Traveling through the islands of myth and fantasy with a guide who does his best to unravel the mysteries surrounding them.
What Tallack (Sixty Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home, 2016, etc.) calls “the line between myth and map” is a fine one, occasionally blurry and indistinct. The author, who lives in Glasgow but is originally from the remote island of Shetland, does his best to track these islands to their origins in tall tales sold by sailors, allegories of paradise, and even outright deception. Part of the trickiness is that many of these islands have appeared on maps, as if they were real, from a time when “people understood that the world was big and that their part of it was small, but they knew little of what lay beyond.” Charting that world of what lay beyond was an inexact science, and some of those islands might now be known under a different name, while some were simply a product of myth or imagination. The best-known of these remains Atlantis, the sunken continent, which, writes Tallack, “is a fictional island, invented by Plato for allegorical purposes.” He continues, “you can discover almost anything you want to discover about Atlantis, and pretty much every word of it is nonsense.” Many of these islands seem to exist in the spiritual realm, as places inhabited by the dead or as a heavenly paradise on Earth, a different realm from the world the rest of us experience. Of one, he writes, once one has seen it, his words become unintelligible to others. Hence the lack of documentation. Yet the tales long persisted, because “the idea of a drowned island is somehow both irresistible and unbelievable.” Scott’s illustrations simply conjure the imaginative visions, while the prose tends toward the matter-of-fact (or matter-of-myth) and encyclopedic.
Travel writing about places no one can travel.