The Island of California, A History of the Myth

By Dvorak, Ken | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

The Island of California, A History of the Myth


Dvorak, Ken, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


The Island of California, A History of the Myth. Dora Beale Polk. University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

As the title suggests, California during European global exploration came to symbolize a mythical island. Polk traces how this misconception emerged, its persistence, and the myth's resolution. Drawing on literature, psychology, geography, cartography, mythology and history, the author deftly maneuvers the reader through an analysis of humankind's emerging global awareness. Central to the book is the author's exploration of how myths, especially land myths, became fixed in the minds of early explorers. It is this interest in myths that focus the author on examining the empirical evidence of island myths and their rational for constructing a particular world view.

Beginning in Europe in the thirteenth century, Polk sees the evolution of the California myth resulting from early mariners' belief in fabulous lands of "Ind" or "the Indies." They thought that these lands or islands were the magnificent Atlantis, Arcadia, Avalon, El Dorado, the Garden of Eden, the Land of Milk and Honey or the Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan. Included in these myths were the beautiful yet dangerous female Amazons whose island kingdoms thought to contain vast quantities of pearls and gold.

These dreamstock tales handed down from generation to generation provided early mariners with an identifiable belief system that they took with them in their explorations. As these tales changed and matured later thinkers and adventurers published and distributed their works to an expanding audience eager to learn of these dream destinations. …

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