Sir John Mandeville is the narrator of the Travels: according to his own testimony, an English knight. Born in England in St. Albans, John Mandeville travels through the Middle East and Asia. He travels repeatedly to Jerusalem, and from there as far as Armenia, Tartary, India, and China; crossed, unscathed, the Vale Perilous where demons manifest on earth to deceive and terrify the living; and even draws near the Earthly Paradise, though he sadly confesses, “Of Paradise I cannot speak properly, for I have not been there; and that I regret” (Chapter 33, p. 184).
Both narrator and traveller, Sir John Mandeville shapes and inhabits the world and its story. The illuminations below present him as he sets out on this journey. Yet it is likely that this compelling authorial persona is a work of fiction. The scholarly consensus is, as Tamara Kohanski and David Benson put it, “ ‘Sir John Mandeville, knight of St. Albans’ was probably not a knight, not named Mandeville, not English, and perhaps never traveled much at all, except among the volumes of a well-stocked library” (The Travels of John Mandeville, Introduction).