Looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, are you? There's certainly a sizable audience looking for books, pamphlets and verses of this type.80 Since Great Britain has expanded her empire greatly in the last hundred years, more and more people are coming back with tales of the strange and unusual in other countries. Other writers have never traveled but are still capitalizing on the public's fascination for the unusual.81
I need not tell you that, while some of these observations are undoubtedly true, others are made up completely. Since nearly all of them claim to be completely accurate accounts, it's up to you, the discriminating reader, to decide what to believe in.82 Nevertheless, there are merits to all of these stories, whether they are true or not. They are entertaining, of course - anything that's new and unusual generally is these days. But these books go far beyond entertainment value; they generally serve to enlighten their readers to the human experience, even if the ways they do so differ tremendously.
Many travel narratives many point out the difference between our English manners and customs and those of other countries, giving facts about "foreign rituals" and "strange plants and beasts."83 Often they show how our society is superior to others, but sometimes they make striking critiques of the problems of British society. Try Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels for a good example of this. Not all works are as interesting as his, of course. A lot of them are mechanical, and give their entire story on the title page!84
While many stories give accounts of something fantastic that happened to a traveler abroad, there are also many personal accounts of wonder that happened to normal people in England: stories of a lost child found, or a terrible storm that took revenge on an evil neighbor. Regardless of where the event took place, the writers generally see the story as having some larger purpose in society.85 Often, the author will point out how the story shows the limits of human knowledge and experience.86 Hopefully by collecting enough information and stories, we will be able to come to some better understanding about human nature. Another common type of story is one that gives a remarkable tale wherein everything comes together neatly in the end; for example, how an earthquake punishes an evildoer, or how a lowly Christian was rewarded. These tales generally attempt to show the reader tales of divine providence, in order to prove that God still exists and has a hand in events on earth.87 I'm often tempted to put them in our section on religion and morals, since their teachings are so blatantly in that genre.