Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Travellers' Tales

One of the oldest forms of fiction and the source of many Taproot Texts. TTs may involve Quests, but they are usually voyages of discovery, often to the ends of the Earth. TTs are usually presented as fact, and are always told in retrospect by the survivor(s) and usually have the status of Tall Tales; this distinguishes them from the Fantastic Voyage. TTs trace their roots back at least as far as the Odyssey (8th century BC) by Homer, where Odysseus relates his travels to King Alcinoüs. One of the first great Greek travellers who wrote of his adventures was Hecataeus of Miletos (?   - 476BC), though his work (of which little survives) was apparently full of errors rather than deliberate fictions. Herodotus (?490-?425) severely criticized Hecataeus and, in his own Historiai (?430BC), established the basis for many future historical explorations. Some of these, such as the Indika (?400BC) by Ctesias, a Greek who was a physician to the Persian king Artaxerxes II (reigned 405-359), was the first book to be written entirely about India – though it is disputed whether Ctesias ever went there. It contains much invention and was upheld by Lucian of Samosata as a book of fiction. By the time of Lucian, in the mid-2nd century AD, TTs had become so prevalent that he was able to parody them in his Verae historiae ["True History"], which is an extravagant and amusing fiction taking adventurers beyond the Pillars of Hercules to the Isles of the Blest, the Underworld and the Moon. It has been suggested that Lucian wrote his story as a parody of The Wonders Beyond Thule by Antonius Diogenes. Although this book is regarded as one of the earliest of all Greek prose Romances, the date of its composition is not known. The story is set circa 400BC, by its reference to historical characters, but Diogenes (who should not be confused with the Greek philosopher who lived ?400-?325), probably lived flAD100. His work, which survives only in summary among the Bibliotheke of Photius (810-893), is a complex adventure story involving romantic attachments between various couples who travel throughout Europe, and eventually make their way to Thule (probably Iceland); two set forth on an intrepid journey to the North Pole, whence they come close to the Moon, described as a "land of purest light". Diogenes' work includes many references to supernatural wonders encountered on his characters' travels, including those caused by the magician Paapis, who curses his enemies with death during the day and life only at night (> Vampires). A summary of this story included in Collected Ancient Greek Novels (anth 1989 US) ed Bryan P Reardon with Lucian's True History.

The fascination for the TT did not pass with the fall of the Roman Empire. Hsuan Tsang (596-664) was a remarkable Chinese explorer who travelled throughout Asia and who in his memoirs, written in his last 20 years, told of the fierce Dragons that inhabited the mountains in remote western China.

Among the best-known TTs are those associated with St Brendan (?486-?575), as recorded in the anonymous Navagatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis ["The Voyage of St. Brendan"] (pre-10th century), in which the Abbot travels to the Isles of the Blest in the Atlantic. The Celts delighted in immrama, or "voyage tales" of which the most famous, the Immram Curaig Maíle Dúin ["The Voyage of Maeldúin"], forms part of the Book of the Dun Cow (10th century, but written ?8th century). Maeldúin sets out with his companions to avenge the murder of his father but their boat is blown off course. They encounter a series of Islands, each with its wonders and bizarre creatures – giant ants, giant horses, a beast that can turn its skin around, a Cat that turns into a ball of fire, sheep that change colour, shouting birds, undersea islands, a hermit cared for by the Angels, giant fountains, a bridge of crystal and much more. The Celts and the Vikings were great travellers, so it is no surprise that among their writings are many TTs (> Sagas), including the voyages of Madoc and of Eirikr the Red to discover North America. Similarly, the Arab adventurers inspired the stories of Sinbad (> Arabian Fantasy). Books which reflect this period of TTs include King of the World's Edge (1939 WT; 1966) and its sequels by H Warner Munn.

With the real age of exploration, starting in the 13th century, TTs kept pace with the expanding map. In 1298 Marco Polo (1254-1324) recounted his Travels across Asia to China to a writer with whom he shared a prison cell; his veracity is now questioned. The biggest selling TT of this period was The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (written ?1357; 1360) (> Sir John Mandeville) from whose book maps were drawn. Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) so believed Mandeville's book that when he discovered the West Indies he was convinced he had found Mandeville's Isles of Cathay. Yesterday We Saw Mermaids (1992) by Esther Friesner is almost a TT, set at the time of Columbus and exploring an alternate voyage.

The voyages of Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan opened up the world in the 15th and 16th centuries and books of fantastic voyages appeared frequently. Such books as Utopia (Part 2 1516 in Latin; trans exp 1551) by Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Civitas Solis (1623) by Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), The New Atlantis (1629) by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656) by James Harrington (1611-1677) all use the popular form of the TT to establish the story's credentials, although the books themselves are Utopias, and thus openly fictional. Imitations of the true TT returned to literature with the nonfantastic Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe and the inspirational Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World (1726 2 vols) by Jonathan Swift. Swift's account of the four voyages of Gulliver inspired many Sequels by Other Hands and brought the TT into modern literature. It was soon being rivalled by the exploits of Baron Munchhausen, as told by R E Raspe. Scores of Gulliver and Münchhausen imitations followed as the TT and fantastic-voyage forms gradually blended into proto-Science Fiction. Works which retain the element of fantasy include Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (1741 in Latin; trans as A Journey to the World Under-Ground by Nicolas Klimius 1742 UK) by Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (1751) by Robert Paltock (1697-1767), Symzonia (1820) by the unidentified Adam Seaborn (possibly Nathaniel Ames [?   -1835]) and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Southern Literary Messenger 1838) by Edgar Allan Poe. With Jules Verne (1828-1905), the TT and the fantastic voyage merged into what he called Voyages Extraordinaire, the fantastic elements being dropped. TTs could not translate directly into genuine Genre Fantasy, because their whole point was that they were presented as true. However, J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-5) both retain some element of the TT: the first is presented as a record of his adventures as recorded by Bilbo Baggins and the second is purportedly retold by Sam Gamgee to his children. In this sense any first-person narrated fantasy quest may be treated as a TT. The form remained sublinear in stories of lost worlds, and the mood was brilliantly recaptured by Sterling Lanier (1927-    ) in his Brigadier Ffellowes stories, collected as The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffellowes (coll 1972) and The Curious Quest of Brigadier Ffellowes (coll 1986). The recrudescence of fantasy fiction in its broadest sense has provided a forum for TT to return. [MA]

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.