has been completely modernized, so much so that Gulliver lives in New York and works in a mail room while the real Lemuel Gulliver was a Surgeon on a ship. In both adaptions, Gulliver was by himself when he was on a ship, while in the novel, he actually had shipmates who had died in the wreck. This may have been changed so that the story would be better suited towards children. Maybe that’s also why a huge inter-dimensional portal leading to Lillipucia was added to the story line. Or what about the fact that half the names of the Lilliputians are changed? The 1939 adaptation adds a whole part on how the town crier Gabby finds Gulliver on the beach and the king is too busy marrying his daughter to the prince of Blefuscia, then finally they go down and tie him up. Why is it that the whole reason that the Lilliputians and the Blefuscians are at war in the 1939 adaptation over a song that is to be played at a wedding! Not to mention the spies that were sent to kill Gulliver by the king of Blefescue. In the novel, Gulliver did not have a best friend named Horatio that he helped get together with the princess. Both adaptations tell us that Gulliver is a hero in the end, meanwhile in the novel, he is somewhat of a jerk (Weinman 3), and even starts to withdraw from the world and slowly go mad (Stallcup 97). Must we go on, the reader must have sufficient enough evidence to see that movie adaptions are never the same as the original novel.

Literature to film adaptions

General information

Film is what brings the picture into reality for someone, creating a relationship that is direct and close up to them. Film makes fewer demands on the individuals mind, as they are not forced to use their imagination (McFarlane 15), Dean states that there are three types of film adaptation, literal, loose and faithful. The first is literal, which is a play preformed as a film, and is the strong expression when it comes to literal adaptation. Next we have a loose adaptation, in which the creators of the movie have taken the raw information of the book and recreate it how they please. Finally we have the faithful film adaptation, when the movie is created so that it is as close as it can be to the book. There are six steps when it comes to adapting a novel into a film, and the first is that the maker of the film must pick a story that is captivating to its audience, and can be put on screen. Weinman states that Gulliver’s Travels is an easy pick as it appeals to both children and adults, as well as apply to both literary scholars and children. Next the producer must calculate the cost of the movie to see if he can afford to make it. Thirdly, the producer must think about whether the movie has been made like his or hers idea before, and if so, that is probably not the best route due to copyright issues. After the third step we must try to sell your product privately, in order to obtain the finances for the project. The fifth step is practical work, adapting the novel to film, then making it, and the production of the product. Lastly, reviewing whether the film would be acceptable to the audience as an adaptation of the novel.

Issues that come up during the process

A film adaption of a novel can be a long process, and there are many issues that could come up. The reader may be reminded that a film is composed of multiple tracks, whether it be picture, audio or other media types; matching these tracks together to follow the exact sequence of events of a book is extremely difficult. At the same time literature lets your mind wander, it forces the reader to use their imagination and when that same person sees the movie version of the novel, they are viewing someone else’s interpretation of that same story, and so it seems as though that it was different from what they thought it would be (McFarlane 15). This may cause frustration for the reader, but at the same time they have to remember that it is difficult for the screenwriter to translate the narrative of a novel to the screen perfectly, especially if they have to be weary of copyright so they add a touch of originality at the same time. If a novel has a strong first person narrator, it becomes hard to translate to screen as voice and viewpoint can become a problem.


Stallcup states that there are several reasons for adaptation, whether it be for a child so that they could understand the story, or just to make the novel more appearing to its adult audience. Over the past 300 years, the novel Gulliver’s Travels has turned into more of a book for small children, and says that it is not surprising to her that this is what the story has become. Although when reading the original novel, the reader can see that it is very graphic. Nevertheless, it may be important to remind the reader that the whole argument of this paper is that the film versions of Gulliver’s Travels novel do not adequately tell the original story, and how this is unfortunately this is the case with many other adaptions. This is the exact reason why this article took the time to explore some of the issues that could come up for the time makers in the process.


In this century, readers must face the struggle of reading a novel, then discovering that when they go to watch the film, it is often different from the book, that is why we will be looking at Gulliver’s Travels which was originally written by Jonathan swift, and the 1939 and 2010 adaptations, and a comparison of them all as well as general information about film adaptations and issues that may come up during the process, lastly, we will have a discussion surrounding all topics at hand and how the original story is altered which unfortunately is the case with many other adaptions.

Works Cited:

  • Bauer, Patricia, and Vybarr Cregan-Reid. “Gulliver's Travels.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 15 Nov. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Gullivers-Travels.
  • Dean, John. 'Adapting History and Literature Into Movies.' American Studies Journal, Vol. 53, No. 53, 2009, pp. 7
  • Gevirtz, Karen B. 'Tidying as we go: Constructing the Eighteenth Century through Adaptation in Becoming Jane, Gulliver's Travels, and Crusoe.' Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, vol. 43, 2014, pp. 219.
  • Gulliver’s Travels. Directed by Dave Flescher, Paramount Pictures, 1939.
  • Gulliver's Travels. Directed by Rob Letterman, 20th Century Fox, 2010.
  • McFarlane, Brian. 'Reading Film and Literature.' The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen 1 (2007): 154-166.
  • Stallcup, Jackie E. 'Inescapable Bodies, Disquieting Perception: Why Adults Seek to Tame and Harness Swift's Excremental Satire in Gulliver's Travels.' Children's Literature in Education, vol. 35, no. 2, 2004, pp. 87-111.
  • Swift, Jonathan. Gullivers Travels. Edited by Allan Ingram, Broadview, 2012.
  • Weinman, Jaime J. “Gulliver’s Traumas.” Maclean’s, vol. 123, no. 50, Dec. 2010, pp. 62–64.
  • Williams, Kathleen M. 'Gulliver's Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.' Elh, vol. 18, no. 4, 1951, pp. 275.  
16 December 2021
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