Gulliver has been home in England only ten days when a visitor comes to his house, asking him to sail aboard his ship in two months’ time. Gulliver agrees and prepares to set out for the East Indies. On the voyage, pirates attack the ship. Gulliver hears a Dutch voice among them and speaks to the pirate in Dutch, begging to be set free since he and the pirate are both Christians. A Japanese pirate tells them they will not die, and Gulliver tells the Dutchman that he is surprised to find more mercy in a heathen than in a Christian. The Dutchman grows angry and punishes Gulliver by sending him out to sea in a small boat with only four days’ worth of food.
Gulliver finds some islands and goes ashore on one of them. He sets up camp but then notices something strange: the sun is mysteriously obscured for some time. He then sees a landmass dropping down from the sky and notices that it is crawling with people. He is baffled by this floating island and shouts up to its inhabitants. They lower the island and send down a chain by which he is drawn up.
Gulliver is immediately surrounded by people and notices that they are all quite odd. Their heads are all tilted to one side or the other, with one eye turned inward and the other looking up. Their clothes are adorned with images of celestial bodies and musical instruments. Some of the people are servants, and each of them carries a “flapper” made of a stick with a pouch tied to the end. Their job is to aid conversation by striking the ear of the listener and the mouth of the speaker at the appropriate times to prevent their masters’ minds from wandering off.
Gulliver is conveyed to the king, who sits behind a table loaded with mathematical instruments. They wait an hour before there is some opportunity to arouse the king from his thoughts, at which point he is struck with the flapper. The king says something, and Gulliver’s ear is struck with the flapper as well, even though he tries to explain that he does not require such actions. It becomes clear that he and the king cannot speak any of the same languages, so Gulliver is taken to an apartment and served dinner.
A teacher is sent to instruct Gulliver in the language of the island, and he is able to learn several sentences. He discovers that the name of the island is Laputa, which in their language means “floating island.” A tailor is also sent to provide him with new clothes, and while he is waiting for these clothes, the king orders the island to be moved. It is taken to a point above the capital city of the kingdom, Lagado, passing villages along the way and collecting petitions from the king’s subjects by means of ropes sent down to the lands below.
The language of the Laputans relies heavily on mathematical and musical concepts, as they value these theoretical disciplines above everything. The Laputans despise practical geometry, thinking it vulgar—so much so that they make sure that there are no right angles in their buildings. They are very good with charts and figures but very clumsy in practical matters. They practice astrology and dread changes in the celestial bodies.