Here be Dragons: Speculative Travel Writing

In this
class we will explore the ways European medieval and early modern peoples
thought about the foreign, the exotic, the “other.” The readings will mainly be
from 1100 to 1650–though we’ll stretch a point enough to read some of GULLIVER’S
TRAVELS, a spoof of and commentary on the genre. We’ll start by reading
narratives of travel to places we nowadays wouldn’t consider “real” (though
their original audience might differ): Heaven, Hell, the Land of Cockaigne
(where the landscape was made of food that would simply fall into people’s mouths),
and Fairyland. Then we’ll consider travel to places supposedly on this earth,
and what people expected to find in these far-off lands: dog-headed men, tailed
women, the miraculous kingdom of Prester John in Ethiopia. We’ll look at
medieval maps that show the earth as a giant petaled flower with Jerusalem at
the center or have sections marked “Here be dragons.” We’ll also read some of
the first science fiction/fantasy, including Johannes Kepler’s SOMNIUM, about a
trip to the moon, and an account written by a 17th-century noblewoman about how
she traveled to a different planet peopled by bear-men and bird-men. Most importantly,
we’ll discuss why people
wanted to create/write about the exotic elsewhere–what purposes this extremely
popular genre served. Assignments will include three 5- to 6-page papers and
some informal responses. A class reader will be available from Professional
Image, and texts, including THE ANTIPODES by Richard Brome, THE BLAZING WORLD
by Lady Margaret Cavendish, and THE TRAVELS OF SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE will be
available at Revolution Books.