Posted on

Rabelais And Cervantes On The Road To Cornwall – article by Des Hannigan.


You are waiting for a bus by the side of a road somewhere in Cornwall. Or you might call it a coach, when, miraculously, a proper coach, vintage 1790s, comes rocking and rolling round the corner the coachman coaxing on a pair of horse. The coach stops, the ornate door opens and out step famous authors Miguel de Cervantes and François Rabelais – in Devon and Cornwall, on the loose, in their youth, before literary fame engulfs them.

    This is the basic premise of writer and artist Andrew Lanyon’s new book Rabelais And Cervantes On The Road To Cornwall, in which both authors are lifted out of their respective time ‘zones’ – both belonged to the world of 16th century Renaissance literature, but Cervantes was aged six when Rabelais died aged sixty-three. Yet, here they are as young contemporaries in late 18th century Devon and Cornwall, on a tour of the region’s tin mines but discovering, more importantly, that they are writers. Hold on to your hats…This is Andrew Lanyon at his creative best.


In Rabelais And Cervantes On The Road To Cornwall Lanyon proves yet again that he is one of very few writers to whom the overused word ‘originality’ belongs utterly. He writes beyond originality. There is no end to the deployment of Lanyon’s wildly creative and always questing mind. Writer, photographer, film-maker, artist, surrealist, humourist, and, above all, a ‘bookmaker’, Andrew Lanyon has written and published a galaxy of unique books as works of art in themselves. Over 170 books – a lifetime’s work.    Rabelais And Cervantes On The Road To Cornwall stitches together all of Lanyon’s formidable talents in a story as rattling as the coach in which the two writers travel throughout a Cornish journey cradled in humour, hugely informed and at times merrily erotic. There is hardly a single tavern or inn where barmaid or landlord’s daughter is not paid due homage by the Rabelaisian Rabelais and his tilting second-in-command, all distilled into a particular ‘landlord’s daughter’ who captivates both young authors. (One outrageous Rabelaisian sequence wrings out every possible innuendo of seduction characterised as exploration of a Cornish mine.)


Above all, the book is freighted with a dazzling crossfire of ideas, word games,   detours, diversions, and literary references and tricks. Even the simple opening sentence piques the reader’s interest via the classic device of romantic-historical novels about Cornwall in which ‘It is a late spring morning in1790. A bank of fog is moving slowly over Bodmin Moor just behind a covered ox-cart which tilts from side to side in the irregular ruts…

    So far, so classic swashbuckle… But then, the Lanyon magic begins. Aboard the ox cart are two playwrights who have conceived the idea of Rabelais and Cervantes on their tour of mineral mines. Soon the main action transfers to the coach-bound authors, debating classic Lanyon ideas on writing and how different types of quill pen may influence a writer’s style and genre depending on which bird the quill comes from. This is the first of a multitude of entertaining sidesteps as the pair travel through richly observed locations.


Soon, other passengers join the coach, the first being a blind man and his niece, whose eyes, as ‘dark as dragonflies’ immediately entrance Cervantes’ eyes, ‘pale bees alighting here and there’. From here on the book roars ahead leaving a fabulous trail of Lanyonesque reflections on almost every cultural hook imaginable, each one catching the eye and always, always, demanding a second glance.  In the middle of the book Lanyon signs off at the end of his protagonists’ adventure and sets off on his own journey examining the work’s ‘middle’ where the point of writing the story is revealed and where Lanyon’s own multi-layered understanding of writing emerges.

    Is Rabelais And Cervantes On The Road To Cornwall a Lanyon magnum opus? It is certainly a ‘great work’ that took several years to complete, but the intellectual energy it displays, the unique humour, wit and verbal mischievousness, indicates that Lanyon is not finished with us yet. The ‘great’ part of the book certainly fits its physique of 302 pages and its generous addition of Lanyonesque illustrations.

A hefty book indeed, at a hefty price for the soft back edition. But this is more than a book. As with much of Andrew Lanyon’s ‘bookmaker’s’ art, Rabelais And Cervantes On The Road To Cornwall  is as cherishable as a painting might be, except that Lanyon paints with words, each one of which is collectable in itself. Enough to persuade you onto that coach with Rabelais and Cervantes and their masterful manipulator, Andrew Lanyon himself.

Article by Des Hannigan, published in the St. Ives Times & Echo, October 2023

Copies of Rabelais And Cervantes On The Road To Cornwall can be bought at Barton Books, 46 Causewayhead, Penzance, open 10-4, Tue-Fri. Tel 01736 363300 Or can be ordered through