LiteratEye #19: Had It With Airport Hassles? Grab a Rug and Go!

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the nineteenth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #19: Had It With Airport Hassles? Grab a Rug and Go!
By W.J. Elvin III
June 26, 2009

flycarpetaLast week we looked into imaginary destinations so it seems reasonable to follow up with a look at imaginary transportation – from the perspective of literary hoaxes, of course.

This “hoax,” as it is now known, comes from Australia, though you will now find it scattered around the world-wide web as genuine. It claims to report new findings regarding flying carpets, also known as magic carpets.

Australia sometimes seems a hotbed for literary mischief. It’s probably no hotter than any other bed, just a society engaged in a struggle for cultural identity that makes for a climate more sensitive to fakery. Here in America such things are a bit of yawn. We’ve had fifty years or so of journalists educating us to the fact that our culture is a gob of scandal and artifice, so that today, who cares?

But back to Australia, thinking back to the spinning globe on a brass or wooden holder that decorated the high school geography classroom, maybe it has to do with how Australians walk around upside down. You don’t see as much literary foolery coming out of, say, Canada, where people are more straight-up.

And again, back to Australia and the flying carpet essay. It was written by novelist Azhar Abidi in a very straightforward, factual style. He treats the subject soberly, citing revelations about the history and engineering of flying carpets, claiming to offer new material revealed in a recently discovered Persian scroll dating to the 13th century.

However, the simple fact that the article appeared in the Australian literary quarterly Meanjin surely alerted readers to the distinct possibility that it was fiction. That’s a fairly peculiar place to find the first news of a major scientific discovery.

Quote: “Although flying carpets were woven and sold till the late thirteenth century, the clientele for them was chiefly at the fringe of respectable society.”

And another quote: “In the Ben Sherira chronicle, certain passages describe the workings of a flying carpet. Unfortunately, much of the vocabulary used in these parts is indecipherable, so little has been understood about their method of propulsion.”

So “¦ Let’s see. Doesn’t it read just a bit more like, say, Mark Twain, than, oh, maybe Einstein or Tesla? Could there be a credibility problem here?

Well, don’t blame author Abidi or the publication for the survival of “Flying Carpets” as a legitimate story. This time it is readers who are the hoaxers, at least those readers who copied “The Secret History of the Flying Carpet” – sometimes with absolutely no credit to Abidi or the magazine – and presented it elsewhere as fact.

I followed the trail to two Iranian websites, one identified as that of a museum (Biodiversity Museum of Iran) and the other a government ministry-sponsored page. The article appears at both sites as legitimate. I don’t know if the sites themselves are legitimate.

As noted, the article, or references to it, may be found scattered far and wide. It appears on a speculative scientific site, Keely Net, as a genuine report. That’s an interesting site, with lots of far out material on human attempts to get off the ground.

The attention Abidi received for “Flying Carpets” helped with sales of his two novels. Passarola Rising is about the invention and adventures of an early “flying ship.” Interestingly, it is based on a true story. The other book, The House of Bilqis, is a family drama set in Abidi’s birthplace, Pakistan.

With regard to his own motives, Abidi’s primary intention in writing “Flying Carpets” seems to have been therapeutic. In an interview posted by one of his publishers, Penguin, he says: “I don’t particularly enjoy flying, but I find the idea of escape, of fleeing and leaving all troubles and conventions behind, very appealing. Fiction is my escape. The flying ship of Passarola Rising and the magic carpet in one of my earlier stories, ‘The Secret History of the Flying Carpet,’ are metaphors of escape-both physical and mental.”

Abidi has a blog with some examples of his work and a bit of personal history. His site also offers historical notes regarding “Flying Carpet” that help explain the crafting of the story.

There’s quite a bit more to be said about literary fraud and folly emanating from Australia. It comes in various guises, quite often as writers of another ethnicity masking themselves as Aborigines.

I’ll dig into that for a future column. For the moment, though, I’m wrapping up my own bizarre but compelling account of growing up in the wildest Aussie outback. I haven’t decided on a title quite yet. Just be on the look-out for a suspicious memoir about:

Someone.         Was.                By.
                 Who.           Raised.             Kangaroos.


(Copyright 2009 WJE, exclusive to The Art of the Prank, for reprint rights contact

Check out previous LiteratEye episodes on The Art of the Prank.