Zone of the Marvellous: In Search of the Antipodes

Martin Edmond


‘Compressing 4000 years of history into 250 pages is a formidable task but maverick essayist Martin Edmond is up to the challenge . . . A gifted storyteller with a wry wit, he packs the book with masterly miniature biographies of scallywags, adventurers, liars, lunatics, artists and dreamers.’ – Iain Sharp, Metro


'He’s constantly demonstrating that the natural world is as splendiferous as any fable.’ – Jim Shepard, New York Times

New Zealand and Australia were imagined thousands of years before they became real. From Plato’s Atlantis to Dante’s Mount Purgatory, Sinbad the Sailor to Abel Tasman, travellers, writers, map-makers, charlatans and rogues dreamed of other worlds at the back of the sun.

In Zone of the Marvellous Martin Edmond recounts the fantastic history of the antipodes in the Western imagination. Edmond tells the stories of Gilgamesh, seeking immortality on the other side of the Waters of Death, and Ptolemy, inventing a Great South Land to balance the weight of northern-hemisphere continents. He traces the invention underlying truth in the tales of Marco Polo and the equivocal John Mandeville; and the fact underlying fiction in Thomas More’s Utopia. Along the way he wonders if Tasman’s dour puritanical character is somehow mirrored in aspects of the New Zealand psyche – and if the Australian character might resemble that of the 'old pyrating dog' and three-times circumnavigator William Dampier, insouciant larrikin and freedom-monger.

Shining with intellectual breadth and imaginative reach, Zone of the Marvellous is one person’s trawl through the detritus of the past five millennia. Edmond unfolds his inquiry with a weather eye for the always fertile intertwining of fact and fiction that makes up what we call history; for the moments of wonder and wild surmise that invented our Land of Gold, our Great South Land, our Antipodes; and for the sense and the resonant non-sense that keep alive our feeling for the marvellous.


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Ohakune-born Martin Edmond is now based in Sydney but is often in New Zealand. Several of his screenplays have been produced as award-winning films and four of his books have been shortlisted in the national book awards; his Chronicle of the Unsung won the biography category of the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. He was the 2004 Writing Fellow at The University of Auckland, in 2007 won a CLL Writers’ Award to support writing Zone of the Marvellous, and was a Michael King Writers’ Centre Writer in Residence in 2010.


September 2009, 210 x 140 mm, 242 pages, illustrations
Paperback, ISBN 9781869404475, $39.99