5 November 2014


Daniel Smith. 100 Things You Will Never Find: Lost Cities, Hidden Treasures and Legendary Quests, Quercus, 2014.

There is something about reviewing this book that brings on a sense of déjà vu. I seem to remember ruminating upon things that were lost a short while back on these very pages. Some things one may be able to find after all. Also things may be unobtainable because they never existed in the first place or they may not have been what they were generally perceived to be at all and we have all been looking in the wrong place.
This is the frame of mind, then, that the reader is advised to approach this title. The book itself is, by its very nature, something of a general work. Many mainstream and obvious subjects are covered, such as the Loch Ness Monster, the Mary Celeste and so on. There are many illustrations; they are so plentiful they rival the text itself. The intriguing cover picture shows an underwater scene of shattered fluted columns, thus emphasising the air of mystery, evoking lost lands and drawing the reader in. The subjects that are unfindable cover the widest range possible, from legendary cities and people to comparatively modern vessels and artefacts. The only common denominator is that the subjects in question are not readily available to us today. The title itself sends out a challenge which is difficult to resist. The temptation is to head straight for the Contents page and to search out something that can, or has, been successfully located.*

This has all of the positive and negative qualities of this type of book. There is a very wide range for the seeker after mystery, and the subjects are covered in a page or two, large pictures (which are rather attractive in themselves) permitting. There is an index, but no bibliography. The subjects themselves are not grouped by similarity. Then, of course, there is the actual writing. Whilst the prose is easy and engaging, most of the theories for the non-availability of a hundred things are quite orthodox. There’s nothing outlandish; no alien intervention or wilder conspiracy theories here. However, there are one or two facts that have gone awry. The author claims that The Da Vinci Code was influenced by The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail whereas the court case (Baigent and Leigh v. Random House) disclosed that the book that shaped Dan Brown’s creativity was, in fact, The Templar Revelation. The section on the Holy Grail did not adequately address the fact that, as far as anyone knows, it is purely fictional and that the closest we may come to it is the artefact that seems to have influenced the original tale by Chrétien de Troyes, the Patène de Serpentine, currently located in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

This tome is obviously meant as a popular stocking-filler, coming out in time for the festive season. The high level of illustration would back that up. However, if anyone does get this for someone who enjoys the romance of objects that have passed beyond our ability to retrieve them, then some other reading around the subject is required. Having been somewhat harsh, however, it is a pleasing volume, and it is books like these general works that can turn many a mind on to the numinous, liminal world of Forteana. -- Trevor Pyne.

* Since this book was published one of the ships from Franklin's doomed 1845 expedition to navigate the North-West Passage has been located by Canadian searchers.

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