“Xanadu is the fantasyland in Kubla Khan.…”

This student begins by making Xanadu part of a Disney theme park and then locates the park in a country, evidently, called Kubla Khan. Surely if she had meant the poem “Kubla Khan” she would have used quotation marks around the title (or, more likely, italicized the title, which students prefer to do with all titles).

She is correct that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” describes a place he reportedly saw in a dream, Xanadu, and the “stately pleasure dome” erected there on the orders of the Khan. But the ruler (real) Kublai Khan did build a summer palace in Inner Mongolia, in a place called, according to the inevitable Wikipedia, Shangdu, or Xanadu. Coleridge dreamed the dome, but Xanadu was real.

Not according to my student, though; she has proof incontrovertible that it’s all a fantasy:

“Xanadu is the fantasyland in Kubla Khan. Since it starts with the letter ‘X’ it becomes obvious that the place is fictional.”

So Coleridge was entirely dreaming, and evidently so was Marco Polo, who described the actual summer palace, which he had visited.

But by the Rule of X, Xanadu isn’t the only place that’s a fantasy land. A quick Google search will turn up at least 40 cities (most but not all in China) whose names begin with “X,” from Xai Xai in Mozambique to Xenia, Ohio and Xenia, Illinois. At least half of the “X” cities have airports, so if they’re fictional I imagine a lot of planes inexplicably vanish.

Plenty of people also have names that begin with “X.” “Mr. X” and Xena, Warrior Princess may be fictional; but surely at least some of the Xaviers running around are real. At least two ancient rulers were named Xerxes. Xerxes II of Persia enjoyed only 45 days on the  throne before his brother assassinated him (only to be himself assassinated shortly thereafter. Bloody days, that 5th century BCE!). Xerxes of Armenia and Commagene had a longer and more successful reign in the 3rd century BCE; unfortunately he was defeated in battle at last, and the winner’s sister’s hand in marriage was hardly a consolation prize, since she had him assassinated within the year. Having a name that began with X did not make these men fictional, and we can’t say that the “X” marked them to be rubbed out, either, since everyone seems to have been assassinating everyone else back then.

Socrates may have wished his wife had been fictional, but Xantippe, or Xanthippe, was very real, although reports vary as to her age, her personality, and her appearance. Some writers painted her as such a shrew that her name has become synonymous with nagging, shrewish, or otherwise impossible wives ever since (kind of the Greek equivalent to what was done by the Catholic Church to the reputation of Noah’s poor wife). Xanthippe’s reputation has persisted to the extent that the town of Xantippe, Australia, was named after her, reportedly because the ground is so hard there.

Hard! Real! Begins with “X”!

So much for navigating time and space by means of rules of thumb.

Kublai Khan. Looks pretty solid. Unlikely to build Fantasyland. Thanks to factsanddetails.com/china.





About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““Xanadu is the fantasyland in Kubla Khan.…”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    One of those poems that is magic to me. And to think he was interrupted and “forgot” the rest of his dream. Or is that a myth? I can’t imagine the poem needing anything else to be perfect.

    “Weave a circle ’round him thrice
    And close your eyes in holy dread
    For he on honeydew hath fed
    And sucked the milk of Paradise.”

    • RAB

      That’s what I say in class too: what more could this poem need? Makes a good story, though. Telemarketers beware: that unnecessary phone call could be interrupting some modern poet’s dreams….(or not!)

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    Can’t resist…”X marks the spot!” (Sorry) Do these writers ever read their assignments out loud before turning them in? Oh, it probably wouldn’t make any difference, I forget.
    Gee. All I can say over this one is “Thanks for the giggles.”

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