The Riddle and the Knight: in Search of Sir John Mandeville

The Riddle and the Knight: in Search of Sir John Mandeville


By (author) Giles Milton

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  • Publisher: Sceptre
  • Format: Paperback | 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 130mm x 196mm x 22mm | 220g
  • Publication date: 4 October 2001
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0340819456
  • ISBN 13: 9780340819456
  • Illustrations note: b/w/ integrated
  • Sales rank: 346,371

Product description

In 1322 Sir John Mandeville left England on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Thirty-four years later, he returned, claiming to have visited not only Jerusalem, but India, China, Java, Sumatra and Borneo as well. His book about that voyage, THE TRAVELS, was heralded as the most important book of the Middle Ages as Mandeville claimed his voyage proved it was possible to circumnavigate the globe. In the nineteenth century sceptics questioned his voyage, and even doubted he had left England. THE RIDDLE AND THE KNIGHT sets out to discover whether Mandeville really could have made his voyage or whether, as is claimed, THE TRAVELS was a work of imaginative fiction. Bestselling historian Giles Milton unearths clues about the journey and reveals that THE TRAVELS is built upon a series of riddles which have, until now, remained unsolved.

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Author information

Giles Milton is a writer and historian. He is the bestselling author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Big Chief Elizabeth, The Riddle and the Knight, White Gold, Samurai William, Paradise Lost and, most recently, Wolfram. He has also written two novels and two children's books, one of them illustrated by his wife Alexandra. He lives in South London.

Review quote

Milton is a great storyteller ... he sets about filling in the historical gaps with relish, using his considerable imagination to conjure mood from dry parchment Sunday Express Grippingly told true adventure story Daily Mail 'Milton has a terrific eye for the kind of detail that can bring the past vividly to life'. The Spectator

Editorial reviews

Originally published in Britain in 1996, this trek in the footsteps of a medieval Englishman created the template for Milton's later studies of historic journeys ("Nathaniel's Nutmeg", 1999; "Big Chief Elizabeth", 2000). Milton has invented a unique form of travel-writing, investigating the world as it existed in the yearnings and imagination of long-ago Europeans. Here, he sets out in search of Sir John Mandeville, a native of St. Albans who claimed to have traveled through the Holy Land to China, and whose "Travels "became one of the best-known books of the 14th century. Despite his influence on explorers from Columbus to Drake, Mandeville was all but written off by the Victorians. His vivid descriptions of the monstrosities of the East didn't jibe with 19th-century sensibilities, and the general conclusion was that the old man probably never left England at all. Milton attempts to rescue his protagonist from obscurity by visiting the places Mandeville claimed to have visited, hoping to find indications of veracity. He does this with considerable charm and some degree of success, gleaning tidbits about 14th-century Constantinople, Cyprus, Syria, and Jerusalem during his stays that seem to confirm Mandeville's account. He does not, however, attempt to trace Mandeville's alleged path into China and Indonesia; instead, he concludes, correctly but half-heartedly, that Mandeville never made it any farther East, and that the second half of "Travels", with its accounts of giant snails and people with two heads, was part of a complicated allegory about the decline of Christendom that stands in purposeful contrast to the first. Milton does some impressive sleuthing along the way, tracking down all the Mandevilles in England to find his man, but his historical analysis can be questionable (e.g., his discussion of the Nestorians). The story never quite rises to the level of the author's ingenuity and wit, as it would in Milton's subsequent books. A diverting if slightly underdone effort. (Kirkus Reviews)