Tough Travelling: Maps
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, this feature has seen a couple of itinerations over the years (Created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, to finding a new home here on the Hive), and after something of a hiatus, it’s now back!
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
This month, in line with the Wyrd and Wonder tag on Twitter and Instagram, we’re poring over MAPS:
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
This is one of the few fantasy books where knowing the lay of the land really helps shape your understanding of the narrative. The art is simple enough, but it really helps you understand the story, which delves a lot into the themes of national identity.
Shadow Realm Series by Lucas Thorn
These books also have some of the most entertaining maps on the go, what with them being drawn by “Goblin Cartographers” and containing notes like “smells like shit here,” “pissbeer,” a cigarette burn mark where a building was razed, and so on.
I’m afraid I’m no longer a huge fan of maps, which may be a bit heretical. Perhaps it’s reading ebooks more, perhaps it’s seeing so many similar maps of a generic coastline-on-the-left, mountains-on-the-right lands with borders that are far too clean and simple…I try not to look at maps too much and hope the geography is clear from the text. Also, plenty of my favourite books/series didn’t come with maps – Divine Cities, Winnowing Flame Trilogy, City of Lies – so they aren’t often necessary.
Still, I suppose I should then have a few standout, non-generic examples…
The Wounded Kingdom Trilogy by RJ Barker
Tom Parker’s maps for RJ’s books are great because they aren’t trying to be too accurate – in fact, the one for Wounded Kingdom is particularly useless.
Echoes of Empire by Mark T Barnes and Gods of the Caravan Road by KV Johansen
A couple that truly evoke the scope of the worlds created are the ones for Mark T Barnes’ Echoes of Empire and KV Johansen’s Gods of the Caravan Road. The latter shares a lot with real-Earth maps that inspired it, which is another of my peeves, but in such a continent-spanning series where travel is important, it helps to get a sense of scale.
On the other end of the scale, city maps can be useful for intricate, smaller-scale adventures. Martha Wells Wheel of the Infinite even has a map of the castle, since it’s the main setting.
I love maps! I’m the kind of reader who opens up a fantasy book and immediately searches for a map, and gets a tad grumpy when one isn’t included (*cough cough Joe Abercrombie*). The reason I like maps so much is that I love discovering how far a character or a group of characters have travelled, what lands lie near them, how close are they to the enemy? It adds an element of realism to the world-building, and therefore enhances the experience. Which is kind of strange because I can’t read real life maps… at all… but show me a fantasy map and you’ll see me enthusiastically scrutinising over all the details – go figure!
So here’s my three of my favourite maps;
Middle-Earth by JRR Tolkien
I know this is one that is probably mentioned the most and one everyone instantly recognises, but I can’t not include it! I’ve been lovingly staring at that map for well over ten years, I have multiple copies of it, and whenever I see it, I strangely feel comforted. Who doesn’t want to travel to The Shire or Rivendell?
Books of Babel Tower by Josiah Bancroft
Ok, so I’m going to argue that this is still a map, even though it doesn’t cover landmarks or cities like traditional ones do. However it is a map of the Ringdoms of the tower, and it illustrates what you will find in each one. Plus it’s filled with miniature details, so it’s goddamn gorgeous.
The Cradle (From Ravencaller) by David Dalglish
I am always fond of maps that are a bit different, and this one actually includes fun annotations by one of the characters. I also love that illustrations of some of the fantastical characters is included around the corners too (*heart eyes*).
I agree with James that maps are often unnecessary – that the geography of the story should be sufficiently clear from the text, and where shown they tend to fall into stereotypes. My use of Kindle/e-readers has sort of accentuated this feeling because – when reading electronically – I often don’t discover there is a map until I’ve finished the book. But then, a bit like Nils, I do find myself going back to work out “oh so that’s where they went and how far they travelled.”
My views on maps have shifted over the last few years. I do find some maps annoying (and in the case of my own books, somewhat embarrassing) in their contempt for the realities of geography. This is nowhere more clear than in the Tolkein maps (which I also love) but which has its mountain ranges rising like knife edges from the ground, though any casual inspection of real topography, or even flying over a mountain range, will show that they are a seried expanse of angular planes and folds, more a field of broken glass than a knife edged ridge.
Peter V Brett’s Painted Man/Warded Man is an interesting story but the map just had me shaking my head as it had far too little water – the world would be a parched Martian desert.
I liked Lucas Thorn’s revenge of the elf series, though I was more struck by the swearing than any cartography there. I will add his Shadow Realm series to my TBR list. And I agree with Jonathan about The City and The City being an impossible world to map – I thought of it like the two co-incident cities as being like a calzone pizza, folded over with the toppings touching at various “cross-hatched points.”
Maps that I like –
The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence
The simplicity of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Map, – though it is a slight spoiler – take our world and melt all the glaciers so sea levels rise by 200 feet and then show what you’ve got.
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
The chaos of the Map in Kings of the Wyld – not least because I got to bury my signature somewhere in a forest on the map when Dyrk Ashton was collecting signatures for his prize giveaway at Worldcon.
Funnily enough, it’s not so much fictional maps in books that entertain me as real maps that inspire me to want to tell a story about them. For example this map showing Dogger Land 7000 years ago before the melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age flooded it beneath the North Sea. I would so want to tell a story about that place – but Rym Kechecha beat me to it with Dark River!
I find myself thinking these days that the history of our world is filled with instances of geography driving the stories of people and the places they live in and argue over. Too often in fantasy, it appears the cartography has been driven by the necessities of the story rather than the other way round.
So, I think the thing with maps is that they’ve become such a marker of our genre that many books include a map at the front simply to announce that they’re FANTASY, rather than to do anything else. So I’m going to talk about some examples where I think the maps actually achieve something, where their presence adds something more than mere aesthetics.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
Firstly, an example of a classic map that works in terms of Fantasy, in that it creates an atmosphere of enchantment and mystery without nailing everything down, is the one at the beginning of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard Of Earthsea. It’s such a strange map cause it is just an archipelago. It’s a series of islands, there’s no real marker of scale, and we can’t see what’s outside the islands. Do the islands exist on an unexplored corner of our world, a planet like Earth but somewhere else, or a completely alien environment like Tolkein’s Middle Earth? There’s no way of telling, and that’s part of what makes the world so alluring. It’s a brilliant example of how you can have a Fantasy map that sets out the important aspects of the world the story will be set in without giving so much away that you destroy the sense of wonder.
Riddlemaster of Hed series by Patricia McKillip
Another map I think is brilliant is the one in Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed series. It’s very post-Tolkein, down to the trees on the left and the coastland on the right, and once again there is no real sense of scale, but this is an indication to the reader of the extent to which the land of Hed is built upon the magic of names and riddles rather than a physical place in and of itself.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
In terms of city maps, my favourite is probably the map of New Crobuzon that opens China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. Many New Weird texts eschew the traditional Fantasy maps, and indeed it would be very hard to map, say, Mieville’s Beszel and Ul Qoma, the two cities that exist on top of each other in the same physical space from The City And The City in a meaningful way, but somehow the map at the start of PSS manages to capture some of the anarchic sprawl of New Crubozon without contradicting the city’s inherent mutability.
Finally, there are books that do strange and mind-bending things with their maps. A good example is the bonkers map of zero and infinity that opens Rudy Rucker’s trippy cyberpunk-meets-advanced-mathematics White Light, or the way Vernor Vinge’s diagram of the galaxy at the beginning of A Fire Upon The Deep outlines the Zones of Thought concept that underlies the book, that the galaxy is divided into sections where advanced human and machine consciousnesses can and can’t.
Thank you Graeme, James, Nils, T.O and Jonathan for your brilliant suggestions!
Next month, we’ll be looking at our favourite Beginnings in speculative fiction.
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