This brilliantly written reconstruction of Sir Walter Raleigh's 1595 South American journey combines painstaking...


THE CREATURE IN THE MAP: A Journey to El Dorado

This brilliantly written reconstruction of Sir Walter Raleigh's 1595 South American journey combines painstaking scholarship, vivid travelogue, and an intuitive sensitivity for the many meanings of the El Dorado myth. When Sir Walter Raleigh set out to find the ""golden city"" in what is now Venezuela, he was both seeking to regain the favor of Queen Elizabeth I and responding to a fascination that had gripped Europeans throughout the 16th century. English travel writer and historical biographer Nicholl (The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, 1994, etc.) brings this six-week expedition to life by a critical use of the historical records, especially the accounts of Raleigh himself and of expedition member Thomas Sparry, and by the story of his own journey, accompanied by a British television crew, up the Orinoco River into the remote highlands that Raleigh described. Nicholl gives us his scholarly and experiential narratives in separate but parallel sections, and the result is a text that speaks to the reader on several levels. He describes in detail the preparations for the voyage, the crew, and Raleigh's dealings with his powerful backers. We hear how Raleigh obtained important information from a Spaniard he captured at Trinidad, and how he won the friendship of tribal kings, such as Toparimaca and Topiawari. Nicholl's own travelogue is full of humanity and incident. There is an eerie account of a village medicine man, and in a series of shantytowns we meet some present-day gold diggers and an eccentric hermit who throws light on the legendary American airman, Jimmy Angel, discoverer of longest waterfall in the world at the very site of Raleigh's projected El Dorado. Nicholl analyzes Raleigh's imagery and draws on his connection with Elizabethan alchemist Dr. Dee to explore his journey in Jungian terms as a psychological quest. A rare treat for both intellect and imagination.

Pub Date: March 20, 1996

ISBN: 0226580253

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996