Well, if you agree that anything published before the year 2000 is old, and anything from before 1950 is ancient, then I have something for you.
I love maps–especially drawn maps of fantastic places that never really existed. I’m not so keen on aerial surveys. I’m currently reading an old book that I rescued from an antique shop several years ago. It is called Trader Horn: Harold the Webbed. The title page is the kind of thing that isn’t done in publishing anymore. It says:
Harold the Webb or The Young Vykings: being volume two of the life and works of Trader Horn
. . . the works written by Alfred Aloysius Horn at the age of seventy-three, & the life with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience, taken down and here edited by Ethelreda Lewis; with a foreword by William McFee. New York, The Literary Guild of America, Inc., MCMXXVIII.
Wikipedia has this to say about Mr. Horn:
Alfred Aloysius “Trader” Horn (born Alfred Aloysius Smith; 1861–1931) was an ivory trader in central Africa. He wrote a book, Trader Horn: A Young Man’s Astounding Adventures in 19th-Century Equatorial Africa (ISBN 1-885211-81-3), detailing his journeys into jungles teeming with buffalo, gorillas, man-eating leopards, serpents and “savages”. The book also documents his efforts to free slaves, meet the founder of Rhodesia, Cecil Rhodes, and liberate a princess from captivity.
I’ve read that book. I may have it around the apartment somewhere. It’s rather a fantastic tale of 19th century Africa, something straight out of H. Rider Haggard, and it became a sensation is the 1920s when it was made into a film using a lot of actual footage of wild animals shot in Africa. Some of that footage was recycled into the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies. What people don’t know is that after the success of his first book, Horn thought he could do it again by creating a medieval romance about the days of Viking England. He chose as his hero a 16 year old boy with webs between his fingers and toes, which made him a very good swimmer. The tale is the most ridiculous claptrap anyone has ever read. Horn called upon his family traditions from Lancashire, and thought he would make up a tale of derring-do that would catch the fancy of the romance-reading public the way his first story about rescuing a white woman from a native tribe did. Although the book was handsomely produced, I’m sure it sank like a stone when it came out. The tale involves a crew of teenage pirates sailing in British waters at the time when Julius Caesar was invading England. They spend some time with the legendary Irish chieftain Fingal and rob a Phoenician trader. Horn calls his characters Saxons and Vikings although both of those races lived hundreds of years after the Romans invaded Britain. The story is just plain silly. I, who am a lover of medieval romances, sagas, and heroic literature, am having a hard time reading this.
But the book came with this map. Isn’t it a beauty?
The map not only shows the travels of the hero, but also shows a portrait of the author at 73, placed in his native Lancashire, and shows a Norman castle as the stronghold of an Irish chieftain. Surely this map of the British Isles is as much a creation of fantasy as any map of Atlantis would be. In the tradition of ancient maps, it even has a sea serpent drawn into it, though if there is a sea serpent in the book, I haven’t found it yet. 🙂
The publisher did a nice job with this book back in 1928 when it came out. It is bound in green buckram, has gold stamping of a Viking ship on the front cover, `and the title stamped in gold on the spine. It’s only 275 pages, and most of the book is full of the ignorant and racist musings of old Albert Horn, but it’s printed on good quality paper, and a book like this might easily survive for a century or two if someone would just take care of it.
I have a fairly large collection of old books. I’m thinking I might share a few more of their beauties with anyone willing to read these blogs. If I can just rescue the maps and some of the ancient illustrations from oblivion, it will be worth the effort.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Trader Horn, or read anything by this old geezer, why not leave a comment? I’m fairly certain that Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been aware of Horn’s African tale at the very least. And I wonder how much more “White Hunter” literature survives from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Don’t mention Haggard to me. I’ve read most of his stuff. But is there anyone else worth reading?