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The Map

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  • The Map

    Middle Earth, Westeros, The Young Kingdoms, New Crobuzon, Arrakis... One of the ways to know that you are reading a fantasy novel is the presence of a map. Usually it's in the front right after the contents' page or sometimes in the back. Some are drawn by hand and some are more technical. The map contributes to setting the atmosphere of the book as well as making it possible to understand the geography better, making the world more real in a sense.

    According to Le Guin: "WHERE is as important in the realms of pure imagination as it is here in mundanity. Before I started to write A Wizard of Earthsea, I got a big piece of posterboard and drew the map. I drew all the islands of Earthsea, the Archipelago, the Kargad Lands, the Reaches. And I named them: Havnor, the great island at the middle of the world; Selidor, far out in the west, and the Dragon's Run, and Hur-at-Hur, and all the rest. But only as I sailed with Ged from Gont did I begin to know the islands, one by one."

    It seems to me that the map is one of the primary conventions of fantasy. But conventions are there to be explored, manipulated and maybe even subverted. I am looking for fantasy books that use the map convention creatively to tell stories in new ways.

    An example: The Ocean-Chart from Caroll's The Hunting of the Snark: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped..._-_Plate_4.jpg

    In the Elric books MM makes fun of the map convention with his references to the unmapped east that is only unmapped to the west and is actually well known to the people living there.

    Can you think of any other fantasy fiction where maps (or references to maps) are being reinvented?
    Last edited by Sir Sorcerer; 08-20-2020, 03:04 AM. Reason: Updated map link

  • #2
    My favourite fictive map, mainly for nostalgic reasons, from The Lost World by A. Conan Doyle:

    "For once I was the hero of the expedition. Alone I had thought of it, and alone I had done it; and here was the chart which would save us a month's blind groping among unknown dangers..."

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...2C_1912%29.jpg
    Last edited by Sir Sorcerer; 08-20-2020, 03:32 AM.

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    • #3
      The map of New Crobuzon is suspiciously similar to a diagram of the brain.
      https://curufea.com/games/crobuzon/crobuzon.gif

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      • #4
        A somewhat unfair use of the word 'fantasy' but a lovely book: The Phantom Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching

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        • #5
          I enjoy where Marvel comics tucked Transia and Wundagore and Symkaria and Genosha etc. They’ve done as good a job as possible with tucking extra countries into the world as you can
          "Self-discipline and self-knowledge are the key. An individual becomes a unique universe, able to move at will through all the scales of the multiverse - potentially able to control the immediate reality of every scale, every encountered environment."
          --Contessa Rose von Bek, Blood part 4, chapter 12

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          • #6
            Great topic and thanks for that link Rothgo. I agree with J-Sun and Marvel.

            My only contribution (due to my recent re-read) is Robert Holdstock’s Mythago cycle. The primeval forests are almost impenetrable, and in pre-Danielewski fashion are much larger on the inside than on the outside. And going deeper into specially also takes you back through cultural mythology.

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            • #7
              Love that link to New Crobuzon, Sir Sorcerer. Mieville is phenomenal. Now that I think about it, one of his heroes (and one of MM’s contemporaries in the New World era) is M. John Harrison. Harrison is most famous for Viriconium, which is really well established but everything about it is geographically vague. Now I’m on a roll... Jeff Vandermeer plays with vague geography in much of his work.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Doc View Post
                Great topic and thanks for that link Rothgo. I agree with J-Sun and Marvel.

                My only contribution (due to my recent re-read) is Robert Holdstock’s Mythago cycle. The primeval forests are almost impenetrable, and in pre-Danielewski fashion are much larger on the inside than on the outside. And going deeper into specially also takes you back through cultural mythology.
                I’ve owned the mythago cycle for years. It’s on the bucket list for the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to finally reading it.
                "Self-discipline and self-knowledge are the key. An individual becomes a unique universe, able to move at will through all the scales of the multiverse - potentially able to control the immediate reality of every scale, every encountered environment."
                --Contessa Rose von Bek, Blood part 4, chapter 12

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Sir Sorcerer View Post
                  ... It seems to me that the map is one of the primary conventions of fantasy. But conventions are there to be explored, manipulated and maybe even subverted ...
                  Sorry, no examples of creative mapping, but, hopefully, you can enjoy some examples of map subversion and possible anti-mapping. First up, expanding on Doc's mention of M. John Harrison.

                  Originally posted by Doc View Post
                  ... Harrison is most famous for Viriconium, which is really well established but everything about it is geographically vague...
                  "Like all books,Viriconium is just some words. There is no place, no society, no dependable furniture to “make real. ”You can’t read it for that stuff, so you have to read it for everything else. And if its landscapes can’t be mapped, its threat of infinite depth (or at least infinite recessiveness) can’t be defused but must be accepted on its own terms, as a guarantee of actual adventure. Like the characters, the reader goes in without a clue. No character ever “survives” Viriconium: the best they can hope for after they have been sucked in is to be spat out whole (if changed). Recognise this procedure? It’s called life. This is one of Viriconium’s many jigsawed messages to the reader. You can’t hope to control things. Learn to love the vertigo of experience instead. Any child can see that the map is not the ground. You cannot make a “reliable” map. A map, like a scientific theory, or consciousness itself, is no more than a dream of control."
                  For his First Law world and books Joe Abercrombie made a heroic, though ultimately doomed, stand against making a map. I think he broke down when he used it to set a YA trilogy, but he did make a small one before that for The Heroes.

                  "I kind of worry that the need for maps is part of a mindset that I’d like – in the gentlest possible way – to be steering readers away from, at least while they’re reading my books. A focus on world, and setting, and getting all the details straight, that maybe gets in the way of submersion in the characters and the story. I’d rather they just let it flow over them, left the details in my (hugely capable) hands, and concentrated on each event as it’s presented.

                  Call me foolish as well, but I do think having a map there can damage the sense of scale, awe, and wonder that a reader might have for your world. It’s like that moment in the horror film when you finally see the monster."
                  Source: Maps. Craps?

                  Finally, Frances Hardinge may have been having some fun with the mapping convention in A Face Like Glass which features a cavern city whose tunnels and layout are so twisted all the cartographers are mad. It's even dangerous to talk to them for too long as you may catch their madness.
                  Last edited by Heresiologist; 08-20-2020, 10:07 PM.

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                  • #10
                    I appreciate anyone who can use Harrison’s words to help me make my point. 🙂 You can tell how great a writer he is in those few paragraphs. Such imagination and such a great stylist.

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                    • #11
                      Thanks for some inspiring comments and suggestions. Interesting to read Harrison's essay, his notion of the inscape is great. But I don't think I agree with his view of fictive maps primarily as a dream of control and to keep vertigo at bay. Don't you think there can also be a "vertigo of experience" inside of maps? To give an example, when I read Tolkien as a kid I remember always getting lost in the Middle Earth map, and never being able to figure out exactly where the action was supposed to take place from chapter to chapter. The map seemed in this sense - in Harrison's words - "infinitely deep", an abyss of names and places (often in several languages at once!) that could only be imagined in fragments and partially. It was also, importantly, a kind of meta-map, drawn by one of the characters within the fiction at a certain point in time, and therefore neither objective nor true in any meaningful way. In The Lost World by Doyle, the map is likewise radically contingent, and not to be trusted. In this story the characters invent names for the different places in the map as part of the fiction.
                      Last edited by Sir Sorcerer; 08-21-2020, 04:15 AM. Reason: Spelling

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by J-Sun View Post

                        I’ve owned the mythago cycle for years. It’s on the bucket list for the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to finally reading it.
                        The first is a relatively easy read, and it reads beautifully. Lavondyss is a little heavier, especially the back end, but it is more accessible if you read it relatively soon after Mythago Wood. And back to the business of this thread ... haha

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                        • #13
                          Burrough's map of Pellucidar, the internal surface of the Earth (from the first edition 1915). If I understand correctly Pellucidar's geography is supposed to be a reversal of the surface world's continents and oceans. Because of the concave curvature of this Hollow Earth type world there is no horizon, so that "the further distant an object is, the higher it appears to be" (description from Wikipedia). It strikes me that the map does a pretty bad job at representing this spatial logic. But what it does do is making me dizzy!
                          https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...ucidar-map.gif

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Sir Sorcerer View Post
                            Thanks for some inspiring comments and suggestions. Interesting to read Harrison's essay, his notion of the inscape is great. But I don't think I agree with his view of fictive maps primarily as a dream of control and to keep vertigo at bay. Don't you think there can also be a "vertigo of experience" inside of maps? To give an example, when I read Tolkien as a kid I remember always getting lost in the Middle Earth map, and never being able to figure out exactly where the action was supposed to take place from chapter to chapter. The map seemed in this sense - in Harrison's words - "infinitely deep", an abyss of names and places (often in several languages at once!) that could only be imagined in fragments and partially. It was also, importantly, a kind of meta-map, drawn by one of the characters within the fiction at a certain point in time, and therefore neither objective nor true in any meaningful way. In The Lost World by Doyle, the map is likewise radically contingent, and not to be trusted. In this story the characters invent names for the different places in the map as part of the fiction.
                            Much like Harrison that's an interesting perspective you got there. I don't necessarily disagree with you or Harrison. The world is more than big enough for each of your respective notions.

                            I suppose I could defend Harrison's "dream of control" notion, at least regarding Tolkien's trilogy, as a sustained attempt to control, tame, and deny the notion that a "great war" could be senseless.

                            I think I understand what you are trying to get at with the idea of the meta map having unknown depths, but I think that's characteristic of all maps. I also suspect it's at least partly what Harrison meant when he rephrased Alfred Korzybski's most famous adage ("the map is not the territory") to "the map is not the ground." Maps, no matter how detailed, always obscure far more than they show.

                            At any rate, though I was often fascinated by fantasy maps I was never troubled by not being able to figure out exactly where something took place. I dunno. Maybe that's because from an early age I could look at a map and see remote, even not so remote, forests I had been in and just be comfortable with, "yeah, somewhere in there, that's where I was."

                            As an adult I've sort of reflected on this because having worked for many years in British Columbia's forestry sector I've seen much more of the province than most. But when I trace out some of my travels on a map, these seemingly huge experiences of land and water, become tiny, hair thin, threads. Even the pencil line on the map physically overstates what I went through. And yet I've been there and back again. More than once.

                            Maybe the limits of the map are just something anybody whose spent significant time living and/or working in the backwoods knows. Then again the "voids" in maps are a favoured locale of horror and dark fantasy stories, so it seems you can fall through the map pretty much anywhere.

                            Originally posted by Sir Sorcerer View Post
                            Burrough's map of Pellucidar, the internal surface of the Earth (from the first edition 1915). If I understand correctly Pellucidar's geography is supposed to be a reversal of the surface world's continents and oceans. Because of the concave curvature of this Hollow Earth type world there is no horizon, so that "the further distant an object is, the higher it appears to be" (description from Wikipedia). It strikes me that the map does a pretty bad job at representing this spatial logic. But what it does do is making me dizzy!
                            https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...ucidar-map.gif
                            Thanks for that! Even though Pellucidar was my favourite Burroughsian setting I don't think I've ever seen the map. The dream of Pellucidar caused me to kind of drive a science teacher a bit crazy because I kept trying to get him to confirm that a hollow earth was possible.
                            Last edited by Heresiologist; 08-21-2020, 11:24 PM.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Heresiologist View Post

                              I think I understand what you are trying to get at with the idea of the meta map having unknown depths, but I think that's characteristic of all maps. I also suspect it's at least partly what Harrison meant when he rephrased Alfred Korzybski's most famous adage ("the map is not the territory") to "the map is not the ground." Maps, no matter how detailed, always obscure far more than they show.

                              At any rate, though I was often fascinated by fantasy maps I was never troubled by not being able to figure out exactly where something took place. I dunno. Maybe that's because from an early age I could look at a map and see remote, even not so remote, forests I had been in and just be comfortable with, "yeah, somewhere in there, that's where I was." .
                              At the risk of combining ideas from two threads...

                              This actually seems to related to “is fantasy escapism” thread. I agree that maps obscure more than they show, especially since they limit they way people think about geography. I like using my imagination to fill in gaps, but that requires an active engagement that is sometimes just not in the cards. Sometimes I want someone else to do the work. Maps let someone else do the work.

                              I also have a high tolerance for uncertainty and vagueness with a lot of things. (Don’t get me wrong, when I need precision I need precision). A map enforces a kind of reading that leads me to lazier reading. It tells too much of the story for me. What it obscures is some of my imagination.

                              I’ve thought about this in terms of Jeff Vandermeer’s work. (I’ve made no secret that I’m a huge fan of his.) The Southern Reach trilogy shows that it’s not about the map. Understanding the land is more important, and attempts to create a map get in the way of that kind of understanding. Borne and it’s related stories are also vague on map-like details, and even City of Saints and Madmen alludes to geography more than it details it. Vennis Underground outlines important details about the landscape, but not in grand detail. To me, the broad strokes are more effective than detail. I think this is part of Harrison’s point, and I’ve read enough about Vandermeer to know he would consider it a
                              compliment to be compared to Harrison.

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