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.
As you probably know, I’m keenly interested in fiction where maps are part of the story. The latest example of this comes from my friend Fran Wilde, whose story, “An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands,” went live on Tor.com this morning. This is a story that challenges our ideas of what a map is for and what a map does—what a map maps—as travellers from another world discover that their destination is already inhabited, and try to map themselves into a safe space in between the settled areas—which is a real twist on the colonial uses of maps in history. It can be read for free online; an ebook is also available at a nominal cost.
(See also my in-progress list of fiction about maps.)
It turns out that I wasn’t finished talking about the maps drawn by Christopher Tolkien. My latest piece for Tor.com, “Celebrating Christopher Tolkien’s Cartographic Legacy,” went live at Tor.com this morning. It looks at the collaborative process between J. R. R. Tolkien and his son Christopher as father and son tried to make the narrative agree with the map, and vice versa; takes a deep dive into Christopher’s mapmaking technique; and tries to assess the impact of his maps on fantasy mapmaking.
Previously: Christopher Tolkien, 1924-2020.
Christopher Tolkien, the third son of J. R. R. Tolkien and the executor of his literary estate and editor of his posthumous works, died yesterday at the age of 95. But one of his legacies is likely to be overlooked: he drew the map of Middle-earth that appeared in the first edition of The Lord of the Rings. That map proved hugely influential. It helped set the norm for subsequent epic fantasy novels: they would come with maps, and those maps would look rather a lot like the one drawn by Christopher Tolkien.
Christopher Tolkien himself was self-deprecating about the execution of his map, and about the design choices he made. Regarding a new version of the map he drew for Unfinished Tales, he took pains to emphasize that
the exact preservation of the style and detail (other than nomenclature and lettering) of the map that I made in haste twenty-five years ago does not argue any belief in the excellence of its conception or execution. I have long regretted that my father never replaced it by one of his own making. However, as things turned out it became, for all its defects and oddities, “the Map,” and my father himself always used it as a basis afterwards (while frequently noticing its inadequacies).
However hastily it was drawn, it was pivotal all the same.
The 2019 World Fantasy Awards were announced yesterday at the World Fantasy Convention, held this year in Los Angeles; Lewis-Jones won in the Special Award—Professional category.
Winners in each category are decided by a panel of judges.
It’s been a while since my last post. That’s because I spent most of last week with my head down, working on a presentation about fantasy maps for a science fiction/fantasy convention that took place over the weekend. The presentation was called “The Territory Is Not the Map: Exploring the Fantasy Map Style,” and it drew on the arguments I made in recent Tor.com articles and in this post. Will I let you see it at some point? Possibly, though not likely in its current form: the paint was barely dry on it when I delivered it, though it was quite well received.
Meanwhile, a couple of other things. Here’s a piece by the author Lev Grossman about the urge to map fictional places. It’s excerpted from his essay in Deserina Boskovitch’s Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy (which came out last month from Abrams).
It didn’t matter that these places didn’t exist, what mattered was how much people wanted them to. Fictional maps are a visual trace of the ridiculous, undignified passion that we pour into worlds that we know aren’t real. They seem to confirm the ridiculous faith we place in novels—to see one is to say, silently and only to yourself, See? I knew it was real!
And the author Diane Duane has a simply massive collection of links to digital mapmaking resources in re fantasy maps, from map generators to tools to tutorials.
New from me at Tor.com this morning, the latest instalment in my series on the history and design of fantasy maps. “Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?” looks at the influences on and origins of the fantasy map style—the existing traditions, stretching back as far back as the sixteenth century, that the fantasy map drew upon when it came into being in the early to mid-twentieth century. (Tolkien couldn’t have made it up out of whole cloth, after all.)
This is a speculative piece that draws upon a large and diverse number of sources—everything from Forlani to Berann, from bird’s-eye views of cities to children’s book illustrations—to come up with … well, something interesting, at least. To do proper justice to the subject would require a Ph.D. dissertation. This is a start.