Celebrating Christopher Tolkien’s Cartographic Legacy

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

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.

An Exhibition of Maps of the Imagination in Strasbourg

An exhibition at BNU Strasbourg, Hors du Monde: La Carte et l’Imaginaire, explores the role of imagined places on maps, from monsters on Renaissance maps to California-as-an-island to fantasy maps. The press dossier (PDF; in French) serves as a fairly detailed guide. Opened 18 May; runs until 20 October 2019. Admission 3€.

Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters

Screenshot from Game of Thrones
HBO

My latest piece for Tor.com went live this morning. It’s called “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters” and it deals with the question of in-world fantasy maps: the maps that characters inside a fantasy novel might use. (Hint: They wouldn’t look like the maps found on the endpapers of a fantasy novel.)

(For some background on how this article came to be, see this post on my personal blog.)

An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland

Bernard Sleigh, “An anciente mappe of Fairyland: newly discovered and set forth,” ca. 1917. Map illustration, 147 × 39 cm. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.

An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland,” produced by Bernard Sleigh around 1917, is a marvellous conflation of classical myth and fairy tales. Nearly five feet wide, it was apparently designed to hang in nurseries. The echoes of its design elements can still be seen in later fantasy maps and children’s book illustrations, such as E. H. Shepard’s maps of the Hundred Acre Wood and Pauline Baynes’s maps of Narnia, though none of them are this vibrant.

It was making the rounds a month or two back, probably because a copy was being offered for sale: Atlas Obscura, Kottke. High-resolution digital versions are available via the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Center, the British Library and the Library of Congress; the Leventhal’s reproduction is is much more brightly coloured and in the best shape. The map came with an accompanying booklet.

Previously: The British Library on Fantasy Maps.

Priscilla Spencer, Fantasy Mapmaker

I’m impressed by the work of fantasy mapmaker Priscilla Spencer, whose maps have illustrated novels by Seanan McGuire, Myke Cole, Jim Butcher and Saladin Ahmed, among others. Spencer’s maps push the boundaries of the default fantasy map style: some of them appear as they would in-universe, others adopt elements appropriate to the culture of the world being mapped. Making a note for future reference.

What Does a Fantasy Map Look Like?

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.

A Tube Map of Earthsea

A Tube Map of Earthsea (Camestros Felapton)

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.

The Writer’s Map

The Writer's MapMy review of The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands went live today on Tor.com.

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.

The Writer’s Map is published by Thames and Hudson in the U.K. and by the University of Chicago Press in North America, from which I received a review copy.

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

Atlas Obscura Shares Your D&D Maps

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 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.