Houyhnhnm

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Houyhnhnms are a race of intelligent horses described in the last part of Jonathan Swift's satirical Gulliver's Travels. The name is pronounced either /ˈhuːɪnəm/ or /ˈhwɪnəm/.[1]

Houyhnhnms contrast strongly with the Yahoos, savage humanoid creatures: whereas the Yahoos represent all that is bad about humans, Houyhnhnms have a stable, calm, reliable and rational society. Gulliver much prefers the Houyhnhnms' company to the Yahoos', even though the latter are biologically closer to him.

Interpretation of the Houyhnhnms has been vexatious. It is possible, for example, to regard them as a veiled criticism by Swift of the British Empire's treatment of non-whites as lesser humans, and it is similarly possible to regard Gulliver's preference (and immediate division of Houyhnhnms into color-based hierarchies) as absurd and the sign of his self-deception. In a modern context it can be seen as presenting an early example of animal rights concerns, especially in Gulliver's account of how horses are cruelly treated in his society and the reversal of roles, and a possible inspiration for Pierre Boulle's novel Planet of the Apes.

Book IV of Gulliver's Travels is the keystone, in some ways, of the entire work, and critics have traditionally responded to the subject of whether Gulliver is insane (and therefore just another victim of Swift's satire) or not by questioning whether or not the Houyhnhnms are truly admirable.[citation needed] Gulliver loves the land and is obedient to a race that is not like his own. The Houyhnhnm society is based upon reason, and only upon reason, and therefore the horses practice eugenics based on their analyses of benefit and cost. They have no religion and their sole morality is the defense of reason, and therefore they are not particularly moved by pity or a belief in the intrinsic value of life. Gulliver himself, in their company, builds the sails of his skiff from "Yahoo skins." Examples of the Houyhnhnms' lack of passion surface mainly during their annual meeting. A visitor apologizes for being late to the meeting as her husband had died shortly before and she had to make the proper funeral arrangements, which consists of burial at sea. She eats her lunch like all other Houyhynms and is not affected at all by her loss, rationalizing that gone is gone. A further example of the lack of humanity and emotion in the Houyhnhnms is that their laws demand that each couple produce two children, one male and one female. In the event that a marriage produced two offspring of the same sex, the parents would take their children to the annual meeting and trade them with a couple who produced two children of the opposite sex. This latter part was viewed by some Swift scholars[who?] as his spoofing and or criticizing the notion that the "ideal" family produces children of both sexes.

On the one hand, the Houyhnhnms have an orderly and peaceful society. They possess philosophy and have a language that is entirely pure of political and ethical nonsense. They possess, for example, no word for a lie (and must substitute a phrase — to say a thing which is not). They also have a form of art that is derived from nature. Outside of Gulliver's Travels, Swift had expressed longstanding concern over the corruption of the English language, and he had proposed language reform. He had also, in Battle of the Books and in general in A Tale of a Tub, expressed a preference for the Ancients (Classical authors) because their art was based directly upon nature, and not upon other art.

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