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Two-minute tales from history, myth and fiction, accompanied by word games, grammar games and writing practice, all based on traditional school textbooks.

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The Language of Balnibarbi
Music: Francesco Geminiani
Lemuel Gulliver finds that the people of Balnibarbi just don’t appreciate their hardworking academics.
By Jonathan Swift
(1667-1745)

THE other project was, a scheme for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great advantage in point of health, as well as brevity. For it is plain, that every word we speak is, in some degree, a diminution of our lunge by corrosion, and, consequently, contributes to the shortening of our lives.

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The Peculiar Customs of Lilliput
Music: John Stanley
The people of Lilliput are strangely small, but their ideas are bizarre in a big way.
By Jonathan Swift
(1667-1745)

SHALL say but little at present of their learning, which, for many ages, has flourished in all its branches among them: but their manner of writing is very peculiar, being neither from the left to the right, like the Europeans, nor from the right to the left, like the Arabians, nor from up to down, like the Chinese, but aslant, from one corner of the paper to the other, like ladies in England.

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AZ Index

See a complete A-Z List of all the stories on this website.

Featured Topic
Tagged ‘Extracts from Literature’ (90 posts)
page 1
1 Alice gets an English Lesson
By Lewis Carroll
(1832-1898)
Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, and it turns out that she has been using words wrong all her life.
2 The Language of Balnibarbi
By Jonathan Swift
(1667-1745)
Lemuel Gulliver finds that the people of Balnibarbi just don’t appreciate their hardworking academics.
3 The Start of a Beautiful Friendship
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(1859-1930)
Dr Watson is looking for rooms in London, and an old colleague suggests someone who might be able to help him.
4 Judicial Iniquity
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
John Stuart Mill reminds us that governments and the courts must never be allowed to criminalise matters of belief or opinion.
5 The Bashful Young Gentleman
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Charles Dickens sketches for us the shyly ingratiating youth who gets himself in a tangle in the presence of Beauty.
6 Viola Draws a Blank
By William Shakespeare
(1564-1616)
Viola tries to tell Orsino, Duke of Illyria, that his beloved Olivia is not the only woman deserving of his attention.
page 2
7 A World of Differences
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Emma tries to reconcile her father to the unaccountable tastes of his nearest and dearest.
8 Twelve Poor Men and True
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Charles Dickens explains the thinking behind Jesus Christ’s choice of friends.
9 The Train of a Life
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
In Charles Dickens’s tale set around Mugby Junction, a man sees his life flash by like a ghostly train.
10 Birds of Paradise
By Cynewulf
(8th century)
Northumbrian poet Cynewulf paints a word-picture of heaven and the seraph-band that swoops and soars before the throne.
11 Mountain of Light
By Saint Bede of Jarrow
(672-735)
St Bede says that Christ’s Transfiguration should remind us that we live in two worlds at the same time.
12 Wild Goose Chase
By Sir Walter Scott
(1771-1832)
Sir Walter Scott warned that schoolchildren must not expect to be entertained all the time.
page 3
13 Diplomatic Immunity
By Sir James Melville
(1535–1617)
Sir James Melville eavesdrops on Queen Elizabeth I’s music practice, and incurs Her Majesty’s displeasure.
14 The Convert
By Harrison Weir
(1824-1906)
Victorian cat-lover Harrison Weir launches into his favourite subject, but finds his audience growing restive.
15 A Curious Incident
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(1859-1930)
Sherlock Holmes has been engaged to find a missing thoroughbred, but seems more interested in some lame sheep and an idle dog.
16 Dr Johnson and the Critic’s Ambush
By James Boswell
(1740-1795)
A literary man tries to trick Samuel Johnson into an honest opinion, which was neither necessary nor very rewarding.
17 A Solemn Duty
By Ann Radcliffe
(1764-1823)
Monsieur St Aubert falls seriously ill on a walking tour with his daughter Emily, and before the end asks an unexpected favour.
18 The (Fairly) Honest Lawyer
By Rafael Sabatini
(1865-1947)
Andre-Louis Moreau lives for vengeance on the master swordsman who killed his friend.
page 4
19 The Sneeze of History
By Leo Tolstoy
(1828-1910)
It was the opinion of Leo Tolstoy that even Napoleon was never master of his own destiny.
20 Pure Selfishness
By H. G. Wells
(1866-1946)
The brilliant but dangerously obsessive Dr Griffin decides that ‘the end justifies the means’.
21 Passover to Pentecost
By Saint Bede of Jarrow
(672-735)
St Bede explains how the Exodus and the Ten Commandments are related to Easter and Whitsuntide.
22 One False Step
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Louisa Musgrove thought she had hit on a sure method of winning Captain Wentworth’s affections.
23 The Living Past
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(1859-1930)
High above the roof of the Amazonian rainforest, Professor Challenger sees something that eerily reminds him of home.
24 Love at First Bite
By P. G. Wodehouse
(1881-1975)
Sam felt that his epic romance might have started more promisingly.
page 5
25 Beginner’s Luck
By Mark Twain
(1835-1910)
As proof that ‘Providence protects children and idiots’, Mark Twain recalls his first taste of ten-pin bowling.
26 The Last Commandment
By Cynewulf
(8th century)
Northumbrian poet Cynewulf imagines the farewell between Jesus and his Apostles, forty days after his resurrection.
27 Happy Government
By Anthony Trollope
(1815-1882)
Lady Glencora scolds the Earl of Brentford for political inactivity, but he warns her to be careful what she wishes for.
28 Sense and Sensitivity
By Richard Whately
(1787-1863)
Jane Austen wrote as a Christian, but all the better for doing so unobtrusively.
29 Education of the Heart
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
For Jane Austen, the best education a father can give to his child is to befriend her.
30 The Blessing of Disguise
By Sir Walter Scott
(1771-1832)
A mysterious knight and an equally mysterious outlaw agree to preserve one another’s incognito.
page 6
31 Mr Ivery Gets Away
By John Buchan
(1875-1940)
Richard Hannay tracks a German spy down to a French château, but Hannay’s sense of fair play gives his enemy a chance.
32 Pangur Bán
By Anonymous (Irish Monk)
(9th century)
A 9th century Irish monk scribbled some verses about a beloved cat into his copy book.
33 Tamed by Wisdom, Freed by Grace
By Elfric of Eynsham
(955-1010)
Abbot Elfric expounds a Palm Sunday text to explain how Christianity combines orderly behaviour with intelligent and genuine liberty.
34 Redeeming Time
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Pip Pirrip never misses a moment of visiting time with Abel Magwitch, the convict who made him into a gentleman, in the prison hospital.
35 Breaking Death
By Elfric of Eynsham
(955-1010)
For Jesus Christ to step down alive from his cross would have been a mighty miracle, but not the mightiest.
36 The Six Leaps of Faith
By Cynewulf
(8th century)
The eighth-century English bishop and poet Cynewulf explores a prophecy from the Song of Solomon.
page 7
37 At Heaven’s Gate
By Cynewulf
(8th century)
The eighth-century English bishop and poet Cynewulf takes us to the threshold of God’s holy city, and gives us a choice.
38 Guardian of Peace
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
J. S. Mill argues that free trade has done more to put an end to war than any political union or military alliance.
39 Annunciation
By Cynewulf
(8th century)
Cynewulf reflects on the mystery of the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary.
40 The Cats of Harrison Weir
A Victorian artist and avid bird-watcher banished cats from his country cottage, but soon wished he hadn’t.
41 The Firstborn Liberty
By John Milton
(1632-1704)
John Milton (of ‘Paradise Lost’ fame) urged Parliament not to fall into bad old habits of censorship, whatever their fears may be.
42 Inquire Within
By John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873)
Philosopher and social activist John Stuart Mill discusses the most liberating kind of education.
page 8
43 Collateral Damage
By John Buchan
(1875-1940)
Richard Hannay reflects on the innocent lives lost, when the lust for power or the desire for revenge makes us less than human.
44 Marooned!
By Robert Louis Stevenson
(1850-1894)
Jim Hawkins, on a remote desert island, has escaped pirates only to be caught by a shadowy figure among the trees.
45 Tom and Terrier
By Jerome K. Jerome
(1859-1927)
A fox terrier spies what looks like a hapless victim – until he gets up close.
46 Well Out Of It
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Anne Elliot is mortified to hear Frederick Wentworth’s opinion of her, but manages to find comfort in his words.
47 Sweet and Sour
By Samuel Johnson
(1709-1784)
The great Dr Johnson argues that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
48 Kindergarten Politics
By John Buchan
(1875-1940)
John Buchan didn’t think much of our ‘new manners’ in foreign policy during the 1920s.
page 9
49 The Duel
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Sir Mulberry Hawk’s coarse conduct towards Kate Nickleby has awoken a spark of decency in Lord Frederick Verisopht.
50 One Last Question
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
English lawyer Sydney Carton goes to the guillotine in place of a French aristocrat.
51 The White Queen’s Riddle
By Lewis Carroll
(1832-1898)
Alice was set a poetical test of wits by the kindly (but like all the other characters, utterly maddening) White Queen.
52 A Perfect Combination of Imperfections
By Charlotte Brontë
(1816-1855)
Jane Eyre meets a not very handsome stranger, and likes him all the better for it.
53 Swept off her Feet
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Marianne Dashwood sprains an ankle, but help is at hand.
54 The Sign from Heaven
By Charlotte Brontë
(1816-1855)
Was it an over-excited imagination, or an answer to prayer?
page 10
55 The Summons Comes for Mr Standfast
By John Buchan
(1875-1940)
In John Buchan’s story about the Great War, Richard Hannay must watch as his friend sacrifices his life for the Allies.
56 ‘God Tempers the Wind to the Shorn Lamb’
By Anthony Trollope
(1815-1882)
Mary Mason could not forgive herself for a past misdeed.
57 Mr Snawley Thinks Ahead
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Mr Snawley has two stepsons he would like to offload, and Mr Squeers seems just the right person to help him.
58 Kate gets a Dressing-Down
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Kate Nickleby must bite her lip as she experiences snobbery for the first time.
59 A Proper Education
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Harriet Smith’s school gave her a grounding in good sense that even Emma Woodhouse could not quite overthrow.
60 The Pimpernel Fails to Show
By Baroness Orczy
(1865-1947)
Lady Blakeney agrees to spy for the French Revolutionary government in return for her brother’s life.
page 11
61 First Impressions, Second Thoughts
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Elizabeth Bennet began to wonder if being Mr Darcy’s wife might have had its compensations.
62 Discovery!
By Mark Twain
(1835-1910)
Mark Twain covets the supreme sensation of being a trailblazer.
63 The Friendship of Cats
By Théophile Gautier
(1811-1872)
A cat’s affection is not easy to win, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile.
64 A Tempting Offer
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
True moral integrity comes from within.
65 By the Toss of a Coin
By Robert Louis Stevenson
(1850-1894)
The Master and his brother Henry must decide which of them goes to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie.
66 Practice Makes Perfect
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Making friends is, like playing music, not just a matter of natural talent.
page 12
67 In Good Company
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Anne Elliot resents being expected to court the society of anyone simply because of social status.
68 With the Compliments of Mr Collins
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
There is an art to making one’s compliments seem artless.
69 ‘Nothing clears up one’s ideas like explaining them’
By H. G. Wells
(1866-1946)
Muddle-headed inventor Professor Cavor needs to think aloud, and for reasons of his own Mr Bedford is anxious to listen.
70 High Beneath Heaven’s Roof
By Cynewulf
(8th century)
The Cross of Christ speaks, and tells of the amazing transformation from sign of shame to sign of redemption.
71 ‘This England’
By William Shakespeare
(1564-1616)
John of Gaunt watches in despair as his country is milked for its wealth and shared out among the king’s favourites.
72 ‘Not one more!’
By William Shakespeare
(1564-1616)
The prospect of facing daunting odds made his cousin quail, but Henry acted like a true King.
page 13
73 Silver Swan
By Mark Twain
(1835-1910)
Mark Twain’s attention was drawn off people-watching for a moment by an extraordinarily lifelike machine.
74 Character and Learning
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Intellectual learning is to be respected, but it should never be confused with good character.
75 The Caucus Race
By Lewis Carroll
(1832-1898)
Alice experiences for herself the very definition of a pointless exercise.
76 ‘There is a Tide in the Affairs of Men’
By William Shakespeare
(1564-1616)
Brutus tells Cassius to act while everything is going his way, or be left with nothing but regrets.
77 ‘The marriage cannot go on!’
By Charlotte Brontë
(1816-1855)
The cup of happiness is dashed from Jane Eyre’s lips.
78 The Peculiar Customs of Lilliput
By Jonathan Swift
(1667-1745)
The people of Lilliput are strangely small, but their ideas are bizarre in a big way.
page 14
79 Are Women more faithful than Men?
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
A touchy subject, especially when your lover is listening in.
80 Fanny Comes Home
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
Fanny Price, eight years after being adopted by her wealthy uncle and aunt, has gone back home for the first time, full of anticipation.
81 The Tide of Popularity
By Jane Austen
(1775-1817)
First impressions prove to be quite misleading in the case of handsome, disagreeable Mr Darcy.
82 The Footprints at the Gate
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(1859-1930)
What Dr Mortimer saw beside the body of Sir Charles Baskerville sent him hastily to London, to consult Sherlock Holmes.
83 A King-Sized Conspiracy
By Anthony Hope
(1863-1933)
Rudolf Rassendyll is on holiday in Ruritania when he stumbles across a plot by the King’s brother to steal the crown.
84 Presumption and Innocence
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Charles Dickens chastises those who alter the plots of classic tales to push some social agenda of their own.
page 15
85 ‘Please Sir, I Want Some More!’
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Oliver was elected as the unwilling spokesman for all the hungry children.
86 The Insect on the Leaf
By Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Scrooge begs the Spirit of Christmas to tell him what will happen to Tiny Tim.
87 Mrs Bold’s Thunderclap
By Anthony Trollope
(1815-1882)
There comes a point in some relationships when words just aren’t enough.
88 Typical Cat!
By P. G. Wodehouse
(1881-1975)
When a cat comes into your life, resistance is futile.
89 Angel Cat
By Jerome K. Jerome
(1859-1927)
Cats do have a conscience: it tells them when to look innocent.
90 ‘Better Habits, Not Greater Rights’
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
The extraordinary productivity and social mobility of the Victorian era is to the credit not of the governing class, but of the working man.
which is ‘English Style’ ?

Word Play: Subject and Object

Use each of the words below as either the subject or the object of a verb.

Show. Bird. Tap.

JB Cramer was one of the finest pianists of his day, though his reverence for Mozart made his own music more popular in the drawing room than the concert hall.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley says that the pinnacle of political achievement is the government not of others, but of ourselves.
By John Keats
(1795-1821)
Poet John Keats speaks of the beauties of Autumn, her colours, her sounds and her rich harvest.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822)
Poet Percy Shelley calls on November’s sister months to watch by the graveside of the dead Year.
Cut
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Make as many words as you can from the letters of a nine-letter word.
Polyword ‘Tree’
Make as many words as you can with the letters below. All your words must be at least four letters long, and must also include the highlighted letter. What’s the nine-letter word?

SEE how many words you can make using the letters below. All your words must be at least 4 letters long, and must include the letter (change).

We found commonly used words, plus one 9-letter word. Can you do better?

Use each letter only once. But if there are e.g. two As, you can used them both.

Don’t count proper nouns such as April, Zeus, or Newcastle (pretty much anything that has to be spelled with a capital letter at the start), or acronyms like HMRC.

Don’t just add -S for plurals or third person singular verbs, e.g. CAT → CATS or SPEAK → SPEAKS.

Note: You can find more Polywords and other games on our Nine Lives puzzle page, and most of our stories are accompanied by games with words, grammar and numbers.

More Puzzles
Decide whether a word is a verb or a noun (or both), and compose example sentences.
Divide one number by another number. See how quickly you can solve the sums.
Change SNOW into DROP, one letter at a time.
Do you know ‘rim’ (4 letters), and ‘the Roman name for Chester’ (4 letters)?
Do you know ‘complaint’ (4 letters), and ‘be the right size and shape for a space’ (3 letters)?
See if you can guess these words letter-by-letter.
A word-making and word-searching game with a dash of strategy to it.
top topics
History (379)
Fiction (82)

letters game

What is the longest word you can make using these letters?

Press enter or type a space to see feedback on your word.

More like this: Longest Word (Letters Game) Games with Words

numbers game

Work across from the number on the left, applying each arithmetical operation to the previous answer. What’s the final total?

Tip: Click any of the four inner squares to check your running total.

More like this: Maths Steps (Mental Arithmetic Game) Mental Arithmetic