Fantasy Maps of U.S. Cities

Fantasy map of Cleveland (Stentor Danielson)
Fantasy map of Cleveland (Stentor Danielson)

For another example of using fantasy map design language to create real-world maps, here’s the work of geography professor Stentor Danielson, who draws maps of U.S. cities in the style of fantasy maps and sells them on Etsy. Boston, Cleveland (above), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington are available. His Tumblr. Via io9.

Previously: A Fantasy Map of Great Britain; A Fantasy Map of Australia; A Fantasy Map of the U.S.

Readercon 25

Jonathan Crowe on the Readercon panel I had a very good Readercon. I was a nervous wreck leading up to it, because I had to rewrite the fantasy maps presentation from the ground up. (The first draft was too long and too unfocused. Thanks ever so much to my beta testers who pointed out its flaws the Sunday before the convention.)

Fortunately the presentation on Friday night went off without a hitch—the computer connected properly to the projector, I forgot to stammer—and was very well received: one person called it “probably my favorite event of the con,” which is astonishing when you consider that the con in question is freaking Readercon.

(My presentation also seems to have resulted in Wesleyan University Press selling out its on-hand copies of Stefan Ekman’s Here Be Dragons, which was referenced heavily.)

The Thursday night panel on maps in fiction also seems to have gone over well, based on what I’ve been hearing. It’s not always easy to tell if a panel goes well when you’re leading it: even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to, as was the case here, it may still be a success if the audience enjoys it. Which appears to have been the case. If nothing else, I managed to emit something quotable:

As for the context of that remark, if you weren’t there, I’ll leave that for you to figure out. (I’m working on something along those lines, let me just say.)
For my final panel on Sunday morning, I joined my fellow panellists in a discussion of spoilers. I found myself jumping in and throwing little idea bombs into the discussion, hopefully not too annoyingly or in too derailing a fashion. I saw Scott Edelman recording it on video (the photo above is his) so you may well see the whole thing online at some point.

Meanwhile, I took photos sporadically: here’s the photo album. (Goes without saying that I didn’t bring a camera to my own panels.)

I’d say more, and in more fulsome detail, but I’m off to Detcon 1 in the morning, so this is all you get for now. (This is entirely too little time between conventions.)

The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need

The Only Fantasy World Map You'll Ever Need
The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need by Jake Manley isn’t the first map of its kind that I’ve seen (see also the map in Diana Wynne Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland); still, it’s clear that fantasy maps are a proven vehicle to satirize and critique the genre. (And be satirized and critiqued.) [John Scalzi]

How to Make a Fantasy Map

Map from The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley; map by Isaac Stewart

So today Tor.com posted something very much relevant to my interests: a piece by illustrator Isaac Stewart that describes his process for creating a map for a fantasy novel. In this case, The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley, who very helpfully provided a sketch from which Stewart could work.

This is utterly fascinating for me, because a significant gap in my research into fantasy maps has been the process of creating them. It’s sort of left me feeling like a wine taster that has no idea how wine is made. Stewart (who has also done work for Brandon Sanderson’s novels: his maps for The Alloy of Law have already caught my attention) takes us through every step, from inspiration through Photoshop.

Earlier this year I published an article pointing out that the main difference between historical and fantasy maps was information density: a real medieval map is full of detail, because cartographers don’t dare waste vellum; fantasy maps are relatively sparse—largely, I suspected, because only so much detail can legibly fit on a map printed for a mass-market paperback. That was an educated guess on my part; it’s interesting to see it confirmed:

A map meant to fit in a hardcover book (and subsequently a paperback) can’t be as detailed as a real-world map and still be legible. Even though I treat the map as a product of its fantasy world, it has to be understandable to modern audiences. Usually this means I can’t copy the exact style of my reference, but I can use it for inspiration.

I’ll be referring to Stewart’s post often, I think.

My New Article on Fantasy Maps: ‘Here Be Blank Spaces’

NYRSF logo My short essay on fantasy maps, “Here Be Blank Spaces: Vaguely Medieval Fantasy Maps” appears in issue #300 of The New York Review of Science Fiction, out today. I wrote it in response to several books I read rather closely together earlier this year: Reinhart’s Art of the Map, Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, and especially Ekman’s Here Be Dragons (links to my reviews). Taken together, these books highlighted a key difference between fantasy maps and their real-world counterparts from medieval and early modern Europe: fantasy maps are full of blank spaces; real-world maps were not.

Issue #300 of the NYRSF should be available to subscribers now. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re in luck: issue #300 is being made available for free (it’s the NYRSF‘s 25th anniversary, and the publishers are offering it to celebrate and in hopes that you’ll subscribe). Download it from this page. I’ll eventually have it up in the Articles section as well.

Update 8/28: Read the article here.

A Fantasy Map of Ireland

Fantasy map of Ireland Another data point for our consideration of what people think a fantasy map looks like, from the author of the Maptitude tumblelog: a fantasy map of Ireland, replete with, as you would expect, forests and hills. It departs from the fantasy map paradigm by using colour: red for political boundaries, blue for water. It also uses a vaguely uncial script: something we’ve seen in the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings, but less often in fantasy book maps. Not inappropriate for Ireland, though.

Previously: A Fantasy Map of Great Britain; A Fantasy Map of Australia; A Fantasy Map of the U.S.

A Fantasy Map of Great Britain

Fantasy map of Great Britain (Samuel Fisher)

It turns out that Samuel Fisher has also created a fantasy map of Great Britain, in addition to his Australian fantasy map and one version of the U.S. fantasy map. Again: an important data point for understanding what people think a fantasy map looks like. (His lettering is a dead ringer for Christopher Tolkien’s on the Middle-earth map.) Via Fuck Yeah Cartography.

A Fantasy Map of Australia

Fantasy map of Australia (Samuel Fisher)

Like the fantasy map of the United States we saw last year, Samuel Fisher’s fantasy map of Australia is relevant to my interests because it shows what people think a fantasy map should look like—how it should be styled, what elements it should contain, and so forth. In this case, oblique mountains and forests drawn as stands of individual trees make their usual appearance; the labels are hand-drawn; and the colour scheme runs from cream to taupe. Via Maps on the Web.

Review: Here Be Dragons

Book cover: Here Be Dragons Stefan Ekman’s Here Be Dragons is a book-length examination of the use of maps and settings in fantasy literature. Maps and settings. Which is to say that maps are not the sole focus of this work: mark that. There are four main chapters, only one of which deals with maps; the remaining three deal with the issue of borders and territories, the relationship between nature and culture in fantasy cities, and the relationship between ruler and realm. Taken as a whole, this book discusses the role of place in fantasy.

But I won’t be discussing that whole here: I am no literary scholar, and can’t say much of value about the chapters that do not discuss maps — nothing that would rise above the level of a last-minute undergraduate paper, anyway. But maps are something I can say something about, especially fantasy maps, since I myself have been paying attention to them over the past decade, first during my time blogging at The Map Room (see the Imaginary Places category) and since then more sporadically, but with more focus, for my fantasy maps project.

Continue reading “Review: Here Be Dragons”

The Sixteenth-Century Origins of Fantasy Maps

One of the things I’m interested in for my fantasy maps project is the origin of fantasy map design: where does that tell-tale fantasy map look come from?

Look at enough fantasy maps, and it’s hard not to notice certain commonalities in design. As Stefan Ekman demonstrates in Here Be Dragons (yes, I have a review coming—soon!), the maps that accompany fantasy novels tend to be characterized by a number of typical features. “Like much high fantasy,” he writes, “the secondary-world maps follow a pseudomedieval aesthetic according to which dashes of pre-Enlightenment mapping conventions are rather routinely added to a mostly modern creation.”1 Fantasy maps look nothing like medieval maps, and can in many ways be seen as the hybrid descendent of 19th-century amateur mapmaking and early-20th-century children’s book illustrations.

Continue reading “The Sixteenth-Century Origins of Fantasy Maps”

Saladin Ahmed on Secondary World Fantasy

Saladin Ahmed’s essay on the NPR website argues that the appeal of epic fantasy isn’t in its plots, characters or themes; it’s in its creation of a vividly detailed secondary world.

[A]t its best, work that prioritizes world-building offers pleasures that just can’t be found in other sorts of literature, the joy of traveling to, as Tolkien put it, “a Secondary World which your mind can enter.” The type of immersion that a massive built world provides is unique. It’s an almost physical sense of getting lost somewhere that isn’t home, but which comes to be home. A sense that one is walking, sometimes even dancing, on a tightrope between the fantastic and the mundane. As with the Thousand and One Nights, which so often—and yes, clompingly—mentions things like which vegetables were just bought or who the monarch was at a given time, the modern fantasy novel’s nerdy attendance to world-building gives it a strange mimetic heft not present in, say, fairy tales.

If you accept Ahmed’s argument—and I can see no reason not to—then the usefulness of a fantasy map is immediately obvious. If it’s all about perceiving that secondary world, the map is literally the key to that world. As Ahmed recalls George R. R. Martin telling him, “When college students and hippies started hanging up Lord of the Rings posters, Martin pointed out, ‘It wasn’t the book covers or some artist’s conception of Frodo that went on our walls. It was the map of Middle-earth.’”

Conversely, you could argue that a story that isn’t principally about the world-building doesn’t need the map.

Review: The Lands of Ice and Fire

The Lands of Ice and Fire (cover) The Lands of Ice and Fire, which came out last month, is a collection of maps of the lands of George R. R. Martin‘s Song of Ice and Fire series, executed by the fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts.

You should know what you’re getting when you buy this. It’s not an atlas. It’s not even a book. George himself describes it as “a book-shaped box containing a whole bunch of gorgeous, glossy, fold-out maps of Westeros, Essos, and the lands and seas from A Song of Ice and Fire.” There is no text other than on a single-page introduction.

Open the box and you see two sleeves containing six maps apiece. Each map is 24 by 30 inches, single sided, in full colour, and on glossy paper, the kind you can see your fingerprints on. As fantasy maps go, this is a lavish production—a long way from the two-colour atlases we’ve seen for other imaginary worlds. (Some Amazon reviewers have expressed concern about wear and tear from folding and unfolding the maps; bear that in mind.)

Continue reading “Review: The Lands of Ice and Fire”

Jeffrey Beebe’s Refractoria

Western Refractoria (detail), Jeffrey Beebe
Jeffrey Beebe operates in the same space as Jerry Gretzinger or Austin Tappan Wright. “Over the last fifteen years, I have created the world of Refractoria, a comprehensive imagino-ordinary world that is equal parts autobiography and pure fantasy.” The design language is pure fantasy map, but he goes deeper than that: in addition to maps, he’s created heraldry and constellations, among many other things: the primary source materials of an imagined place whose history has not been written. Boing Boing, MetaFilter.

The World Fantasy Map Panel

World Fantasy Convention 2012

Herewith my writeup of the “Maps and Fantasy Literature” panel at the World Fantasy Convention earlier this month in Richmond Hill, Ontario, based on fragmentary and cryptic notes and no doubt full of misrepresentations and misattributions. The panel took place on Sunday, November 4 at 10 a.m. Panellists were Robert Boyczuk, Laura Goodin, Matthew Johnson, Sara Simmons, Jo Walton, and Bill Willingham (who acted as moderator). The panel description:

Continue reading “The World Fantasy Map Panel”