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Authors of travel accounts have reported their observations and experiences in many different forms, and the author’s choice of form has sometimes influenced the character of the account. Often, of course, authors have made their travel and sojourn in distant lands the principal focus of works taking the form of a travel account proper. Notable examples of this approach are the travel accounts of Xuanzang, Marco Polo, and Ibn Battuta, all of whom intended to relate the things they saw and experienced in foreign lands.


Yet travel accounts have appeared also in other guises. Many have taken the form of contemporary historical accounts: Herodotus wove travel reports into his history of The Persian Wars, while Zhang Qian’s account of his travels among the Xiongnu appeared in the official history of the Han dynasty by the Chinese historian Sima Qian, and Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s True History of the Conquest of New Spain was as much a travel account as a record of a military campaign. Travel accounts also have figured prominently in logs, journals, memoirs, official correspondence, private letters, and diaries. Christopher Columbus included a great deal of travel reportage in the log of his first voyage to the Western Hemisphere (which itself survives only in a later historical account composed by the Spanish missionary Bartolomé de las Casas), while Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China was as much travel account as it was a personal memoir and political tract. In the cases of these works, reports on foreign lands and peoples sometimes represent discussions that are secondary to the authors’ principal concerns. Reflections of travel experiences have occurred also in oral traditions, such as Icelandic sagas recounting Norse voyages to Greenland and North America, orally transmitted accounts of Sundiata, the 13th-century founder of the Mali empire, and the numerous oral traditions of Polynesians and other Pacific islanders who recalled their migrations and other overseas ventures in stories passed down from one generation to another.


Indeed, travel accounts have been so popular with readers through the ages that many writers have adapted the genre of the travel account in presenting works of fiction. Homer’s Odyssey, the stories of Sindbad in the Arabian Nights, Thomas More’s Utopia, the picaresque novel Monkey by the Chinese writer Wu Cheng’en, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, the Baron de Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas, Voltaire’s Candide, Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities are only a few fictional works that either take the form of travel accounts or draw upon features of the genre in communicating their authors’ visions of their own worlds.


A somewhat different kind of fictional travel account involves forgery. In several notable cases, writers have prepared fictional travel accounts, often based on considerable research, that they have then attributed to real travelers. The best known and perhaps most widely read example of the forged travel account is the 14th-century work known as Sir John Mandeville’s Travels. By no means is the forged travel account an extinct literary form. Recently, British and U.S. publishers presented a book entitled The City of Light that purports to record the travel experiences of a 13th-century Jewish Italian merchant named Jacob d’Ancona. Because the work includes numerous historical howlers, however, and because the work’s supposed discoverer, editor, and translator has refused to allow others access to the work itself, most scholars regard The City of Light as a recent forgery.

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