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Phantom Islands of the Atlantic: The Legends of Seven Lands That Never Were

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Phantom Islands of the Atlantic: The Legends of Seven Lands That Never Were.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Donald S. Johnson(Author)

    Book details

Explores strange tales of seven mythical islands that were claimed, described, and carefully mapped but never existed, combining history and myth to explain how these lands, conjured out of rumor, mistaken identity, and sheer fantasy, managed to stimulate hope and the imaginations of explorers for centuries.

Prior to the discovery of continental drift and the birth of islands by volcanic action, a different sort of movement and birth of landmasses took place: the continual cartographic displacement of approximately 27,000 nonexistent islands reputed to exist in the Atlantic and the ontological displacement of the islands from imaginative "existence" on maps and in traveler's tales. Johnson traces the birth, lives, and deaths of seven of these elusive islands of the Atlantic--including their towns, villages, and exotic inhabitants such as St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgin companions (what a lure this must have been to lusty sailors!)--from maps and ship's logs. In the process, he reveals much about the ways in which imagination becomes reality through social consensus and the authority of the printed document. Until the invention of modern navigational intruments (most notably the chronometer, in the 1730s, which enabled sailors to mark longitude), geographic calculations drew upon legends and unverifiable reports from ancient mariners who, sailing only by latitude and the stars, could not pinpoint precisely where they had been. Early cartographers filled their maps with the satanic beasts and horrific (or idyllic) landscapes the sailors described. As navigation became more scientific, these "lands that never were" disappeared from the maps. After presenting ancient and medieval geographical theories, Johnson, a sailor who has crossed the Atlantic five times in a 27-foot schooner, tells seven of these island tales. The Isle of Demons off Newfoundland was reputedly inhabited by bears, walruses and a variety of mythological animals. St. Brendan, a sixth-century Irish monk, was said to have discovered the islands that came to bear his name on a seven-year voyage that may have been a religious fantasy. The fifth century's Saint Ursula, legend has it, left Britain for Rome by boat, accompanied by 11,000 virgins. Johnson also tells of the tantalizing searches for Frisland, Buss Island, the Isle of Seven Cities and Hy-Brazil, a foggy green isle off the west coast of Ireland that was eyed as a midway station for trade to the Orient. This admirably researched and well-written account, with numerous maps and illustrations, vividly illustrates how interesting the often overlooked science of geography can be. BOMC and QPB selections. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

2.4 (9623)
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Book details

  • PDF | 220 pages
  • Donald S. Johnson(Author)
  • Walker & Co; Revised edition (November 1, 1996)
  • English
  • 4
  • Politics & Social Sciences

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Review Text

  • By jrmspnc on August 16, 2002

    I hate to sound a sour note, especially in the face of unanimous five star ratings. However, Phantom Islands does not live up to its billing. To read the title and the book jacket, one would expect the book to be primarily about *legends* - tales of mysterious islands inhabited by wondrous people and creatures. One would think, too, that the cartography of the Atlantic would be secondary - an interesting side-note, but not the focus.The opposite is true. Johnson gives an all-too brief description of the "phantom island" at issue, then launches into an exhaustive recitation of the island's appearance on maps; how so and so in 1524 put the island here, while such and such twenty years later moved it ten miles further south. It quickly becomes old.Let me emphasize that my grievance stems largely from feeling misled. I opened the book expecting X and got Q instead. If one is looking for a history of cartography, this book probably deserves the five stars others have given it. But if you are looking for tales of legendary, vanished isles look elsewhere.

  • By David N. Reiss on March 23, 2004

    This book is a quaint text that is very interesting. I find the discussion of imaginary lands in the Atlantic to be very fun to read about. The imaginary lands that never really existed were a symptom of something greater within the human condition: our yearning for a better place than we where are currently.Of course, most of the lands that he discusses were just secondary discoveries of places we had already been too, and/or aspects of them got misreported, or facts about them garbled. Frisland was probably just a misreported encounter with Iceland by somebody who wasn't aware or Iceland's existence, or thought he was nowhere near Iceland for whatever reason. None of these would be out of the question, since things like accurate measurement of ones Longitude laid in the future and illiteracy was very rampant until relatively recent times.To use a quote that Donald Johnson uses, "The power of wish and the power of words are chief gods in the world of fable" - C. B. Firestone. Meaning that sometimes people want to dream things because they want too. And if they decide to believe those thoughts... while, it might not be healthy for them, like other vices, in moderation is probably okay for them.Later generations, and most notably British, French and later American navel cartographers removed the mystery lands because they wanted to know where islands really were, like in case you really need to make land fall in an emergency. So, they cleaned up the nonexistent places from the old maps.Beliefs in these lands made people feel better about themselves for whatever reasons they might have had. Today people immerse themselves into less healthy systems at times. Was something lost? Not really. We just moved our inherent yearning to other places... many have moved their thoughts to the stars and thoughts of other planets. Some yearning of that nature can be healthy, but it can be carried to extremes.I liked this book because it placed some of this kind of thinking into a historical context.

  • By SteveGinGTO on July 29, 2007

    I read this book about a year ago. The age of exploration is one of my interests, though a fairly recent one. So books like this help flesh out my understanding of what was going on at the time. It was a time when messages took weeks, often months, to get from sender to receiver, so the time lag could cause all kinds of problems with communication. And even the long time in returning from distant lands could cause memories to begin to fail a bit, so accounts told upon reaching home took on, shall we say, at least a little bit of expansion. Yet, I am sure all of the stories had some basis in fact.I did enjoy the book, for what it did - recount reports and searches for islands that are now understood to be non-existent... except one.One of these was the Island of the Seven Cities. There is a book on just this subject, The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America, by Paul Chiasson.Without intending to, Chiasson seems to have actually found the Island of Seven Cities, remarkable as that may appear. The book is about his search for an explanation for some ruins, his finding out that the Portuguese didn't build it, nor the French, English or the Scottish settlers later on. And aspects of it were not known at all until right at the end of his search, the ones that really tied it to the legend of the Island of Seven Cities, and its sands of gold. . .Look the book up and read it, if this is a piece of history you don't want to miss.

  • By R. Tyler on September 18, 2016

    Wonderful book!

  • By A customer on October 7, 2000

    This book is really worth checking out. Donald Johnson takes us exploring some of the cooler little nooks and crannies of history, and we walk away greatly enriched. These are the kinds of tales that would make fantastic campfire-side telling. One of my favorites is the tale of "Frisland". If you do an online search for the phrase "Westford Knight" on,,, or whatever search engine you prefer, you will find a re-telling of the legend with which this island is associated. There is a book by Frederick Pohl, the respected science fiction author, called "Prince Henry Sinclair: His Expedition to the New World in 1398", which tells this story in more detail. The town Westford, MA actually has an old carving on a rock by the side of the highway that looks like a knight, and the town government has allowed a plaque to be put up next to it, telling the story of how Sinclair and his knights voyaged to Newfoundland, and later may have made their way to Massachusetts. Who knows if it's really true, but the carving COULD be a knight.And that's just one of the stories. There are seven here, and each one is enthralling. Absolutely worth it.

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