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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 309

A major theme of the book is that Asia is very different from Europe but in a way that should be admired. It is not, as will later be the case, depicted as backward and thus in need of guidance and control. Polo, instead, describes it as comprising a series of places with goods, medicines, natural features, and even supernatural powers that the Europeans do not possess.

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The account, strictly speaking, is hardly factual, but it does make entertaining reading. Polo lists a long string of differences between Asian countries and Europe.

In east Persia, the Karaunas have mastered the art of shrouding themselves in darkness or invisibility so that they can attack unseen. Polo witnesses a wind so hot it kills people and a pillar that can stand without any means of support. Bengal is full of the spices much coveted by the Europeans, while Kin-sai, also called Hang-chau is a beautiful, advanced city with 12,000 bridges over its canals and firefighters on constant duty.

What is interesting in this account is the admiration Polo displays for many Asian cities, practices, and technologies. Asia is a place to respect, not simply a group of lands to conquer and control. Polo's theme of the worthiness of Asian cultures makes the book a fascinating glimpse into a time when Asian and European culture met on the ground of equality, not within the context of an ideology of superior and inferior cultures.

Another theme or message the book conveys is that traveling to these Asian kingdoms is a long, dangerous, and arduous journey. It is not for the faint of heart, such as the two priests the pope sends with the Polos as missionaries. They turn back, fearful of the dangers ahead. The glories of Asia are open only to those with the courage to make the trip, a reward for fortitude.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 190

One theme of The Travels of Marco Polo is Orientalism. This is a literary discourse often employed by scholars and explorers to the so-called "Orient," particularly the Middle East and South Asia. Marco Polo depicts many of the people he comes in contact with in caricatured, stereotyped ways. His writings about China, for example, while not entirely derogatory, helped shape European opinions of its people.

Another theme is the blurring of legend and of historical fact. For example, Marco Polo claims to have come near the kingdom of Prester John on his journeys. Prester John was almost certainly not an actual person, but was a Christian king of legend in the region.

Another theme is the fantastic. Marco Polo consistently portrays the supernatural and the mysterious in his narrative. He describes...

(The entire section contains 667 words.)

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Critical Essays