Archive for June 26th, 2013

What’s That Word?

I did this once before, and got the word I was looking for. Today it’s not a word I’ve ever heard before, I cannot vouch for its existence, but my wife recalls it from her childhood, perhaps in a Time/Life Book. So here goes…

There are several stories that feature a hero sailing from place to place. Island to island, frequently along an archipelago. At each stop, the hero must solve some sort of riddle, or problem, or puzzle in order to escape and continue the voyage. A few stories I can think that might fit in this rubric are the Odyssey, the Argonautica, or the Aeneid. Going beyond classical literature, it could also be said to include Gulliver’s Travels, or even the Vinland Saga.

The three important points: (1) a hero (2) sailing (3) from place-to-place. The word may be German. It is not Bildungsroman.

Does this word sound familiar to anyone else? Have you heard it? Do you know it? Do you know of it? Let us know in comments, please, because I’m curious if this is a word as well. Especially since there’s a clear way of translating it from seafaring to spacefaring.

Edit: We may have a winner: Immram. From wikipedia:

An immram (/ˈɪmrÉ™m/; plural immrama; Irish: iomramh, IPA: [ˈʊmˠɾˠəw], voyage) is a class of Old Irish tales concerning a hero’s sea journey to the Otherworld (see Tír na nÓg and Mag Mell). Written in the Christian era and essentially Christian in aspect, they preserve elements of Irish mythology.

The immrama are identifiable by their focus on the exploits of the heroes during their search for the Otherworld, located in these cases in the islands far to the west of Ireland. The hero sets out on his voyage for the sake of adventure or to fulfill his destiny, and generally stops on other fantastic islands before reaching his destination. He may or may not be able to return home again.


One of the first Celticists, Heinrich Zimmerman, attempted to link the immram with the Aeneid and the Odyssey. Some of the parallels they make are between the immortal women in the tales who bestow immortality on their lovers for the time they remain with them and the giant sheep on islands in both stories. These parallels have since been debunked by William Flint Thrall.

I’m waiting to hear back from my wife if this is right, but her suggestion of The Dawn Treader in the comments led me to this word. If this is, in fact, it…well, color me surprised that the word is Irish, rather than German. Though I suppose the Irish know much more about islands.

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