Wednesday, 22 August 2007

An Atlas of Imaginary Worlds 7: Lands of Gulliver

I think I must be getting well into my middle-aged crisis, thinking of the saying 'After his child, the person a man most disappoints is himself'. I know that one day all fathers realise their children despise them, but before that time, they probably have come to hate themselves. So, to escape such sentiments I am busily burying myself away in my collecting maps of places that people have imagined. I thought that after all the stuff that some people on the internet believe is real, I would turn to some places which people all accept do not exist. I was also thinking about what I had written about Plato using Atlantis as a place he knew did not really exist but could act as a model for the kind of society he wanted and this brought me to Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and his most famous work, 'Gulliver's Travels' [published as 'Vol. IV of the Author's Works Including Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and Then a Captain of Several Ships'] (1726) which features a number of contrasting imaginary lands to make satirical points on contemporary society especially of Britain (at the time rulers of Ireland where Swift was from) and Europe more broadly as well as the long-titled explorers' accounts of the time. In turn, his character, Lemuel Gulliver travels to Lilliput where he is a giant (12 times larger than the people there), to Brobdingnag where is tiny (12 times smaller than the people there). There is satire on the reasons why people go to war (over which way to eat an egg) and about treatment of strangers: he gets better treated as a pet in Brobingnag than as a giant in Lilliput.

This map shows Sumatra in the North East and Van Diemen's Land (i.e. Tasmania) in the South, and as you can see, Australia which had only been partially mapped at the time is missing. Belfuscu was the rival to Lilliput which Gulliver seized the fleet of.

Brobdingnag is shown as being an peninsula of the West coast of North America. New Albion was a region of what is now northern California claimed for England in 1579 by Sir Francis Drake, putting Brobdingnag on the coast somewhere probably just into Oregon or the very northern part of California.

In the next book he goes to Laputa, a flying city where all the theoretical work, predominantly in linking music and geometry is not put to much good use, though they do bomb cities from the air. He is then lowered to Balnibarbi where people after having visited Laputa decided to reverse direction in science and the arts, especially agriculture and building, and have left the country a wasteland. On Glubbdubdrib Gulliver meets a man who can bring the dead back to life and he learns that many of the assumptions he made about history are wrong. In Luggnagg he meets a tyrranous king and immortal people called Struldbrugs who still age and so lose all their faculties though they cannot die.

This map is rather confused, but not too bad given the catography of the early 18th century. It puts Japan South rather than East and North East of Korea (here shown as 'Lesso') and the Japanese northern island of Hokkaido has been merged into mainland, unless the large island of Sakhalin which is North of Japan has been mixed up with the Korean peninsula.

Gulliver then goes to Japan with a Dutch ship and this bit of the book, though not actually based on any experience by Swift actually reflects on Japan of the time. The Dutch are shown as being compelled to stamp on a crucifix to demonstrate they are not trying to introduce Christianity to Japan. The Jesuits had been closely linked to the Spanish and Portuguese who had come to the Japan in the 16th century and had contributed to the instability of the country, partly through supplying guns and because as Catholic powers had sought the expulsion of the Protestant Dutch from Japan and the Jesuits also wanted the removal of their Catholic rivals, the Franciscans. Christianity was banned in Japan in 1587 and all Jesuits expelled. In 1614 all foreign priests were expelled, all churches in Japan destroyed and all Japanese converts had to renounce their faith. To prove they had done this they had to stamp on a crucifix. This was repeated in 1616 with military action against those who resisted. Foreign books and travel abroad were banned in 1633 and from 1635 onwards on the Dutch were allowed to stay with one small base on the island of Deshima, and to be allowed this they had to give up all show of Christianity. It is a Dutchman who tries to get Gulliver to stamp on the crucifix when he has been exempted from this by the Japanese authorities. Thus, this bit is far less satiricial and more reflective of East Asian geo-politics of the time. It may also reflect Anglo-Dutch relations as England had had a Dutch King William of Orange 1688-1702; he was renowned for his fighting in Ireland (notably the Battle of the Boyne) and a love-hate relationship with the Dutch who had been both economic and military rivals in preceding decades. Before turning to writing full-time, Swift had been a clergyman.
Gulliver's last voyage is to the Country of the Houyhnhnms who are intelligent, talking horses who walk on two legs (similar to the pigs at the end of 'Animal Farm') while humans in the land are reduced to barbaric Yahoos.

Throughout the journeys Gulliver becomes increasingly bitter and rather depressed about the state of humanity. This may reflect the increasingly bad treatment he receives from the different crews who ship him around in each of the books, though in each location he meets at least one decent human. He is thought to have become mad by the end (something Swift was suspected of himself at times). In 'Gulliver's Travels' you see lots of discussion of the time, such as the use and application of science in an era of discovery, and its comparison with religion. In addition there is the whole 'nurture vs. nature' debate about human behaviour and whether the world is likely to become more civilised or more barbaric in what was a very turbulent time, often termed the Age of Enlightenment. Cook's voyages around the Pacific only occurred 1768-1779 and whilst there had been people crossing the region since the age of Magellan and Drake, it was still pretty much uncharted as was the West coast of North America and so ideal for locating the imaginary countries Swift puts in the books. Note that he travels on Portuguese and Dutch ships, these two countries and to a lesser extent Spain, being dominant Western imperial powers in Asia at the time.

These maps are produced by the contemporary illustrator Kim Coles, see the imwithsully blog on this site:
This map shows the Country of the Houyhnhnms as due South of South Africa.

A partial contemporary of Swift's was the German satirist Johann Andreas Schnebelin. No-one seems to know when he was born but he died in 1706. He published a book in 1694 called (which if I translate correctly) 'Maps explaining the Miracle Lands of the Utopias'. From this comes a continent around the land of Schlaraffenland. It is an idyllic world with good food and other luxuries easily available; there is a land of alcohol, an island of tobacco, a Great Empire of the Stomach, lands of games, the miserly, sluggardly, spendthrifty, the young, the old, the fools and of swearing amongst others. Schlaffen means 'to weaken' and given that there are the 'Unknown Countries of the Pious' on the edge of the map, the suggestion is that this an allegorical one and that these lands are what lead you away from piety. The best known map of these lands was produced by Johann Baptist Homann in 1716:

This probably shows more imagination than you find in the bulk of fantasy maps produced these days. Note the presence of not one but two inland seas! What also struck me was the style of this map which reminded me greatly of John Speed (1551/2-1629) a leading English cartographer responsible for maps of all sorts of places but probably best known are his map of England and Wales and of individual English and Welsh counties which you will find on the walls of middle class households across the UK. I include some examples below. They easily fit the style of fantasy maps, though they were accurate in their day. The ones shown are England & Wales as a whole, Buckinghamshire, Brecon (which is now part of the county of Powys), Anglesey (now Ynys Mon county) and the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man looks rather distended in this map. It is quite a bizarre place even now. It is a tax haven, it claims to have the oldest continuous parliament in the world, it has an annual motorcycle race on public roads which habitually kills people (riders and spectators), homosexuality is illegal on the island but corporal punishment is not and cats from the island naturally have no tails.

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