The explorer's life, depicted in words and pictures.
December 11, 2010 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Is there a term for travel accounts of explorers, both fictional and real-life? Also, tell me some of your favorites.

Hoping you guys can help me out, I'm drawing a blank here--

Looking for first person accounts of naturalists/explorers/travelers etc documenting their experiences while they travel. I'm trying to develop a project for a gallery show where I would create a strange world and then take the role of an explorer finding different places/societies and depicting their adventures. I really like the idea of then producing an illustrated diary account of the explorer's encounters, and I know there must be some really interesting ones throughout history (and fiction)-- but mentally I'm drawing a blank. (The most I can seem to come up with is Dinotopia and Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle.) Is there a specific term for these sorts of accounts?

And of course if you can share some of your favorites, that'd be quite amazing. Thanks!
posted by actionpact to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Travelogue is the broad term, though it's a fairly recent term (early 20th century).
posted by jedicus at 8:44 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know you're looking for real ones, but my favorite fictional travel journal (perhaps for inspiration?) was always The Voyage of the Basset. Totally sumptuous art.
posted by threeants at 8:52 PM on December 11, 2010

the word you're blanking on is: travelogue; but closer to your purposes, you're probably looking more for pre 20th century travel literature where it's about unveiling some new bit of terra incognita, rather than more of the modern form of travel literature which is, in most ways nowadays, more about internal journeys of self-discovery through travel (cf. Eat Pray Love and its ilk of women in a middle age crisis books) or wry social observation (cf. the oeuvre of Bill Bryson and, in some cases, Paul Theroux)

Classics: The travel journals of Ibn Battuta

Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands

There was also an interesting FPP collating missionary travelogues from the 19th century

Modern-ish (but still in the vein of your research): Peter Matthiesen's The Snow Leopard

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia
posted by bl1nk at 9:01 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Log of the Bounty, and of the open launch boat in which Bligh and the loyalists in his crew were set adrift by Fletcher Christian and his mutineers is compelling reading, especially rocking in any sailing vessel berth over salt water, out of sight of shore. Last spring, some adventurers re-traveled the remarkable 3600+ mile journey sailed by Bligh in that small boat, in similarly small, open sailing boat, with as minimal navigation resources and supplies as Bligh's log described, with a few modern electronic links to permit crew monitoring and position reporting.

No travelogues, either story, and short on meeting new friends, but long on adventure, danger and heroism.
posted by paulsc at 9:03 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found Bear Grylls (the English guy from Man Vs Wild) and his accounts in The Kid Who Climbed Everest and Facing the Frozen Ocean to be fascinating. The latter was especially good and covered his almost fatal kayak voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia to John O'Groats, Scotland, taking in stops and describing people and customs all through the ports of Canada, Greenland, etc.
posted by wackybrit at 9:03 PM on December 11, 2010

First Footsteps in East Africa by Richard Burton. What about Swift's Gulliver's Travels?
posted by vicambulist at 9:06 PM on December 11, 2010

In addtion to the Voyage of the Beagle, in the same vein there's The Malay Archipelago, the land of the orang-utan and the bird of paradise; a narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature by Alfred Russel Wallace (who made approximately the same inferences as Darwin, at roughly the same time and with similar kinds of data, just in Indonesia instead of South America and the Galapagos.)
posted by endless_forms at 9:10 PM on December 11, 2010

Off the top of my head...

Travels in the Congo by Andre Gide
Malaria Dreams by Stuart Stevens
Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux
Jaguars Ripped My Flesh by Tim Cahill
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen (took me several years of browsing used bookstores to find this one after reading a single chapter in some anthology I can't remember. Either Amazon wasn't around back then, or I viewed it as some perverse challenge to find the book the old fashioned way, I can't recall which.)
The Devil Drives: A life of Sir Richard Burton by Fawn M. Brodie

In general, books about travel in Africa, whether in old or modern times have a higher than average rate of turning out to be winners, in my experience.
posted by smcameron at 9:24 PM on December 11, 2010

Herman Melville's most popular book during his lifetime was his first, the 1846 Typee, a work of fiction based on his experiences at Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands.
posted by ilana at 9:39 PM on December 11, 2010

Just went upstairs to look at my books... some more, too lazy to link:
(I have not read all of these)

  • Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan by John L. Stephens
  • Drums Along the Congo, On the Trail of Mokele-MBembe, the last living dinosaur
    by Rory Nugent -- not as insane as the title makes it seem, iirc.
  • Dangerous Beauty Life and Death in Africa: True Stories from a Safari Guide bye Mark C. Ross
  • King of the Wa-Kikuyu by John Boyes
  • Facing the Congo, A modern-day Journey into the Heart of Darkness by Jeffrey Tayler -- I recall this one is particularly good, iirc, relates events that occurred circa 1994, but much of the tale could just as well have occurred in 1894.
  • Travels in the Interior of Africa by Mungo Park
  • The Best of Borneo Travel compiled and introduced by victor T. King
  • Song From the Forest -- My Life Among the Ba-Benjelle Pygmies by Louis Sarno
  • The Gardens of the Sun -- A Naturalist's Journal of Borneo and the Sulu Archipelago by F.W. Burbidge
  • Sufferings in Africa The Incredible True Story of A Shipwreck, Enslavement, and Survival on the Sahara
  • The Unveiling of Timbuctoo by Galbraith Welch -- this one left an impression on me.

  • posted by smcameron at 9:41 PM on December 11, 2010

    I'm sure you'll get tons of book recs, so I'm not going to get up to check my bookshelves, but one interesting documentary, especially if you're interested in the ways people represent their explorations, is Jon Muir's Alone Across Australia. It's mostly him filming himself as he walks something like 2500 km. He's also been to both poles and to the top of Everest, so his explorations are worth checking out.
    posted by BlooPen at 9:58 PM on December 11, 2010

    The Worst Journey in the World is a classic and a must-read. Here on gutenberg.
    posted by rtha at 10:20 PM on December 11, 2010

    Here's a contemporary, visual traveler documentation: A Year in Japan
    posted by Bunglegirl at 10:42 PM on December 11, 2010

    The better known works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne don't disappoint.
    posted by minkll at 11:00 PM on December 11, 2010

    Response by poster: Just saying, you guys are amazing-- I can't wait to go to the library on Monday and start my research. Keep them coming! (and fictional works would be really interesting to see too.)
    posted by actionpact at 12:41 AM on December 12, 2010

    Going back a little further in time:

    Marco Polo: The Travels of Marco Polo

    Christopher Columbus:The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives

    Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was one of the most important early explorers across North America

    Bernal Diaz, the Spanish chronicler who wrote the fullest account of Hernán Cortes's exploration and conquest of Mexico.

    In the realm of fiction, a couple of important early examples of the genre of already-popular explorer's accounts would be Voltaire's Candide, Daniel Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
    posted by drlith at 6:33 AM on December 12, 2010

    There's also Mark Twain's _Innocents Abroad_ and _Roughing It_.
    posted by endless_forms at 7:13 AM on December 12, 2010

    Seconding Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by J L Stephens, since you might be particularly interested in the illustrations by Frederick Catherwood, a rather quiet and nerdy draftsman who got dragged off on this crazy jungle adventure and doggedly tried to depict the utterly alien (to him) Mayan artifacts they found. It's also quite funny in places.

    For fiction, try the ripping 19th Century adventure novels of H. Rider Haggard: She, King Solomon's Mines, and Allan Quatermain. The books are much better than the Hollywood versions. You'll recognize the fictional ancestors of the Indiana Jones movies in these tales.
    posted by Quietgal at 10:30 AM on December 12, 2010

    In Morocco by Edith Wharton
    posted by HopperFan at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2010

    Log from the Sea of Cortez - John Steinbeck
    posted by joyride at 6:24 AM on December 13, 2010

    Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino - kind of a must read, think Borges taxonomy of fantastical creatures, but rather related to cities that Marco Polo recounts to Kublai Khan.
    posted by iamck at 8:29 AM on December 21, 2010

    Coming very late to this thread, I know, but if you're still interested see if you can get hold of any of Peter Fleming's travel books. He was Ian Fleming's brother, and was a journalist and traveller. Went to Brazil in the late 1920s as a correspondent for the Times looking unsuccessfully for a lost explorer named Fawcett. In the mid-1930s he walked from Beijing to Srinagar (then in India) in company with a Swiss woman called Ella Maillart, who also apparently wrote a book about it. Fleming's book is called News from Tartary. I had a copy of it years ago and remember his description of the boots he wore--they were American paratroop boots which fitted so perfectly that he no longer needed to wear socks with them. The Brazilian book is called Brazilian Adventure, but I haven't read this one.
    posted by Logophiliac at 1:35 PM on February 19, 2011

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