Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville...

A month or so ago I read the Renaissance-era travelogue The Travels of Sir John Mandeville as a follow-up to the first travelogue I'd ever read.

Mandeville's work, in its day, was more popular than Marco Polo's travelogues, although I found myself occasionally doubting my narrator. There's good reason for this, of course - the writer was probably not a knight, and he may or may not have actually visited many of the places he claims to.

But then again...there's a touch of reality to parts of this. Particularly when he travels the far east, and describes China, parts of India, and other exotic locales. Mandeville seems somewhat confused by the Buddha, but he then goes on to opine that these Buddhists (he does not call them by name) must be very special and loved by God, because they are so good and peaceful. He says even though they are not Christians, he feels sure they are destined for a place in heaven.

That's hardly the whole point of Mandeville's book, but it's the main point I took away from it. So often, even today, we hear that folks of earlier generations must be forgiven for their racism - "that's just the way we were raised," they say.

But in an era not known for tolerance, a time of xenophobia, religious persecution, and more-or-less constant warfare, I'm deeply impressed that Mandeville - whoever he was - would go out of his way to make that observation. I wonder how it was taken by his contemporaries? He's proof that racism and intolerance aren't a necessity when you were "raised that way," because he probably was.

As an avid player of tabletop roleplaying games, I'm always looking for the RPG applications of the books I read. Mandeville's travelogue serves as the perfect sourcebook for any Warhammeresque historical setting. In fact, many of the legends he relates - such as the man who was so in love with his dead wife he had sex with her corpse, the result of which was a headless apparition that flew about the town terrorizing people, or a valley in India where he saw a gateway to Hell shaped like a giant's head - would make great kernels for full adventures.

Mandeville also has a sort of dry sense of humor from time to time, and he's not above a little braggadocio. He's able to travel through Muslim lands because he's good buddies with the Sultan, apparently. Not only the Sultan, but many other kings and potentates with whom Mandeville visits, reportedly beg him to do things like marry their daughters and take over parts of their domains, but Mandeville always modestly refuses, professing his Christian faith.

No need to order a copy of this book if you're interested. Project Guttenberg has it right here.

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