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.
Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration, an exhibition of literary and fantasy maps at Harvard’s Houghton Library, is free to the public and runs through 14 April 2018. “Presented in conjunction with the bicentenary of the Harvard Map Collection, this exhibition brings together over 60 landmark literary maps, from the 200-mile-wide island in Thomas More’s Utopia to the supercontinent called the Stillness in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Visitors will traverse literary geographies from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Nuruddin Farah’s besieged Somalia; or perhaps escape the world’s bothers in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood.” Atlas Obscura has more on the exhibition, along with a selection of some of the maps it presents. [Tony Campbell]
Maps of real places done up in the style of fantasy maps are a thing, as those who have been following along will know by now. I’m planning a dedicated page on the subject in the Fantasy Maps section. That page will have to include Dan Bell’s maps of the Lake District—maps, he says, “that resemble the iconic style of J. R. R. Tolkien.” His maps have suddenly got a bit of media attention, which is atypical for this sort of project: BBC News, The Westmoreland Gazette. They resemble more the maps done for the Lord of the Rings movies than the maps created by Christopher Tolkien or Pauline Baynes: one tell is the triple-dot diacritic above the a, which is used in the movie maps and comes from Tolkien’s Elvish script. Bell, a 25-year-old “ordinary guy” from the Lake District, is selling prints of the maps online. [Kenneth Field]
Cat Rambo livetweeted some of the good bits from the online class on creating fantasy maps she taught with Alex Acks and Paul Weimer earlier this month (see previous entry), using the #mappingfantasy hashtag. Most of those good bits were common sense worldbuilding advice; by and large the intended audience is authors creating their fantasy worlds. They’re the ones who benefit most from basic geological or geographical advice, such as:
— 🌈RainbowRiotRambo🦄 (@Catrambo) December 16, 2017
Other tips would be familiar to cartography students.
— 🌈RainbowRiotRambo🦄 (@Catrambo) December 16, 2017
Here’s a point that makes sense from a worldbuilding perspective, but it has led to the cliché that every point on the map has to be visited:
— 🌈RainbowRiotRambo🦄 (@Catrambo) December 16, 2017
Maps Mania has a roundup of fantasy map generators—applications that generate maps of imaginary cities or landscapes algorithmically. Sometimes even with names. Two of them I’d previously heard of: Uncharted Atlas, a Twitter bot that tweets out a new map every hour, and the Medieval Fantasy City Generator, which generates a random medieval city layout. Two were new to me: Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, which comes complete with documentation and an accompanying blog; and Oskar Stalberg’s City Generator, which doesn’t.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If fantasy map generators can produce a map that is at least credible in comparison to the human-made product, what does that say about that human-made product in terms of the imagination and creativity that went into it?
On Obsidian Wings, a post on why I need maps in fantasy novels: “Two books I recently read made me realize that I don’t just like maps, they’re part of how my mind works. For me, a map is a type of memory palace, linking up all kinds of information for easy retrieval. Without one, I don’t just feel lost, I feel dumb—because my memories are disorganized and harder to recall.” An interesting take on the usefulness of fantasy maps. [Skiffy and Fanty]