I’ve written before about maps of the real world done in the style of fantasy maps; they’re a key piece of evidence for my argument that fantasy maps have a distinct (and limited) style. Enough of these fantasy maps of reality are being done that it’s clearly a thing now. The latest examples I’ve encountered come from an Etsy store called Parnasium. Run by a Polish designer named Karol S., it sells poster-sized maps of Europe, the United States, the British Isles, France, Italy, Japan and Poland (so far) in the style of fantasy maps. (The fact he’s using Uncial script suggests he’s primarily inspired by the Lord of the Rings movies; Uncial is fairly rare in book maps.) [Maptitude]
This post describing how to make a fantasy map using macaroni has been making the rounds of Tumblr for a while—it was first posted in January 2014—but it just got picked up by Tor.com recently, so let’s talk about it. The point of the post is how quick and easy it is to make a good looking fantasy map:
LOOK AT THIS WONDERFUL PIECE OF SHIT IT TOOK ME LITERALLY TEN MINUTES TO MAKE TOPS AND NOW YOU JUST NEED TO FIGURE OUT WHERE TO PUT ALL YOUR DWARF-FUCKING ELVES AND LIZARD-PEOPLE WITH BOOBS
(All caps in the original. Yes, it’s like that throughout. Sorry about that.)
But it seems to me that its quick-and-easy appeal is also an indictment of the fantasy map making process—just like the Uncharted Atlas bot (previously), which demonstrates that fantasy map terrain can be algorithmically generated. They do not, in other words, require much in the way of human imagination.
Meanwhile, on the Atlas of Ice and Fire blog, Adam Whitehead has a look at the maps of the Malazan world. Originally co-created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont as the basis of a role-playing campaign, the Malazan world is the setting for multi-volume fantasy series by both authors.
The Library of Congress blog’s series on maps of imaginary places has now concluded; the final post is a look at what’s available on the subject from the Library of Congress itself. One interesting nugget of information: “The Library of Congress classification system has a range of call numbers reserved for maps of imaginary places: G9930-G9979.” How about that.
Uncharted Atlas is a Twitter bot that generates a new fantasy map every hour. The brainchild of glaciologist Martin O’Leary, it uses algorithmically created terrain that is weathered by water erosion, a process he details on this page (All Over the Map’s post explains it in more human-readable terms). As Martin writes:
I wanted to make maps that look like something you’d find at the back of one of the cheap paperback fantasy novels of my youth. I always had a fascination with these imagined worlds, which were often much more interesting than whatever luke-warm sub-Tolkien tale they were attached to.
At the same time, I wanted to play with terrain generation with a physical basis. There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.
The code is available for playing with, and apparently other people are doing just that. Another algorithm—one that linguists should find fascinating—generates the place names.
The fantasy maps that get the most popular and critical attention are those of Middle-earth and Westeros. That’s almost entirely due to their respective series’ popularity (and in the case of Middle-earth, the foundational nature of that map and its influence on later works). Maps of Robert Jordan’s hugely popular Wheel of Time series don’t get quite the same attention—a situation that Adam Whitehead, writing on his Atlas of Ice and Fire blog, tries to rectify. Reading his post, I suspect that the afterthought-ish nature of said maps might have something to do with it.
Apparently Robert Jordan did not originally plan to include maps in the books, and did so only at the urging of his publisher Tom Doherty because people expected maps in a fantasy novel. This may be why the earliest maps for the books were pretty bare-bones, only featuring the names of the major countries, the two big mountain ranges and not much else. It may also explain the curiously straight mountain range edges to the map border which later came in for much ribbing from reviewers.
Here again is a link to a 2009 Tor.com post by Jason Denzel on the maps of Jordan’s so-called Randland.
(Sidebar: In the talk on fantasy maps I gave at Readercon in July 2014 I noted the difference in map quality between the paperback editions of The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt; the second map is of considerably lower quality, but has the virtue of being more legible at mass-market paperback size.)
Once again, Tor.com is marking the publication of an upcoming fantasy novella, this time The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, with an essay on how the book’s map, executed by artist Serena Malyon, came into being. Malyon takes us from the author’s own map through several iterations of what ended up as the final map. The end result is a unique take on the fantasy map style, marked by the use of watercolours and perspective, backgrounded by a constellation-filled sky. Amazon (Kindle) / iBooks
Previously: Mapping The Drowning Eyes.
Two more posts about imaginary maps on the Library of Congress’s map blog: a look at maps made after the books were published (such as posters, movie adaptations and online maps), focusing on Middle-earth and Westeros; and a look at maps in children’s stories that talks about whether what appears on maps is in fact true.
(In my previous entry about this series I misattributed the authorship of these posts. That entry has since been corrected. Sorry about that.)
The latest map of the real world done in the style of fantasy maps (remember: fantasy maps have a distinct style), at least that I’ve encountered, is this map of North America offered by Etsy seller Aoraki Maps. (They also have one of the southeastern U.S.) The style is very fantasy map, with cursive labels rather than the (older) Didone-style lettering. [Boing Boing]
In the latest instalment of Hannah Stahl’s series of posts on fantasy maps at the Library of Congress’s map blog (see previous entry), she takes as a starting point my argument that Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth is the progenitor map from which the modern fantasy map design is descended, and compares that map to maps of Westeros from George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.
The Library of Congress’s map blog, Worlds Revealed, has begun a series of posts about imaginary maps. “We’ll be exploring all of these types of maps and imaginary worlds this summer. Come revisit the Hundred Acre Wood and the other worlds of your favorite children’s stories, spend some time in medieval Europe, and run from White Walkers in Game of Thrones.” So far we have an introduction and a look at maps from the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, with Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth next on the schedule. [WMS]
Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-earth, recently purchased by Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, is being put on display—but only for one day. Mark your calendars: Thursday, 23 June 2016, from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, Weston Library. [Tony Campbell]
(The only other instance of a single-day map exhibition I can think of was when the Austrian National Library put the infinitely more delicate and valuable Tabula Peutingeriana on display for a single day in 2007.)
Fantasy Maps: Imagined Worlds, a new exhibition at St. Louis’s Central Library, features enlarged prints of fantasy maps and a 75×25-foot illustrated map of St. Louis on the floor of the library’s great hall. Opens today and runs until 15 October according to this page. There’s nothing on the library’s website, but see the writeup in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. [WMS]
A map of Middle-earth annotated by J. R. R. Tolkien himself that was discovered among the papers of illustrator Pauline Baynes last year and subsequently put up for auction has been purchased by Oxford’s Bodleian Library for its Tolkien archive. News coverage: BBC News, Guardian.
Dyson’s Dodecahedron started out as a blog about role-playing games that over time transformed itself into a source of dungeon maps; the impetus was a dungeon he’d written up for a one-page dungeon contest:
I wasn’t happy with the map I drew for that dungeon, and started looking at the maps drawn by other members of my various RPG groups. I started to develop a new style for my maps. Not an “original” style overall—it is strongly based in the cartography I enjoyed from old Palladium and Chaosisum products, but significantly less like the style of the traditional D&D map which is very grid-oriented.
Then I started to post maps drawn in this style. As I practiced the style, I challenged myself to draw a geomorph every other day until I had at least 100 geomorphs. The blog got pretty boring during this stretch, but I learned a lot about mapping and dungeon design, and the blog got a reputation as a mapping blog.