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.