Why this book?
This is the most important book people have never heard of. It was immensely popular in the Middle Ages – 300 manuscripts survive in nine languages (Beowulf, another monster tale, survives in one copy). The probably-fictional “John Mandeville, knight, though I am not worthy” sets out from England in 1332, travels the known world on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and continues all the way to India. He encounters wondrous places, people, and beasts. The book is fundamentally flawed, with rampant racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, and on, but this is why it matters. Mandeville was Columbus’s reading on his voyage to “the Indies,” and encouraged him to see indigenous populations as monstrous. It is terrible, and terribly important. Bale’s excellent introduction and translation are the best of many versions.
Why should I read it?
What is this book about?
'Another island in the Great Ocean has many sinful and malevolent women, who have precious gems in their eyes.'
In his Book of Marvels and Travels, Sir John Mandeville describes a journey from Europe to Jerusalem and on into Asia, and the many wonderful and monstrous peoples and practices in the East. He tells us about the Sultan in Cairo, the Great Khan in China, and the mythical Christian prince Prester John. There are giants and pygmies, cannibals and Amazons, headless humans and people with a single foot so huge it can shield them from the sun . Forceful and…