I’m always interested in fantasy novels in which maps play a role beyond the endpapers—where maps or mapmakers are a key element of the story. So I’m noting for future reference The Map and the Territory by A. M. Tuomala (Candlemark and Gleam, Dec. 2022), which has a wizard and a cartographer as its protagonists. Nerds of a Feather has a review.
While researching his forthcoming book, Origins of the Wheel of Time (Tor, Nov 2022), Michael Livingston discovered that a map published in a 1997 guide to the Wheel of Time universe—which unlike the maps in the Robert Jordan novels showed the entire world—was, in the opinion of Jordan himself, wrong: according to notes Livingston discovered in the author’s archives, one continent was misnamed and another was too small (see above left). With the permission of the estate, Livingston worked with map artist Ellisa Mitchell—who drew the original map for The Eye of the World—to create a new map of the Wheel of Time world that reflected the author’s intent (see above right). Details, and closeup looks at the maps, at Livingston’s Tor.com article.
At Tor.com, Simon Jimenez talks about the map that accompanies his upcoming epic fantasy novel, The Spear Cuts Through Water. It’s not a map that follows the default fantasy map design by any stretch. He starts with the map, drawn by Chris Panatier.
There is no compass rose for orientation, no place names, no handy scale for distance ratios so that a reader might be able to tell how far one location is from another. There are barely even locations. Even the perspective is different—not a bird’s eye view, but something closer and more intimate, for a better view of the imagery that leans away from literalism and more towards the metaphorical, and the eerie.
Because of all of these choices, it is not a particularly useful map. One would be hard-pressed to use it as a reference tool as they journeyed with the characters through the book. This is by intention.
Jimenez explains how he grappled with the idea of mapping, and of fantasy mapping, when decided whether, and how, to include a map in his book. Very insightful and worth reading (and I’m not just saying that because he name-checks me at the end).
The Onion: Underwhelming Fantasy Novel Starts With Map Of Ohio. “Feeling let down to see a straightforward rendering of the Midwestern state, local reader Kyle Nuebart reported Friday that underwhelming fantasy novel Dayton Rising featured a map of Ohio in its opening pages.” I’m impressed that they went to the trouble of creating a fantasy map of Ohio to illustrate a one-joke article (admittedly, it’s a really good joke).
Previously: The Onion on Fantasy Maps.
I bet you’ve been wondering what I thought about Peng Shepherd’s novel The Cartographers (William Morrow/Orion, March 2022). After all, it’s a literary fantasy about maps: is it even possible for a book to be more relevant to my interests? Well, wonder no longer, because I’ve reviewed it for Strange Horizons.
This piece is a little bit different from the usual review, in that it examines The Cartographers in the context of mysteries and fantasy that deploy similar map tropes, as well as the idées fixes our culture has about maps. As I write in the review, there’s an awful lot for me to unpack:
I have been writing about maps for nearly two decades, and in that time I have encountered many works of fiction that incorporate maps and map tropes into their storytelling, whether as paratexts or as plot elements, and I have never encountered a story, at any length, as thoroughly encompassed by maps as The Cartographers. It’s not just that almost every character in the book works with maps in some fashion, whether as a cartographer, artist, librarian, map dealer, or technician. Nor are maps just a plot point—they are the point. The Cartographers is a Stations of the Map: its pilgrimage follows a path that touches on so many aspects of maps and mapmaking, from academic cartography to fire insurance maps. It spends time on the purpose and meaning of maps: it aspires to an almost Socratic dialogue. It deploys familiar fantasy genre tropes about maps. But it’s structured as a mystery novel, and opens with a murder.
The summer 2018 issue of Modern Language Studies had a “special cluster” on maps and speculative fiction (special cluster presumably being what you call it when your special theme doesn’t take up the entire issue). Behind a paywall, but there appear to be articles on planetary cartography and Le Guin, maps in mythopoeic young-adult fantasy, and comic book and game maps. Thanks to Andreas Skyman for the tip.
The online sf/fantasy magazine Strange Horizons (which, note, I review for) is in the middle of their annual fundraising drive. Their special fundraising issue includes an essay by Noemi Arellano-Summer: “Maps, Worldbuilding, and the Journey in Fantasy.”
The Osher’s fantasy map exhibition, North of Nowhere, West of the Moon: Myth, Fiction, and Fantasy in Maps, is now online—though a number of the exhibition’s maps are unavailable to view, I’m guessing for copyright reasons1 (previously).
The Tolkien Estate now has a website, which among other things includes J. R. R. Tolkien’s own paintings, illustrations—and maps. But the maps aren’t from the published editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion: those were drawn by his son Christopher. These are Tolkien’s own maps, drawn during the writing process. We see rough sketches of Arda, originals of the Hobbit maps, and the maps of Middle-earth that grew and changed as he wrote The Lord of the Rings. [Kottke]
I got lost in the map of an imaginary country.
The Baedeker told me to look for the palace of government
and I found my great-grandmother
renouncing the head of a state that was never hers.
This is how “The Direction of Escape,” a poem by Sonya Taaffe published at online zine Not One of Us, begins. It is a poem very much about the current moment. Taaffe says, “The title is a line of Le Guin’s. The stories it contains are real.”
My article “Maps in Science Fiction,” which attempts a taxonomy of the maps that appear in science fiction novels, stories and media, has just been published in the February 2022 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.
Maps are a central part of our experience of the fantasy genre: “No Tour of Fantasyland is complete without one,” wrote Diana Wynne Jones in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland; fantasy maps “are only much noticed when they’re absent,” notes The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. It’s easy to forget that maps are also found in science fiction. They don’t turn up as frequently, nor are they expected to, and we don’t talk about them or think about them nearly as often. But they do exist. I’ve been writing about fantasy maps for years, and even I didn’t give science fiction maps the same consideration at least until 2014, when during a presentation about fantasy maps at Readercon, I had to extemporize in response to a question about science fiction maps. My off-the-cuff response led me to look into where and how maps are used in science fiction and from there to write this article on the subject.
This article took a while to come to fruition. I put out a call for examples of science fiction maps and pitched the idea to the NYRSF’s editor back in July 2014—and then life got thoroughly and fundamentally in the way. It was still thoroughly and fundamentally in the way when I finally, finally finished it and sent it off to NYRSF in the summer of 2020. Life was thoroughly and fundamentally in the way at their end, too—thanks, pandemic!—so it’s taken until now to see print at last. I’m glad it has: science fiction maps don’t get a fraction of the attention fantasy maps do, and I think I might have come up with some useful frameworks in this piece.
From the examples explored here, we can discern several functions science fiction maps can perform on behalf of both text and reader. Maps may have a thematic purpose as in the case of maps of Pern or Majipoor in that their style signals a science fantasy environment, the use of fantasy reading protocols, and a text of likely interest to fantasy readers. They may have a storytelling purpose as with the maps from Dune, the Steerswoman series, and the Mars trilogy: the maps separate the known from the unknown, the transformed from the untouched, the colonized from the indigenous. Or they may have a conceptual purpose by giving the reader a big-picture understanding of structures, solar systems, networks, or empires.
I will post the complete text of the article later. In the meantime, if the teasers above have left you unwilling to wait even a little bit, you can buy the NYRSF issue here; it costs just $2.99 in the usual electronic formats.
Update: You can read the article here.
The Osher Map Library’s new exhibition, North of Nowhere, West of the Moon: Myth, Fiction, and Fantasy in Maps, opened on Saturday.
Inspired by our recent acquisition of Bernard Sleigh’s six-foot long “An Ancient Mappe of Fairyland, Newly Discovered and Set Forth,” (1918) we have selected thematic maps, books, and ephemera from our collections that reflect whimsy and visionary thinking. This exhibit invites visitors to ponder the ways in which myth, fantasy, and fiction have, for centuries, provided both an escape into alternate worlds in times of great strife, as well as an opportunity to create alternate worlds and imagine new realities.
Runs until May 30th; free admission with timed ticket. The digital version won’t be online until February (I’ll post an update then, because this is very much relevant to my interests), but in the meantime the Library is posting teasers on its Instagram account.
A new exhibit on the relationship between maps and literature, Mapping Fiction, opened on January 15th at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. “On view in the Library’s West Hall, the exhibition is timed to coincide with the centennial of the publication of James Joyce’s groundbreaking 1922 modernist novel, Ulysses. […] About 70 items will be on view, focused on novels and maps from the 16th through the 20th century—largely early editions of books that include elaborate maps of imaginary worlds.” Tickets required; runs until May 2nd. More from the Guardian. [WMS]
For her upcoming fantasy novel The Freedom Race (Tor, July 2021), Lucinda Roy decided to do what a lot of fantasy authors do: draw a map. But she did it in a way that most fantasy authors don’t: “I needed a persona map—a map that could feasibly have been drawn by Ji-ji, the main character in the book. Her map doesn’t simply introduce the world to readers, it actually appears inside the narrative and helps catalyze the action.” Then she decided that she needed two maps, both intrinsic parts of the story, both revealing a great deal about their respective mapmakers. Very much relevant to my interests: I wrote, after all, a piece about fantasy maps in fantasy worlds (and got some flack for it). Though it’s the first time I’ve heard the term persona map. A new term of art?
Two workshops/courses coming in June:
Australian author and illustrator Kathleen Jennings will teach a workshop on fantasy mapmaking in June: the focus of Map Making and World Building is “on story and art,” the mapmaking illustrative rather than cartographical, and in general it seems to be about the relationship between map and story. The workshop will take place on 19 June both in-person (at the Queensland Writers Centre in Brisbane) and via livestream; tickets range from A$35 to A$100, depending.
A History of Maps and Mapping, a short introductory online course taught by Katherine Parker as part of the London Rare Books School’s program of summer courses, “will challenge students to destabilize and broaden the traditional definition of ‘map’, and to recognize maps as socially constructed objects that are indicative of the values and biases of their makers and the cultures that created them. Students will learn how to analyse and catalogue maps for a variety of research purposes, and to discuss changes in map technology and style without recourse to a progressive narrative of scientific improvement.” Matthew Edney will supply a guest lecture. The course runs from 29 June to 2 July and costs £100 (student) or £175.
“The Delusive Cartographer,” a fantasy short story by Rich Larson published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2015, plays with the familiar trope of a lost treasure map. In this story that map is hidden in a prison, which the story’s two rapscallions must break into in order to retrieve the map. Larson throws in more than one plot twist to confound things; the final paragraph’s reveal is well set-up but still surprising.
Related: Fiction About Maps: A Bibliography.