The Creature in the Map: A Journey to El Dorado

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"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. . . . Nicholl brings this six-week expedition to life. . . . A rare treat for both intellect and imagination."—Kirkus Reviews

"Walter Raleigh . . . was one of those Elizabethan all-rounders who still seem staggeringly larger than life. . . . Mr. Nicholl's cogent reconstruction of the journey uses Raleigh's own account, 'The Discoverie of Guiana'—part truth, part advertising, part rhapsody—and much well-found ancillary material."—Anthony Bailey, New York Times

"Like The Reckoning, his brilliant account of the murder of Christopher Marlowe, Nicholl's new book might be called an exercise in historical conjuring. The Creature in the Map is an effort not only to analyse but also to call into presence the lived experience of the voyage Raleigh undertook in 1595 to the Orinoco Delta in what is now Venezuela."—Stephen Greenblatt, Times Literary Supplement

"Charles Nicholl belongs to an elite company, that of historians who know how to make research into arcane matters and distant times as engrossing as In Cold Blood or All the President's Men."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

"A highly readable and authoritative account of Walter Raleigh's failed expedition up the Orinoco river to find the fabled El Dorado in mid-1595. Based largely on first-hand accounts such as the Raleigh's own The Discoverie of Guiana, Francis Sparry's testimony, and the author's retracing of Raleigh's route, the book not only recounts the expedition itself but also explicates the cultural myth of El Dorado that animated explorers and conquerors like Raleigh and the Spaniard Antonio de Berrâio"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In the grand scheme of things, Sir Walter Raleigh's 1595 expedition to the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela did not count for much. English writer Nicholl, whose previous books have been travel adventures or Elizabethan biography, combines his interests to reconstruct Raleigh's search for El Dorado based on the original documents and Nicholl's 1992 journey along the same route. The result is less than the sum of its parts. Specialists expecting a book similar to Nicholl's The Reckoning (LJ 3/1/94) and general readers expecting a rollicking travel adventure similar to Borderlines (LJ 6/1/89) will both be somewhat disappointed. Yet Nicholl has produced a useful study that places Raleigh's journey in the context of the El Dorado legend. While general readers will enjoy the account of Nicholl's journey, his book is primarily for specialized collections in Elizabethan England and the European exploration of South America.-Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226580258
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/23/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 405
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Part One: The Guiana Voyage
1. Mapping El Dorado
2. Ralegh's America
3. A Gentleman of Spain
4. Love and Exile
5. Preparations
6. The Crew
7. Atlantic Crossing
8. Trinidad
Part Two: The Entrada
9. The Gulf of Sadness
10. The Delta
11. Tivitivas
12. The Medicine Man
13. The Guiana Bend
14. Dark Eyes
15. Lords of the Borders
16. Downtown Orinoco
Part Three: The New Dorado
17. Gold Rush
18. Jimmy Angel
19. Canaima
20. Meeting Laime
21. Welcome to El Dorado
Part Four: The Return
22. Downriver
23. Home
24. Ordinary Prizes
25. Balsam of Guiana
26. A Golden World
27. On Red Cross River
28. The Shut Palace
1. The Sparry Papers
2. Ralegh's Chart
3. The Fleet
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