Sunday, 22 January 2017

Phantom Atlas

The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies And Blunders On Maps
Edward Brooke-Hitching

Simon & Schuster hardcover £25

***** (5 stars) review by Ian Shutter

A magnificently mind-boggling treat for all fans of Lost World and Atlantis fictional adventures, this book offers cartography on hallucinogens, and ghostly fables of the haunted islands where ‘here be dragons’ is a final warning for the unwarily curious. 

Explorers recast as storytellers with a delightful whimsy, or sinister derangement, is the order of the day in this collection of images, boasting the allure of seven cities of gold, somewhere on the border between speculative horizon and utter dreamscape.  

Lemuria, Thule, weird territories, strange mountains, the kingdom of Prester John, Australia’s inland sea, the Island of California, the infamous Flat Earth, reports from various quests for paradise, and whales so big they are mistaken for islands by saints and sinners alike. From Wak-Wak to Antilla, there and back again, the wanderers do justice to wonderings in grandiose mistakes or hopes of celebrity in civilised nations.

From the Nordic to the Antipodean, this book presents voyages of discovery without wholly rational results. The Phantom Atlas is a fully illustrated compendium of misguided compass following treks, seafaring journeys into fear, confused fantasy, ancestral folklore, and far-out but fascinating inventions about our world as it never was. The African story of the Mountains of Kong, “running along the 10th parallel”, and the mythical Mountains of the Moon, “said to be the source of the Nile”, is a particularly odd piecemeal work of equatorial creationism.  

Looking for a blaze of inspiration to write a gothic fantasy saga or non-historical epic adventure? This marvellous catalogue of errors has plenty of unpicked other-worldly locations, ranging from whole continents to hidden valleys, to choose from. 

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