Part III - Chapter III

I DESIRED LEAVE of this Prince to see the curiosities of the island, which he was graciously pleased to grant, and ordered my tutor to attend me. I chiefly wanted to know to what cause in art, or in nature, it owed its several motions, whereof I will now give a philosophical account to the reader.

The flying or floating island is exactly circular, its diameter 7,837 yards, or about four miles and a half, and consequently contains ten thousand acres. It is three hundred yards thick. The bottom, or under surface, which appears to those who view it from below, is one even regular plate of adamant, shooting up to the height of about two hundred yards. Above it lie the several minerals in their usual order, and over all is a coat of rich mold ten or twelve feet deep. The declivity of the upper surface, from the circumference to the center, is the natural cause why all the dews and rains which fall upon the island are conveyed in small rivulets toward the middle, where they are emptied into four large basins, each of about half a mile in circuit, and two hundred yards distant from the center. From these basins the water is continually exhaled by the sun in the daytime, which effectually prevents their overflowing. Besides, as it is in the power of the monarch to raise the island above the region of clouds and vapors, he can prevent the falling of dews and rains whenever he pleases. For the highest clouds cannot rise above two miles, as naturalists agree; at least they were never known to do so in that country.

At the center of the island there is a chasm about fifty yards in diameter, from whence the astronomers descend into a large dome, which is therefore called Flandona Gagnole, or the Astronomer's Cave, situated at the depth of a hundred yards beneath the upper surface of the adamant. In this cave are twenty lamps continually burning, which, from the reflection of the adamant, cast a strong light into every part. The place is stored with great variety of sextants, quadrants, telescopes, astrolabes, and other astronomical instruments. But the greatest curiosity, upon which the fate of the island depends, is a lodestone of a prodigious size, in shape resembling a weaver's shuttle. It is in length six yards, and in the thickest part, at least three yards over. This magnet is sustained by a very strong axle of adamant passing through its middle, upon which it plays, and is poised so exactly that the weakest hand can turn it. It is hooped round with a hollow cylinder of adamant, four feet deep, as many thick, and twelve yards in diameter, placed horizontally, and supported by eight adamantine feet, each six yards high. In the middle of the concave side there is a groove twelve inches deep, in which the extremities of the axle are lodged and turned round as there is occasion.

The stone cannot be moved from its place by any force, because the hoop and its feet are one continued piece with that body of adamant which constitutes the bottom of the island.

By means of this lodestone the island is made to rise and fall, and move from one place to another. For, with respect to that part of the earth over which the monarch presides, the stone is endued at one of its sides with an attractive power, and at the other with a repulsive. Upon placing the magnet erect, with its attracting end toward the earth, the island descends; but, when the repelling extremity points downward, the island mounts directly upward. When the position of the stone is oblique the motion of the island is so too. For in this magnet the forces always act in lines parallel to its direction.

By this oblique motion the island is conveyed to different parts of the monarch's dominions. To explain the manner of its progress, let A B represent a line drawn across the dominions of Balnibarbi, let the line c d represent the lodestone, of which let d be the repelling end, and c the attracting end, the island being over C; let the stone be placed in position c d, with its repelling end downward; then the island will be driven up obliquely toward D. When it has arrived at D, let the stone be turned upon its axle till its attracting end points toward E, and then the island will be carried obliquely toward E; where, if the stone be again turned upon its axle till it stands in the position E F, with its repelling point downward, the island will rise obliquely toward F, where, by directing the attracting end toward G, the island may be carried to G, and from G to H, by turning the stone so as to make its repelling extremity point directly downward. And thus, by changing the situation of the stone as often as there is occasion, the island is made to rise and fall by turns in an oblique direction, and by those alternate risings and fallings (the obliquity being not considerable) is conveyed from one part of the dominions to the other.

But it must be observed that this island cannot move beyond the extent of the dominions below, nor can it rise above the height of four miles. For which the astronomers (who have written large systems concerning the stone) assign the following reason: that the magnetic virtue does not extend beyond the distance of four miles, and that the mineral which acts upon the stone in the bowels of the earth, and in the sea, about six leagues distant from the shore, is not diffused through the whole globe, but terminated with the limits of the King's dominions; and it was easy, from the great advantage of such a superior situation, for a Prince to bring under his obedience whatever country lay within the attraction of that magnet.

When the stone is put parallel to the plane of the horizon, the island stands still; for, in that case, the extremities of it, being at equal distance from the earth, act with equal force, the one in drawing downward, the other in pushing upward, and consequently no motion can ensue.

This lodestone is under the care of certain astronomers, who, from time to time, give it such positions as the monarch directs. They spend the greatest part of their lives in observing the celestial bodies, which they do by the assistance of glasses far excelling ours in goodness. For, although their largest telescopes do not exceed three feet, they magnify much more than those of a hundred yards among us, and, at the same time, show the stars with greater clearness. This advantage hath enabled them to extend their discoveries much farther than our astronomers in Europe; for they have made a catalogue of ten thousand fixed stars, whereas the largest of ours do not contain above one-third part of that number. They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the center of the primary planet exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one and a half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the center of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation that influences the other heavenly bodies.

They have observed ninety-three different comets, and settled their periods with great exactness. If this be true (and they affirm it with great confidence) it is much to be wished that their observations were made public, whereby the theory of comets, which at present is very lame and defective, might be brought to the same perfection with other arts of astronomy.

The King would be the most absolute Prince in the universe if he could but prevail on a ministry to join with him; but these, having their estates below on the continent, and considering that the office of a favorite hath a very uncertain tenure, would never consent to enslaving their country.

If any town should engage in rebellion or mutiny, fall into violent factions, or refuse to pay the usual tribute, the King hath two methods of reducing them to obedience. The first and the mildest course is by keeping the island hovering over such a town, and the lands about it, whereby he can deprive them of the benefit of the sun and the rain, and consequently afflict the inhabitants with dearth and diseases. And, if the crime deserve it, they are at the same time pelted from above with great stones, against which they have no defense but by creeping into cellars or caves, while the roofs of their houses are beaten to pieces. But if they still continue obstinate, or offer to raise insurrections, he proceeds to the last remedy, by letting the island drop directly over their heads, which makes a universal destruction both of houses and men. However, this is an extremity to which the Prince is seldom driven; neither, indeed, is he willing to put it in execution, nor dare his ministers advise him to an action which, as it would render them odious to the people, so it would be a great damage to their own estates, which all lie below, for the island is the King's demesne.

But there is still, indeed, a more weighty reason why the Kings of this country have been always averse from executing so terrible an action, unless upon the utmost necessity. For, if the town intended to be destroyed should have in it any tall rocks, as it generally falls out in the larger cities, a situation probably chosen at first with a view to prevent such a catastrophe; or if it abound in high spires or pillars of stone, a sudden fall might endanger the bottom or under surface of the island, which, although it consist, as I have said, of one entire adamant two hundred yards thick, might happen to crack by too great a shock, or burst by approaching too near the fires from the houses below, as the backs both of iron and stone will often do in our chimneys. Of all this the people are well apprised, and understand how far to carry their obstinacy where their liberty or property is concerned. And the King, when he is highest provoked and most determined to press a city to rubbish, orders the island to descend with great gentleness out of a pretense of tenderness to his people, but, indeed, for fear of breaking the adamantine bottom; in which case it is the opinion of all their philosophers that the lodestone could no longer hold it up, and the whole mass would fall to the ground.

About three years before my arrival among them, while the King was in his progress over his dominions there happened an extraordinary accident which had like to have put a period to the fate of that monarchy, at least as it is now instituted. Lindalino, the second city in the kingdom, was the first his Majesty visited in his progress. Three days after his departure, the inhabitants who had often complained of great oppressions, shut the town gates, seized on the governor, and with incredible speed and labor erected four large towers, one at every corner of the city (which is an exact square) equal in height to a strong pointed rock that stands directly in the center of the city. Upon the top of each tower, as well as upon the rock, they fixed a great lodestone, and, in case their design should fail they had provided a vast quantity of the most combustible fuel, hoping to burst therewith the adamantine bottom of the island, if the lodestone project should miscarry.

It was eight months before the King had perfect notice that the Lindalinians were in rebellion. He then commanded that the island should be wafted over the city. The people were unanimous, and, had laid in store of provisions, and, a great river runs through the middle of the town. The King hovered over them several days to deprive them of the sun and the rain. He ordered many pack-threads to be let down, yet not a person offered to send up a petition, but instead thereof, very bold demands, the redress of all their grievances, great immunities, the choice of their own governor, and other the like exorbitances. Upon which his Majesty commanded all the inhabitants of the island to cast great stones from the lower gallery into the town; but the citizens had provided against his mischief by conveying their persons and effects into the four towers, and other strong buildings and vaults under ground.

The King being now determined to reduce this proud people ordered that the island should descend gently within forty yards of the top of the towers and rock. This was accordingly done; but the officers employed in that work found the descent much speedier than usual, and by turning the lodestone could not without great difficulty keep it in a firm position, but found the island inclining to fall. They sent the King immediate intelligence of this astonishing event and begged his Majesty's permission to raise the island higher; the King consented, a general council was called, and the officers of the lodestone ordered to attend. One of the oldest and expertest among them obtained leave to try an experiment. He took a strong line of a hundred yards, and the island being raised over the town above the attracting power they had felt, he fastened a piece of adamant to the end of his line which had in it a mixture of iron mineral, of the same nature with that whereof the bottom or lower surface of the island is composed, and from the lower gallery let it down slowly toward the top of the towers. The adamant was not descended four yards before the officer felt it drawn so strongly downward that he could hardly pull it back. He then threw down several small pieces of adamant, and, observed that they were all violently attracted by the top of the tower. The same experiment was made on the other three towers, and on the rock with the same effect.

This incident broke entirely the King's measures and (to dwell no longer on other circumstances) he was forced to give the town their own conditions.

I was assured by a great minister, that if the island had descended so near the town, as not to be able to raise itself, the citizens were determined to fix it for ever, to kill the King and all his servants, and entirely change the government.

By a fundamental law of this realm neither the King nor either of his two elder sons are permitted to leave the island, nor the Queen, till she is past child-bearing.

A phenomenon solved by modern philosophy and astronomy. The Laputians’ great improvements in the latter. The King's method of suppressing insurrection.


  1. The king of Laputa punishes citizens who live on the continent directly under the island by causing draughts or hailing down rocks if they do not obey him or decide to rebel. He is a perfect example of a monarch that abuses his physical power over those who are, in this case literally, beneath him.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The Laputans have extensive knowledge of the stars, which Gulliver notes exceeds the knowledge that England and other parts of Europe have. However, their knowledge is meaningless if they disregard proper agriculture or forget to eat. This suggests that knowledge is only valuable if applied well, and the Laputans do not use their knowledge to benefit their own lives or the lives of others.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. A “lodestone,” also spelled “loadstone,” is a piece of magnetite. Gulliver explains that Laputa’s flotation depends on this enormous lodestone, and that the monarch can control the weather by manipulating the magnet.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. “Adamant” is a type of mineral or stone that is extremely durable. In Middle English, it was sometimes used rhetorically to describe surfaces, like diamond, that were previously thought to be impenetrable.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff