The Realm of Prester John

In my jailbreak from blizzard confinement, I picked up a few things, including a very interesting book I began to read. I’m not sure if I’ll finish it or be distracted, but the first chapter was quite interesting. The book: The Realm of Prester John by Robert Silverberg. It’s interesting in several ways.

First, it is more of a scholarly work on church history (or at least tangential to it) by a writer I’ve known more for his science fiction.

Second, it traces the development and history of a Christian “myth” of a mysterious Eastern king and priest, Prester John, who ruled over a fabulous realm. Now, there was no such realm, and probably not such a person (at least precisely – that’s the fun history part), but the story was a big part of medieval thinking and influenced things like the crusades and even shows up briefly in Much Ado about Nothing.

Third, given its topic, the background material includes a lot of history on the expansion of the church into Asia, India and the like, so touches about lost corners of the Christian story and some (at least from a Western perspective) disreputable family members (Nestorians, Monophysites, etc.).

The result – a fascinating bit of history with some speculation to try and figure out how this story began.

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