Some Critical Essays on Maps in Speculative Fiction and Fantasy

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.”

Maps and Literature Updates: Two Exhibitions and an Article

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).

Last month, MapLab’s Laura Bliss interviewed the Huntington’s curator of literary collections, Karla Nielsen, about the Huntington’s Mapping Fiction exhibition (previously).

The text of my article “Maps in Science Fiction” is now available online (previously).

The Tolkien Estate’s New Website Includes Manuscript Maps

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]

New Article from Me: ‘Maps in Science Fiction’

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.

North of Nowhere: The Osher’s Fantasy Map Exhibition

The Osher Map Library’s new exhibition, North of Nowhere, West of the Moon: Myth, Fiction, and Fantasy in Maps, opened on Saturday.

North of Nowhere title cardInspired 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.

Mapping The Freedom Race

From Lucinda Roy, The Freedom Race (2021).

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?

Upcoming Workshops

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.

Lord of Maps: More Real-World Fantasy Maps

Lord of Maps

Here’s another map artist who draws maps of real-world places in the style of fantasy maps: Isaac of Lord of Maps has around 30 maps—mostly of U.S. states, but also a few countries and one city—available for sale as prints of various sizes. Style-wise they’re dead ringers for Christopher Tolkien’s maps of Middle-earth, down to the hill signs, trees and red lettering.

Previously: Callum Ogden’s Fantasy Map of North America; Callum Ogden’s Fantasy Map of North America; Maps Middle-earth Style: By Hand and by ArcGIS; What Does a Fantasy Map Look Like?

Dan Bell, the Ordnance Survey, and Fantasy Maps

Dan Bell, whose “Tolkien-inspired” maps of real-world places have been a thing for a while now, makes an appearance on the Ordnance Survey’s blog to demonstrate how he uses OS maps in his creative process.

Previously: Dan Bell’s ‘Tolkien-Style’ Maps of the Lake District; Maps Middle-earth Style: By Hand and by ArcGIS; What Does a Fantasy Map Look Like?

Creating a Fantasy Map in Photoshop

Chris Spooner’s step-by-step tutorial on how to create a fantasy map in Photoshop offers some insights on how to create the look and feel of a digitally generated fantasy map with Photoshop. Because its method of generating land masses is more or less random (it uses the cloud rendering tool to create landforms and topography), it’s not a tool you could use to generate a map of a specific secondary world—in other words, not something that could elevate your rough sketch into something professional looking—but it looks fun to play with. [Alejandro Polanco]

Celebrating Christopher Tolkien’s Cartographic Legacy

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, 1924-2020

Christopher Tolkien, map from The Fellowship of the Ring (Unwin, 1954). The British Library.

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 Writer’s Map Wins a World Fantasy Award

The Writer’s Map (cover)
Amazon
Bookshop

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, which I reviewed on Tor.com last year, has won a World Fantasy Award for its editor, Huw Lewis-Jones.

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.

Previously: The Writer’s Map; More from (and on) The Writer’s Map; Essays on Literary Maps: Treasure Island, Moominland and the Marauder’s Map; David Mitchell on Starting with a Map.

A Fantasy Maps Update

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 at Tor.com: ‘Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?’

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.