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Adventures in Unhistory    by Avram Davidson order for
Adventures in Unhistory
by Avram Davidson
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In his Introduction to Avram Davidson's Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends, acclaimed author Peter S. Beagle heralds its publication with the words, 'Bloody well time, that's all I've got to say. About bloody well time.' He calls the book - which is enhanced by George Barr's black and white illustrations - a 'tantalizing sampling' of the knowledge of 'a wonderful writer and the most learned person I know.' He speaks of the 'critical ghetto' in which SF authors ply their craft, and calls Davidson 'a provoker of wonderings you didn't know you had it in you to wonder'. Intrigued yet? I certainly was.

Reading these Adventures in Unhistory is like lingering after an excellent dinner, listening to an erudite speaker share what he's passionate about, and back it with inspired research. Davidson begins by asking Where Did Sindbad Sail?, and ends with a dissertation on The Prevalence of Mermaids. He makes good arguments for Sindbad's voyaging to Indonesia; connects the phoenix legend to birds' predilection for anting in hot environments; considers dragon legends originating in lightning or the crocodile; assesses medicinal properties of the mandrake root; suggests rabid wolves as the basis of the werewolf; views Aleister Crowley from various perspectives, including that of William Butler Yeats; considers the Asian origins of Prester John; transforms the theft of the secret of silk into legend; puts Hyperborea on the map; looks at headhunting societies; demystifies the unicorn; considers the fate of frozen mammoths; muses on mankind's fascination with the moon; and connects the dugong and mermaids.

Then there are the fascinating asides - engaging detours from Davidson's main arguments - like John James Audubon's connection to the poet Keats as well as to Dr. Knox, who obtained his corpses for dissection from the infamous Burke and Hare. This unique and - for anyone open to the magic of myth and legend - totally absorbing volume ends with the sentence, 'And each connection, it is said, shines and glitters like a jewel.' Davidson's informed speculations are indeed gems that illuminate and enrich our imaginations with thought-provoking connections that build a sense of wonder.

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