Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Small Post About Being Brobdingnagian

Brobdingnag is a fictional land in Jonathan Swift's satirical novel Gulliver's Travels occupied by giants. Lemuel Gulliver visits the land after the ship on which he is travelling is blown off course and he is separated from a party exploring the unknown land. More plot details can be found under A Voyage to Brobdingnag. The adjective Brobdingnagian has come to describe anything of colossal size.

The map printed as part of Part II of Gulliver's Travels appears to indicate that Brobdingnag is located on the northwest coast of California. In the book Gulliver describes how the ship reached a latitude of five degrees south latitude, northward of Madagascar before it is blown by strong winds "a little to the east of the Molucca Islands, and about three degrees northwards of the line [equator]". From there the ship is driven by a storm "about five hundred leagues to the east". This would place the ship in Micronesia. Lemuel Gulliver claims to have discovered the land in 1703.

Brobdingnag is claimed to be a continent-sized peninsula six thousand miles long and three thousand miles wide, which based on the latitude and longitude given by Gulliver just before he shipwrecks there, would suggests it covers all of Alaska, the Yukon, the Bering Sea, and a small section of eastern Siberia. Further, it is claimed that a range of volcanoes up to 30 miles (48 km) high separates the country from unknown land to the northeast, and the people have never been able to develop ocean-going ships. Lorbrulgrud is claimed to be the capital with the king having a seaside palace at Flanflasnic.

Swift was highly skeptical about the reliability of travel writings and the unlikely geographic descriptions parody many unreliable travel books published at the time which Percy Adams describes as "travel lies" . The drawings in Gulliver's travels are clearly based on cartographer Herman Moll's New Correct Map of the Whole World.

Though some historians site Northern California as the likely setting for Brobdingnag the Western coastline of the contiguous United States is geographically smooth and it isn’t until one arrives at the Southwest corner of Canada that any geographical features matching Herman Moll’s New Correct Map of the Whole World are found. Using Herman Moll’s map as a guide, Vancouver Island seems a more likely location for Brobdingnag with the large river delta to the south likely the effluence of the Columbia River in Northern Oregon. Vancouver Island’s trees rival the size of California’s and British Columbia is the legendary home of giants such as the Sasquatch and Dzunukwa.

The people of Brobdingnag are described as giants who are as tall as a church steeple and whose stride is ten yards. All of the other animals and plants, and even natural features such as rivers and even hail, are in proportion. The rats are the size of large dogs and the flies are the size of birds, for example. This also means that the country is far more dangerous for people of our size, as evidenced by Gulliver using his sword far more often here—namely, on attacking vermin—than in any other of the strange countries he visited; fortunately for Gulliver, the people are civilized. A splacknuck is an animal about 6 feet (1.8 m) long, to which Gulliver is compared in size, although it is never explained which animal it corresponds to (probably a rodent of some sort). Fossil records are claimed to show that the ancestors of the Brobdingnagians were once even larger. The King of Brobdingnag argues that the race has deteriorated.

Gulliver relates that, in the past, there were battles between the monarchy, nobility and people resulting in a number of civil wars ending in a treaty. The monarchy is based on reason. The King of Brobdingnag finds European institutions and behaviour wanting in comparison with his country's. Based on Gulliver's descriptions of their behaviour, the King describes Europeans as "the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." Swift intended the moral relationship between Europeans and Brobdingnagians to be as disproportionate as the physical relationship. The King of Brobdingnag is considered to be based on Sir William Steele, a statesman and writer, whom Swift worked for early in his career.

The army of Brobdingnag is claimed to be large with 207,000 troops including 32,000 cavalry although the society has no known enemies. The local nobility commands the forces; firearms and gunpowder are unknown to them. The King castigates Gulliver when he tries to interest the statesman in the use of gunpowder.

The laws of Brobdingnag are simple and easy to follow. There is little civil litigation. Murderers are beheaded.

Brobdingnagian culture consists of history, poetry, mathematics and ethics; mathematics being a particular strength. Printing has been long known but libraries are relatively small. The king has the largest library, which contains a thousand volumes. The Brobdingnagians favour a clear literary style.

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