~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


1421: The Year China Discovered America ~ Sunday, December 31, 2006

By Gavin Menzies.

Two words: trained otters?!?

I've other notes on it in my "reading and viewing" (gotta think up a catchier name than that) blog, but it is getting more and more farfetched--or perhaps the implausibilities are merely building upon each other and piling up into a tottery house of cards.

Still, the claim that the Chines of the early fifteenth century employed trained otters ("working in pairs to herd shoals into the nets ...") as part of their exploratory fleet to keep everyone supplied with fresh fish and balance out the diet does seem to verge on the fantastical--as do a number of the other claims.

I am enjoying the book however, in the way that I enjoy Borges's fiction masquerading as a documentary commentary on a given, utterly fantastical subject (though Menzies's work is less bibliothecal). The details and evocations are skillfully presented, though we are also afforded the occasional glimpse of the man behind the curtain (in the form of utter implasibilities, wild leaps in logic and rather odd inferences). All the same, reading it as a work of imaginitive fiction is still very entertaining (I am after all, a fan of Borges).

I suppose the problem is that he passes it off as fact--and is apparently somewhat litigious in nature, so that for a while, scholars and historians were reluctant to speak out against him. But, that reticence seems to have faded, and now there's even a website dedicated to debunking Menzies's claims (because the book has been so popular).

It's funny--books have come to be regarded as the more definitive source, in contrast with the internet these days (though it's always a case of caveat emptor and "don't believe everything you read"). So here we have a wee reversal in the form of a website discrediting an erudite-looking (but also popular and accessible) tome. What fun!

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 1:45 PM::::


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