The fantasy maps that get the most popular and critical attention are those of Middle-earth and Westeros. That’s almost entirely due to their respective series’ popularity (and in the case of Middle-earth, the foundational nature of that map and its influence on later works). Maps of Robert Jordan’s hugely popular Wheel of Time series don’t get quite the same attention—a situation that Adam Whitehead, writing on his Atlas of Ice and Fire blog, tries to rectify. Reading his post, I suspect that the afterthought-ish nature of said maps might have something to do with it.
Apparently Robert Jordan did not originally plan to include maps in the books, and did so only at the urging of his publisher Tom Doherty because people expected maps in a fantasy novel. This may be why the earliest maps for the books were pretty bare-bones, only featuring the names of the major countries, the two big mountain ranges and not much else. It may also explain the curiously straight mountain range edges to the map border which later came in for much ribbing from reviewers.
(Sidebar: In the talk on fantasy maps I gave at Readercon in July 2014 I noted the difference in map quality between the paperback editions of The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt; the second map is of considerably lower quality, but has the virtue of being more legible at mass-market paperback size.)
A set of map posters from Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris is now available at the author’s online store. The maps are by fantasy cartographer Isaac Stewart, range in size from 12×18″ to 18×24″ and cost $5 each or $15 for the set of three.
In the latest instalment of Hannah Stahl’s series of posts on fantasy maps at the Library of Congress’s map blog (see previous entry), she takes as a starting point my argument that Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth is the progenitor map from which the modern fantasy map design is descended, and compares that map to maps of Westeros from George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.
Fantasy Maps: Imagined Worlds, a new exhibition at St. Louis’s Central Library, features enlarged prints of fantasy maps and a 75×25-foot illustrated map of St. Louis on the floor of the library’s great hall. Opens today and runs until 15 October according to this page. There’s nothing on the library’s website, but see the writeup in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. [WMS]
Dyson’s Dodecahedron started out as a blog about role-playing games that over time transformed itself into a source of dungeon maps; the impetus was a dungeon he’d written up for a one-page dungeon contest:
I wasn’t happy with the map I drew for that dungeon, and started looking at the maps drawn by other members of my various RPG groups. I started to develop a new style for my maps. Not an “original” style overall—it is strongly based in the cartography I enjoyed from old Palladium and Chaosisum products, but significantly less like the style of the traditional D&D map which is very grid-oriented.
Then I started to post maps drawn in this style. As I practiced the style, I challenged myself to draw a geomorph every other day until I had at least 100 geomorphs. The blog got pretty boring during this stretch, but I learned a lot about mapping and dungeon design, and the blog got a reputation as a mapping blog.
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.)
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’.
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.