How to Navigate the Seas of a Flat Fantasy World

How does navigation work on a flat world? Admittedly this is not a question that comes up outside flat earth societies, at least not in the real world, but fantasy worlds aren’t always spherical. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, for example, started off as a flat world, but became round during a cataclysmic event. Before that, the Númenóreans (Aragorn’s ancestors, for those not totally up on their Tolkien lore) were held to be the greatest seafarers in the world: “mariners whose like shall never be again since the world was diminished,” as The Silmarillion puts it. The problem is, a flat earth has implications for navigation: many known methods simply wouldn’t work.

“Mithlond” by Jordy Lakiere

In a piece I wrote for Tor.com,The Dúnedain and the Deep Blue Sea: On Númenórean Navigation,” I try to puzzle out how they could have navigated the oceans of a flat world. I come up with a solution or two, within the limitations of my math abilities. (I’m sure readers who have more math than I do will be able to come up with something better.) It assumes a certain familiarity with Tolkien’s works, and it draws rather heavily on John Edward Huth’s Lost Art of Finding Our Way, which I reviewed here, not at all coincidentally, last month.

Using Machine Learning to Map Fictional Worlds

Mapping Fictional Worlds is a project to create maps and virtual spaces from literary texts. This seems to be a machine learning project: using natural language processing to build a world around a text that didn’t necessarily come with a map. One component, highlighted by the Guardian, is LitCraft: creating literary worlds using Minecraft. Such as Treasure Island. More at the project’s Chronotopic Cartographies blog. [David Garcia]

Worlds Imagined Redux

If you missed Worlds Imagined, the imaginary maps exhibition at Texas A&M University last year, fear not. The 100-page exhibition catalogue is still available for download (if no longer in print), and while it doesn’t always show the entire map, it’s a hell of a reference, equal in scope and comprehensiveness to J. B. Post’s 1979 Atlas of Fantasy, only more up to date. The exhibition curators also put together a video tour: the full version (above) is 25 minutes long; there’s a three-minute quick tour as well.

Previously: Fantasy Maps Exhibit at Texas A&M Library.

More from (and on) The Writer’s Map

On Monday I received a review copy of The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, a collection of essays edited by Huw Lewis-Jones. It’s out this week from the University of Chicago Press. It’s very much up my alley, relevant to my interests, et cetera, and I’m looking forward to reviewing it, though the to-be-reviewed pile it’s sitting on top of is getting very large.

In the meantime, another book excerpt has been reprinted online: Literary Hub has Lev Grossman’s wide-ranging piece on fantasy maps. It joins the essays by David Mitchell, Frances Hardinge, Robert Macfarlane and Miraphora Mina we’ve seen before. The book isn’t all text, though: as you might expect, there are rather a lot of maps in it. Those maps are the focus of Atlas Obscura’s look at the book.

Previously: David Mitchell on Starting with a Map; Essays on Literary Maps: Treasure Island, Moominland and the Marauder’s Map.

Essays on Literary Maps: Treasure Island, Moominland and the Marauder’s Map

Another excerpt from the forthcoming book The Writer’s Map, this time in the Guardian, in which three authors talk about their favourite literary maps: Robert Macfarlane on the map in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Frances Hardinge on the map of Tove Jansson’s Moominland, and Miraphora Mina on the Harry Potter Marauder’s Map. In each case the maps are points of departure: Macfarlane gets all scholarly and theoretical, Hardinge and Mina more personal.

Previously: David Mitchell on Starting with a Map.

Malazan Globe

I knew that chalkboard globes were a thing, but one excellent use for them did not occur to me: drawing fantasy maps on them.

This is precisely what one Reddit user has done with the map from Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Now there is no official overall world map for the Malazan novels: if I understand things correctly, fans have had to reverse-engineer it from the large-scale maps and descriptions in the novels. In any event, putting a fantasy map on a globe is an achievement in and of itself, regardless of source or medium, since most fantasy worlds are drawn as flat maps, and not all of them take a round world into account. [Tor.com]

Previously: Applying Fantasy Maps to Globes.

David Mitchell on Starting with a Map

“Fictitious maps give form to a thing—the imagination—that has no form. They are mysteries and answers to those mysteries.” The New Yorker publishes a piece by Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell in which he describes his creative process, which since childhood has meant to Start with a Map—something he calls “a displacement activity,” but in the same breath he says “mapmaking and stage-sketching can be necessary aspects of writing.” Mitchell’s essay is an excerpt from a forthcoming book edited by Huw Lewis-Jones: The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands (University of Chicago Press, October), which sounds right up my alley.

Winnie-the-Pooh Map Sells for £430,000 at Auction

Sotheby’s

E. H. Shepard’s original illustrated map of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood has sold at auction for £430,000, about three times the amount it was expected to fetch: BBC NewsThe Guardian. It’s the highest amount any book illustration has ever sold for at auction; this particular map has been auctioned twice before, most recently in 1970, when it sold for £1,700.

Previously: Original Winnie-the-Pooh Map Being Auctioned Next Month.

The Consolation of Maps

The Consolation of Maps (riverrun, June), the first novel from Irish writer Thomas Bourke, is set in the world of map exhibitions and map dealers.  From the publisher’s book description: “Kenji Tanabe finds maps easier to read than people. At the elite Tokyo gallery where he works, he sells antique maps by selling the stories that he sees within their traces: their contribution to progress, their dramatic illustrations, their exquisite compasses. But no compass or cartography can guide him through the events that will follow the sudden and unexpected offer of a job in America.” The description and reviews (see GeoLounge and the Irish Times) portray this as more a literary novel than a mystery or thriller; I’ll have to check it out for myself. It’s only published in the U.K. but is available elsewhere through third-party dealers; Amazon UK will likely deliver regardless of the address. Kindle and iBooks versions will be geographically restricted, of course.

Original Winnie-the-Pooh Map Being Auctioned Next Month

Sotheby’s

The original illustrated map of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, drawn by E. H. Shepard, is being auctioned at Sotheby’s in July. Sotheby’s press release (PDF): “Featuring on the opening end-papers of the original 1926 book, the sketch introduces readers to the delightful imagination of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends. Exactly 40 years later the map played a starring role in the landmark Disney film—Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree—where it was brought to life as an animation in the film’s opening sequence.” The map, one of the best-known in English literature, is expected to fetch between £100,000 and £150,000; the BBC reports that the map last sold in 1970 for £1,700. Four original drawings by Shepard are also being auctioned. [Atlas Obscura]

New and Reissued Books for April 2018

New Editions

The third edition of Mark Monmonier’s classic How to Lie with Maps (University of Chicago Press, 1o April) “includes significant updates throughout as well as new chapters on image maps, prohibitive cartography, and online maps. It also includes an expanded section of color images and an updated list of sources for further reading.” I reviewed the second edition back in May 2006. Amazon, iBooks

The Phantom AtlasThe Phantom Atlas, Edward Brooke-Hitching’s book about fictitious places that were once presented as real places, came out in the U.K. in November 2016. Though North American buyers could get a copy via online sellers, a proper U.S. edition (Chronicle, 3 April) is now available. The Wall Street Journal, of all places, has a review. Previously: The Phantom AtlasMore on Two Books About Nonexistent Places. Amazon, iBooks (U.K. edition, U.S. edition)

New in April

Zayde Antrim’s Mapping the Middle East (Reaktion, 1 April) “explores the many perspectives from which people have visualized the vast area lying between the Atlantic Ocean and the Oxus and Indus river valleys over the past millennium. By analysing maps produced from the eleventh century on, Zayde Antrim emphasizes the deep roots of mapping in a world region too often considered unexamined and unchanging before the modern period. Indeed, maps from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, coinciding with the eras of European colonialism and the rise of the nation-state, have obscured this deeper past and constrained future possibilities.” Amazon

Jeremy Black’s Mapping Shakespeare: An Exploration of Shakespeare’s Worlds Through Maps (Conway, 10 April) “looks at the England, Europe, and wider world in which Shakespeare worked through maps and illustrations that reveal the way that he and his contemporaries saw their land and their place in the world. It also explores the locations of his plays and looks at the possible inspirations for these and why Shakespeare would have chosen to set his stories there.” Amazon, iBooks

The Art of Map Illustration: A Step-by-Step Artistic Exploration of Contemporary Cartography and Mapmaking (Walter Foster, 3 April), an illustrated guide featuring the work and method of four map illustrators (James Gulliver Hancock, Hennie Haworth, Stuart Hill and Sarah King), was reviewed on The Map Room earlier this month. Amazon

Related: Map Books of 2018.

The Atlas Awards

The Cartographers’ Guild, that online community of fantasy map makers, announced the 2018 winners of their Atlas Awards, which honour the best maps made by their members. It’s the second year of the Awards’ existence. Winners were named in eight categories, including best world, regional, city/town, hand-drawn, space, and structure and gaming maps; most original; and best overall map, for which there was a three-way tie between maps by Filippo Vanzo, John Stevenson and Katarina Božanić (see above). Click through to see the other winners and finalists: there is some extremely adept work on display there.

New Orleans: ‘Totally Unrealistic’ Fantasy City

Don’t miss writer and game designer James L. Sutter critiquing New Orleans as though it was a city from a fantasy novel. A major criticism of fantasy maps, whether of cities or worlds, is their lack of realism: unrealistic rivers, mountains and so forth. New Orleans, with its totally unrealistic terrain, doesn’t pass the test. “Please clean up your map and resubmit when it follows the rules of a real-world city,” Sutter concludes.