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The Riddle and the Knight: In Search of Sir John Mandeville, the World's Greatest Traveller (1996)

by Giles Milton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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466753,583 (3.51)10
Giles Milton's first book,The Riddle and the Knight, is a fascinating account of the legend of Sir John Mandeville, a long-forgotten knight who was once the most famous writer in medieval Europe. Mandeville wrote a book about his voyage around the world that became a beacon that lit the way for the great expeditions of the Renaissance, and his exploits and adventures provided inspiration for writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats. By the nineteenth century however, his claims were largely discredited by academics. Giles Milton set off in the footsteps of Mandeville, in order to test his amazing claims, and to restore Mandeville to his rightful place in the literature of exploration.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
If he really existed Sir John Mandeville was once one of the most influential authors in all of Christendom. His book of 'Travels', in he which detailed his 34 year pilgrimage (1322-56) through the Near East, Middle East and Far East, was published shortly after his return home. When first published only a few Europeans had ever visited or knew anything about these regions, meaning that his tales of fantastic animals and of the legendary characters seemed highly plausible. In fact, Shakespeare is said to have influenced by it whilst Christopher Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh are purported to have used it as justification for their own journeys of exploration.

However as more and more Europeans began to visit these places many found Mandeville's more colourful observations quite fanciful. Similarly literary critics realised that great swaths of the book had been lifted from the writings of others, whilst this practice that was quite common at the time, it allowed his critics to sow further doubts over its truthfulness. In fact over the intervening centuries many of his harshest critics questioned whether or not he actually existed let alone travelled abroad.

Giles Milton became captivated with Mandeville and his writing and so sets out retrace Mandeville's journey, whether real or fictional, from Constantinople to Cyprus, to Syria, Jerusalem and the Sinai recounting his own adventures and misadventures along.

Given that the original book was written over 500 years ago it is quite amazing how many of the sites that Mandeville "visited" still exist and that in nearly every one of them is a monk from England. Gradually, Milton builds a case for both the genuine existence of Sir John and for the authenticity of his travels throughout the Near and Middle East but even he dismisses the idea that Mandeville ever visited the Far East as he claimed. Rather he sees this section of the book as a crafty dig at how Christians treated these so-called infidels.

Milton's enthusiasm for Sir John and his writing shines through, his solution seems well argued and plausible yet somehow I was left feeling rather confused as how to regard this particular book. Should I take it as a piece of historical research or as a modern day travelogue? Overall an interesting read but not a particularly riveting one. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Oct 14, 2020 |
Sir John Mandeville, if he existed, is one of the most influential people of the last millennium. His travelogue spurred explorers from Columbus to Cook and many in between to travel to the ends of the earth, carrying their copy of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville with them.

The Riddle and the Knight covers both Mandeville's supposed travels and Milton's (Giles, not John) own travels, following in the footsteps of Mandeville. There are some good moments in the book, including Milton's meeting with the family who have been looking after an Instanbul church for nearly a millennium, and Milton's attempts to prove Mandeville actually existed and at least travelled to Constantinople before inventing the rest of his book (the India plant which produced lambs is a giveaway that he may have fabricated at least some of his book). After all is said and done, we're still left pondering about our man Mandeville and a) how much he made up and b) why so many intelligent people took his book to be the gospel truth for so long. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Apr 14, 2020 |
I've not been impressed by some of Giles Milton's non-fiction, but this one was quite decent. It's both a study of Sir John Mandeville and his Travels and a travelogue, as Milton attempts to visit some of the various places Mandeville himself claimed to have traveled to. It has every tension one would expect such a hybrid production to have, and given what little is known about Mandeville himself it's a pretty shallow basis to work from, but Milton's done some interesting research and the results are worth a read. ( )
  JBD1 | Jan 5, 2014 |
Legend has it that Sir John Mandeville was a medieval knight who travelled the world in the 14th century and wrote a book about his 34-year-long journey, called The Travels. Regarded as the father of English literature until the Victorian age and then labelled a fraud, journalist Giles Milton sets out to discover how much (or if any) of the historical accounts of towns, monasteries and people is actually true and verifiable.

First I have to say that the blurb is, in my opinion, slightly misleading: the claim that the book reveals The Travels to be built on “a series of riddles which have, until now, remained unsolved” makes it sound more sensationalist than it really is, probably in an attempt to attract more readers. The accurate description of the author’s following in the footsteps of a forgotten medieval knight, pilgrim and traveller to separate truth from fiction doesn’t sound quite so enticing. I have to admit that I probably had something like the riddles in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code in mind when I bought it, but it’s nothing like it. This is a traveller’s guide to Constantinople, Cyprus, Syria, Jerusalem and the Sinai Desert in Egypt, both in the present and in Sir John’s day. Giles Milton gives us an amusing and engaging tour of these holy sites, managing to bring the past back to life when comparing it with Mandeville’s detailed written accounts. Impeccably researched, this reads like a literary detective story and has a few important points to make in calling for religious tolerance besides. The real eye-opener was contained within the epilogue, detailing what far-reaching consequences this slim volume of travel accounts by a long-forgotten knight has had on the entire world. Giles Milton has achieved to clear Sir John Mandeville’s name, and it deserves to be more widely known. By publishing this book, the author has undertaken the first step towards achieving it. ( )
1 vote passion4reading | Jan 23, 2013 |
This book is the story of Giles Milton's travels to Constantinople, Cyprus, Syria, Jerusalem and the Saint Catherine's monastery Sinai desert, as he investigates how much if any of the journey Sir John Mandeville actually made, and tries to solve the riddle of why the book was written at all.

The final revelation isn't all that exciting but the journey is interesting, especially when he visits ancient Christian monasteries that have survived against the odds in Muslim lands. ( )
  isabelx | Mar 19, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Giles Miltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ferguson, ArchieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I, John Mandeville, saw this, and it is the truth.

The Travels, circa 1356
Dedication
To Alexandra

who read countless versions of the manuscript
and gave birth to our daughter Madeleine
on the day it was finished
First words
In the days when gods dwelt in temples, a soldier named Alban was converted to Christianity.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Giles Milton's first book,The Riddle and the Knight, is a fascinating account of the legend of Sir John Mandeville, a long-forgotten knight who was once the most famous writer in medieval Europe. Mandeville wrote a book about his voyage around the world that became a beacon that lit the way for the great expeditions of the Renaissance, and his exploits and adventures provided inspiration for writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats. By the nineteenth century however, his claims were largely discredited by academics. Giles Milton set off in the footsteps of Mandeville, in order to test his amazing claims, and to restore Mandeville to his rightful place in the literature of exploration.

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Sir John Mandeville:
medieval knight, pilgrim,
traveller – liar?
(passion4reading)

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