Art designer James Shadrach Schoenke imagines a modern-day Westeros with a modern-style map that mimics the design of European road maps.
New from me on Tor.com this morning: “What Does a Fantasy Map Look Like?” This is the first of several planned pieces that will take a deep dive into the look and feel of fantasy maps: their design and aesthetic, their origins and inspirations, and where they may be going in the future. In this piece, I start by trying to describe a baseline fantasy map style—which, though it’s well recognized and often imitated, has not often been spelled out.
Everything under the sun can be expressed as a Tube map. Including, as blogger Camestros Felapton demonstrates above, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books. A glance at the original and official maps of Earthsea reveals that world as an intricate, almost overwhelming archipelago: Camestros’s map, like all good transit diagrams, expresses the books as journeys between points.
Edited by the historian of exploration Huw Lewis-Jones, The Writer’s Map is a collection of essays and maps that explore the relationship between maps and stories; the essays are written both by the creators of those stories—Cressida Cowell, Lev Grossman, Frances Hardinge, David Mitchell and Philip Pullman make appearances—and by the mapmakers who were inspired by those stories, such as Roland Chambers, Daniel Reeve and others. It also draws an important connection between travel and adventure stories of the past and modern fantasy, and explains why “here be dragons” is as much an attractant as it is a warning. Read my review.
Remember how Atlas Obscura put out a call for Dungeons & Dragons maps? They’ve received a pile of entries and are featuring two dozen of them: “[Y]our D&D maps are more incredible than we could have imagined. Every single one calls out for exploration.” Some of them are familiar in form, others are really out there, which I appreciate.
Previously: Atlas Obscura Wants Your D&D Maps.
Atlas Obscura is looking for your Dungeons and Dragons maps. “Not unlike the maps found in many fantasy novels, DIY D&D maps act as blueprints to imaginary spaces. Usually, once a campaign is complete, these maps get tossed out or put up on a shelf somewhere, but it doesn’t have to be this way! We want to help share your dungeon maps with the world.” There’s a form at the link, and instructions on how to share your map; they’ll post their favourites in an upcoming article.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dan Bell’s career drawing maps of real-world places in the style of maps of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth continues apace; a recent piece, a map of San Francisco, got written up in the San Francisco Chronicle, and his website is full of other recent works.
But computer mapping may be about to overtake hand-drawn illustration. John M. Nelson has created an ArcGIS style that does the very thing Dan Bell does by hand: emulate the maps of Middle-earth executed by Christopher Tolkien and Pauline Baynes. The style is called, naturally, My Precious: John explains it here and here, and demonstrates the style with this map of the Americas.
There are, of course, some flaws in this method: a mechanical representation of a hand-drawn style risks falling into the uncanny valley’s cartographic equivalent, especially when mountain and forest signs are clone-stamped over large areas. And to be honest I’m not a fan of the Aniron font: those letterforms were used in the Lord of the Rings movies, but never the books’ maps, and now they’re found on damn near every Tolkien-style map, and we hates it, precious, we hates it forever. But Nelson is basically emulating modern fantasy map practice: modern fantasy maps are invariably done in Illustrator, labels are computer generated rather than hand-drawn, and hill signs are clone stamped. Applying it to real-world maps, and GIS software, is new, but a difference in degree.
Previously: Dan Bell’s ‘Tolkien-Style’ Maps of the Lake District.
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.
Holy cow—if you like fantasy maps, spend some time looking at New Orleans. WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON WITH THIS CITY?! If this came in from a freelancer, there are half a dozen things that would raise my eyebrows. pic.twitter.com/ApqYYWlE8d
— James L. Sutter (@jameslsutter) March 19, 2018
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.
Sarah Gailey is the author of two novellas, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, about an alternate America that domesticated hippos, which promptly
ran swam feral in the Mississippi. In this Tor.com post, she describes how there wasn’t supposed to be an accompanying map, but one got made anyway.
It had never occurred to me to draw a map. I had written a story that wasn’t an epic, high-fantasy journey across nations. Why would I draw a map? Maps are for bigger stories, right? How does one go about drawing a map? I stayed up that night googling cartography. My search was not fruitful. I tucked that particular insecurity into the part of my brain where I catalogue all my shortcomings as a writer, and I did my best to forget about it.
Imagine, then, my abject horror when my River of Teeth editor, Justin Landon, sent me the following message: “oh hey, btw, do you have a rough map you’ve done for RoT?”
I said no, and he asked me to put something together. I hedged heavily, hoping that if I said “I will probably do a bad job” enough times, my editor might say “oh, ha ha, just kidding, I would never make you do something this hard! Please, go enjoy a cocktail.”
Reader, he made me do a map. I gritted my teeth, grabbed a piece of paper and an existing map of Louisiana, and braced myself for despair. You’ll never believe what happened next.
I had so much fun.