Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mandeville, [Sir] John

Pseudonym of the unknown author of a collection of Travellers' Tales, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (circa 1357), written in French and rapidly translated and reprinted throughout Europe. An English edition appeared in 1360, and it was first printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1499. There are several hypotheses concerning the authorship, and a Flemish physician, Jehan de Bourgogne (d1372), actually claimed it on his deathbed. Also, there was an Irish knight, Sir John Mandeyville, who killed an earl in 1333 and had to flee England; no more is known of him.

The book tells of a knight who left England in 1322 and travelled throughout the near and far East, including India and northern Africa, until forced by health to return home in 1357. The author used other sources extensively; it is not known how many of the place-descriptions were derived from experience – the elements concerning the Holy Land are candidates. What marked JM's Travels as different was the territory it covered. Nothing like it had been written since Marco Polo's Travels some 60 years earlier. Although it contained many accurate facts, JM was either quite happy to invent or was readily misled. It is from his book that we derive much of the legend of Prester John. JM credits the occupants of the island Dundeya as having no heads but faces in their chests, while others there have a single eye in the middle of the forehead. In the land of Natumeran the people have heads like dogs. Near the city of Polumbum JM drank from the well of youth (> Fountain of Youth).

This was the most popular travel book of the Middle Ages – consulted by Columbus prior to his first voyage – and the source of many Maps by which medieval voyages were plotted. It was immensely influential in creating an image of the wonders of distant lands, and inspired travel and exploration. [MA]

further reading: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1983) trans and ed C W R D Moseley; Sir John Mandeville: The Man and His Book (1949) by M Lettes; The Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville (1954) by J W Bennett.

"[Sir] John Mandeville"


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.