Riddle And The Knight: In Search Of Sir John Mandeville, The World's Greatest Traveller

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9780756774400: Riddle And The Knight: In Search Of Sir John Mandeville, The World's Greatest Traveller

In 1322, Sir John Mandeville left England to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Thirty-four years later he returned, claiming not only to have visited the Holy Land but also to have traveled to India, China, Tibet & Java. His book -- "The Travels" -- lit the way for the great expeditions of the Renaissance, & his adventures provided inspiration for writers such as Shakespeare, Coleridge, & Swift. Yet by the 19th cent., he was all but ignored by scholars, & his descriptions of monsters & strange peoples were discredited. Intrigued by Mandeville, Milton set off in his footsteps in order to test his amazing claims & to attempt to solve the riddle of the knight. This brilliant piece of detective work restores Mandeville to his rightful place in the history of lit. & exploration.

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Sir John Mandeville, a medieval English knight, was either one of history's greatest explorers or one of its greatest liars, depending on how one reads the pages of his Travels. Christopher Columbus took his words as a veritable guidebook, using it, Giles Milton writes, to convince the Spanish crown to fund his American voyages. The Victorians were not so kind, dismissing the wanderer--who, after all, wrote that in the Indian Ocean "there is a race of great stature, like giants ... they have one eye only, in the middle of their foreheads"--as an uncritical fabulist at best, a charlatan at worst.

Giles Milton, a student of exploration history, gives us reasons aplenty to question Mandeville's accuracy at points, but he is inclined to think that the knight actually did see at least some of the things he reported in his enormously influential book. Tracing Mandeville's trail to the Middle East and beyond, he considers the historical realities that underlie Mandeville's tales, from the gems that lie strewn among the reeds of Indonesia (which Milton guesses might be crystal-like secretions from bamboo plants) to the fabulous Christian kingdom of Prester John somewhere far out on the plains of Mongolia (where, Milton reminds us, Nestorian Christians were once common). His conclusion, well argued in the course of this witty and delightful book, is that although Mandeville is not always taken literally, he really did go crusading off in distant lands, and he certainly deserves to be rediscovered today, not least for what his work tells us about the medieval mind.

Readers new to Mandeville will find this a spirited introduction, and those already fond of The Travels will enjoy following Milton's parallel voyages. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Giles Milton is a writer and historian. He is the internationally bestselling author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Big Chief Elizabeth, The Riddle and the Knight, White Gold, Samurai William, Paradise Lost, Wolfram and Russian Roulette. He has also written three novels and three children's books. His books have been translated into twenty languages. He lives in south London. Find out more about Giles and his books on his website, www.gilesmilton.com, and Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giles_Milton, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/survivehistory and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/pages/Giles-Milton-Writer/121068034610842.

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