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Map of Laputa and Balnibarbi (original map, Pt III, Gulliver's Travels)
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Laputa is a flying island described in the 1726 book Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. It is a flying island about 4.5 miles in diameter, with an adamantine base, which its inhabitants can maneuver in any direction using magnetic levitation.
Laputa was located above the realm of Balnibarbi, which was ruled by its king from the flying island. Gulliver states the island flew by the “magnetick virtue” of certain minerals in the ground of Balnibarbi which did not extend more than four miles above, and six leagues beyond the extent of the kingdom. showing the limit of its range. The position of the island, and the realm below, is some 5 days journey south-south-east of from Gulliver's last known position, 46N, 183E (ie east of Japan, south of the Aleutian Islands) down a chain of small rocky islands.
Laputa is described as being exactly circular and 4.5 miles (7.2 km) in diameter, giving an area of 10,000 acres (4,000 ha). It was 300 yards (270 m) thick, and comprised a bottom plate of adamant 200 yards thick, above which lay "the several minerals in their usual order", topped with "a coat of rich mould 10 or 12 ft deep".
In shape the upper surface sloped down from circumference to centre, a causing all rain to form rivulets into the centre where four large basins half a mile in circuit. These lay 200 yards from the absolute centre. In the centre of the island itself was a chasm 50 yards in diameter continuing at bottom a dome extending 100 yards into the adamantine surface. This dome served as an astronomical observatory, and also contained the lodestone which enabled the island to fly and move above the realm.
Laputa's population consists mainly of educated people, who are fond of mathematics, astronomy, music and technology, but fail to make practical use of their knowledge. Servants make up the rest of the population.
The Laputans have mastered magnetic levitation and discovered the two moons of Mars (which in reality would not be discovered for another 150 years). However, they are unable to construct well-designed clothing or buildings, because they take measurements with instruments such as quadrants and a compass rather than with tape measures.
Laputa is a male-dominated society. Wives often request to leave the island to visit the land below; however, these requests are almost never granted because the women who leave Laputa never want to return. The clothes of Laputans, which do not fit, are decorated with astrological symbols and musical figures. They spend their time listening to the music of the spheres. They believe in astrology and worry constantly that the sun will go out. The Laputan houses, he notices, are badly built, without accurate right angles. The Laputan women are highly sexed and adulterous, preferring men from the island of Balnibarbi. The Laputan husbands, who are so abstracted in mathematical and musical calculations, don't know that their wives are adulterous.
Due to their fervent intellectual pursuits, Laputans are also depicted as becoming so lost in thought that they do not move unless struck by a "bladder", many of their heads have become stuck reclined to one side, and they often suffer from strabismus: one eye turns inward and the other looks up "to the zenith." The Laputans' oddly-focused eyes are Swift's parodies of the microscope and telescope. So intent are the Laputans in their scientific studies that they cannot function in the everyday world, or even perceive it.
The land beneath the floating island, within the region the Laputa can travel, is known as Balnibarbi. Balnibarbi is controlled by the king of Laputa; its ground capital is the city of Lagado.
Laputa's tyrannical king controls the mainland mostly by threatening to cover rebel regions with the island's shadow, thus blocking sunlight and rain, or by throwing rocks at rebellious surface cities. In extreme cases, the island is lowered onto the cities below to crush them, although this is not successful every time, notably in the case of Lindalino.
The Balnibarbian language, spoken on both Laputa and Balnibarbi, is described by Gulliver as sounding similar to Italian.
Lindalino's rebellion against Laputa is an allegory of Ireland's revolt against Great Britain, and Great Britain's (meaning the Whig government's) violent foreign and internal politics (see Jonathan Swift for his political career). The Laputans' absurd inventions mock the Royal Society.
As "la puta" means "the whore" (see Spanish profanity), some Spanish editions of "Gulliver's Travels" use "Lapuntu", "Laput", "Lapuda" and "Lupata" as bowdlerisations. It is likely, given Swift's brand of satire, that he was aware of the Spanish meaning. (Gulliver, himself, claimed Spanish among the many languages in which he was fluent.)
Laputa, as with some of Swift's other inventions, was the inspiration and basis for many later works. Examples include:
- Laputa: Castle in the Sky, an anime by Hayao Miyazaki, which centres on a floating city. It also gave its name to a race course of the Game Boy Advance video game F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, as "Laputan Colony". In both titles, the North American release changed these titles, to simply "Castle in the Sky" and "Empyrean Colony" respectively, to avoid similarities to the vulgar Spanish term la puta.
- William Barrett used the story in his 1958 book Irrational Man to illustrate the alienation which existentialism tries to counter.
- The Mazda Laputa, whose name derives from Gulliver's Travels.
- In the Oscar-winning movie Dr. Strangelove a loose B-52 bomber is targeting the Laputa ICBM complex in Siberia. This is both a referral to Swift's novel and a sexual innuendo, among many others in the movie.
- In video game, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the floating prison "Ministry of Truth" was often thought to be based on Laputa and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
- In Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Robert Heinlein describes Laputa's system for managing communication through the use of the climenole, or flapper.
- Case for a Rookie Hangman, Czech film by Pavel Juráček (1969)
- The video game Deus Ex features a biomechanically augmented character, Gunther Hermann, whose 'killphrase' is "Laputan Machine". Uttering the phrase to the character causes his death.
- The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Cloud Minders" features a floating city.
- The post-apocalyptic science fiction novel Engine Summer by John Crowley features a flying city called Laputa.
- The Stargate SG1 episode "The Nox" features a floating city.
- Gulliver's Travels (GT), part III, ch 3: Oxford World Classic (OWC) p157
- That is, 177 West
- GT pt III, ch 1: OWC p143
- OWC Notes, p319
- GT pt III, ch 1: OWC p143
- Gulliver's Travels (GT), part III, ch 3: Oxford World Classic (OWC) p154
- GT pt III, ch3: OWC p154
- GT pt III, ch3: OWC p155
- Page, Michael; Ingpen, Robert (1998). Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. New York: Penguin Studio. pp. 94, 150–1. ISBN 0-14-010008-3.
- Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels Oxford World Classics (1986, reprint 2008) introduction by Claude Rawson, explanatory notes by Ian Higgins. First published 1726.