Quartz’s Corinne Purtill has a Q&A with fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts, who drew the maps in The Lands of Ice and Fire (see my review). Roberts has a lot of interesting things to say about his work, the differences between the Game of Thrones TV show and the books, and fantasy map design in general. (I spoke to Purtill a few days ago while she was preparing this piece, and did my best to offer some background on fantasy maps in general.)
In my 2013 article on fantasy maps for The New York Review of Science Fiction, I noted that J. R. R. Tolkien’s two maps from The Hobbit were much more like real-world medieval maps than typical fantasy maps usually are. Medieval scholar Thijs Porck explores how Thrór’s map, in particular, is quite similar to the 11th-century Cotton World Map.
This Anglo-Saxon map of the world, made in Canterbury around 1025-1050, shows a number of similarities to Tolkien’s map of Thror. First and foremost, the two maps share the same orientation: East is on the top, North is on the left and the West is on the bottom (you can clearly see this by looking at Britain in the bottom left corner!)—a standard feature of medieval maps (before the introduction of the compass, the East (where the sun rises) was the easiest direction to locate). Moreover, the Cotton World Map, like Tolkien’s, features several drawings, such as two little men fighting in the south of Britain, little drawings of cities like Rome and Jerusalem, and mountains (including Mount Ararat in Armenia with a little Ark of Noah!). Finally, the Anglo-Saxon map accompanies some of these drawings with descriptions; e.g., the drawing of a lion in China, where it says “hic abundant leones” [here are many lions]—not unlike Tolkien’s drawing of a spider, near the text ‘There are spiders’.
To mark the publication of The Last Mortal Bond (Amazon, iBooks), the final volume in his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, Brian Staveley has penned this essay on the value of maps in fantasy fiction. Excerpts:
A map is more than a two-dimensional catalogue of locations. First, and most importantly, it is a promise. By mapping a world, or a continent, or even a city, a writer assures his/her readers that their imagination has ranged well beyond the boundaries of their particular story, that they have imagined, not just the room in which the scene takes place, but the street beyond that room, the political structure responsible for building those streets and maintaining them, the agricultural system on which that political structure rests, the natural resources that undergird that system, and all the rest. […]
Finally, maps provide a lens through which to view the events of the story. Every map, after all, contains the biases of the mapmaker, and while cartography might like to lay a claim to objectivity, there can be no objectivity in an artifact that excludes a thousand-fold the amount of information that it contains. Does a map contain political boundaries or landforms? What demographic information does it convey? Religion? Age? Ethnicity? What does it elide? What landforms are depicted? Which are excluded? Do those confident dotted lines obscure ongoing conflicts? No map can escape these deliberations, and even the most thoughtful cartography can’t offer the absolute truth, only a perspective on that truth. One reason I spend so much time studying a map before I read the book that follows is that I’m curious about that perspective. I get a glimpse before I even begin, into what the writer thinks is important about their own story.
Jared Lando’s How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps (Impact, August 2015) is a step-by-step guide to fantasy cartography. That it professes to teach how to draw “authentic fantasy maps” is as clear evidence as any that fantasy maps have a clearly defined style that is difficult to deviate from. This is a book I need to track down, stat. Amazon, iBooks.
The Onion, two years ago: “Unable to picture where in the Grand Realm the destroyed fortress was in relation to the dreaded desert of Quiltar, a fully grown adult man referred to the map on the opening pages of the fantasy novel The Tower Of Astalon Friday to determine the location of the ruined castle of Arnoth, accounts confirmed.” [via]
The Book Riot piece I linked to in January by A. J. O’Connell dealt with the editorial decision on whether to include a map in a fantasy novel. That article appears to have followed up on O’Connell’s piece from last August, which I missed. It explores why some fantasy authors may or may not be fans of maps (Terry Goodkind, for one, calls them a distraction), and how they decide whether to include them with their novels. Authors discussed include Joe Abercrombie and N. K. Jemisin, both of whom added maps to later books after earlier books went without; in each case, though, the map served a purpose, and not just to signify that yes, it’s an epic fantasy novel because look! it has maps on the endpapers.
O’Connell also points to the hilariously snarky, must-read Bigass Things I Hate In Fantasy Maps Post by XenkanMonk, which should probably be read in tandem with the Bigass Fantasy Maps I Love Post. [via]
In a blog post, Bradley Beaulieu describes how he worked with artist Maxime Plasse on the map for his fantasy novel Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (published in the U.K. as Twelve Kings). “There’s been a lot of back and forth to get things from my very rough starting point to the final version, so I thought I’d share some of it to give you a sense for how the process typically works.” I am, as you know, a sucker for process; Beaulieu takes us from his own map, which he generated with Fractal Terrains and Campaign Cartographer, to Plasse’s final, full-colour map (above). [via]
Seth Dickinson’s debut fantasy novel, The Traitor Baru Cormorant (which by the way is an amazing book that I recommend wholeheartedly) contains a map unlike your typical fantasy map: it includes annotations by the protagonist that conceal as much as they reveal, and reveal more about the protagonist than they do the geography. In a post on Omnivoracious last October, Dickinson explained how that map came into being.
In Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series (which has been recommended to me), the scope of the maps broadens book by book as the protagonist’s horizons expands. Today she talked about working with the map (now in digital form) as she writes book five of the series.
Fran Wilde’s debut novel Updraft (which I’ve heard great things about and should read soon) came out last September. Yesterday, in a blog post called “A Map Year,” she ruminated on the many ways an author encounters maps, in fiction and in real life, and as a metaphor for growth and creativity.
To mark the publication this week of a new fantasy novella, The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster, the artist hired to create the map, Tim Paul, wrote an essay on how he did it. I’m struck by the lengths he took to “avoid making the map look too European” and by the careful consideration of what a map from that world should look like, which is almost unheard of in the fantasy map business, where maps invariably conform to a very specific style. The end result is a map that evokes portolan charts, replete with windrose lines and looking like it was drawn on vellum. As fantasy maps go, it’s one of the finer executions I’ve seen.
For the audiobook version (Amazon, iTunes), the publisher has taken the map and made it interactive: clicking on a location gives you an excerpt from the book. It might not quite be “[the] newest in map technology” but it’s a small and interesting innovation as far as fantasy maps are concerned.
This Book Riot piece on fantasy maps from last September touches on a number of subjects I can never get enough information on: the editorial decision on whether to include a map, how one becomes a fantasy map maker, what information from the author does the map maker have to work with, how the maps are created. Practical subjects, in other words. Includes quotes from two people in publishing and two map makers: Tim Paul and Rhys Davies. [via]
Susan Dennard: “Because I’m currently writing the second book in the Witchlands series (titled Windwitch), I thought I’d discuss maps. Why? Because maps are really, really important in storytelling. I don’t care what genre you’re writing—knowing Where Things Are not only helps the drafting process, but it also helps ground the story.”