John Mandeville describes the land of India multiple times in his narrative “The Book of John Mandeville.” At first he calls it ‘The Land of India’ but later he refers to it as ‘The Land of Prester John.’ While his first chapter on India gets more and more savagely fantastical as it goes on, the later chapters about Prester John’s India is almost entirely divinely fantastical. There is only once when creatures of “savage” nature are described, and the rest of the time is devoted to how wonderful the land is. Mandeville begins by describing the wealth and scope of the lands and Prester John himself, who is said to have huge estates and a great deal of large cities and fine towns. He tells how the journey to get to the land is hazardous for ships, which is why not many people go to there. Mandeville discusses the relationship between Prester John and the Great Khan (they marry the other’s daughter) and comments on how pious and religious Prester John is. The author then talks about the many wonders that are found on the island where the Emperor lives, like a sea of sand with lots of fish but no water in it and a flow of gems and stones from Paradise, like a river but also with no water. He briefly talks about a place with savage wild men with horns on their head, but then moves on to discuss the Emperor’s impressive parrots and army. He excessively describes the splendor of the palace of Prester John, and how the Emperor structures his court. Mandeville then goes into a list of each island nearby, describing various wonders on them and discussing how religious, pious and good the people there all are.
These chapters on India in the land of Prester John contrast significantly to the other chapter Mandeville wrote about India. They have similarities in that in both he lists many islands, and describes what is to be found on them, however the India of Prester John is portrayed as heavenly and good, while the other India is depicted as savage and wicked. In Prester John’s India, every place he discusses he describes as being a good island, with many wonders, no thieving, lots of fine gems and plenty of wealth. Even when these islands become more fantastical and have beasts or other types of people on them, he still portrays them as wonderful and good. The author’s bias is unmistakeable in this section. These lands are supposedly in the same general area as the other savage lands described in the first chapter on India. However, because he has connected the places in this chapter with the Christian figure Prester John, they are rendered and described as heavenly and wonderful by Mandeville. In my previous blog post about the first chapter on India, I commented on the author’s obvious racism when portraying the country. In these chapters his racism and christian exceptionalism has magnified. These two places, though in the same area and even in the same country, are described as practically polar opposites to each other, one as good and the other as evil, all because one is associated with Christianity and the other is not. However, the irony of this injustice is that neither of them are even real.