That’s illustrator and mapmaker Ian Schoenherr’s take on maps in fantasy novels. (At left is a detail of Schoenherr's map for THE WINGS OF MERLIN by T.A. Barron.) The late J.R.R. Tolkien is cheering from beyond the grave—his detailed maps for THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS still take the prize some 75 years later.
Poring over an LOTR map (detail after the cut), you learn that there’s such a place as Tarlang’s Neck in the land of Lamedon, which I don’t remember visiting in the book. According to Nolan Ellsworth, 14, a friend and fellow fantasist, “This map is Tolkien’s way of saying ‘I know everything about my fantasy world! Top that, C.S. Lewis!”
Not everyone takes pleasure in finger-tracing the Ganges (or the Anduin) from source to delta—there’s a reason why Mapquest offers both maps and verbal directions. In a recent Inkpot poll about maps in fantasy novels, 14 of 148 votes (not 148 voters—you could choose more than one answer) were for “I look at the map once, then ignore it.” I suspect one of those votes might have been from Leah Cypess, an Inkie who said in a recent discussion that she almost never reads the maps in books. “I just rely on the author to give me an idea of where things are in relationship to each other.”
The majority of answers, however—54 votes, or 36%—represented readers who flip back and forth between map and text, keeping track of things. Fourteen percent (21 votes, including mine) said they “find places the text never visits, and imagine what they’re like.” Inkie Kiki Hamilton said she looks for “hidden clues” in maps.
“The interesting thing about fantasy maps,” Nolan Ellsworth said, “is that, unlike maps of our world, we do not use them to find out how to get somewhere. We don’t need to go to Rivendell, so a map won’t help us in that respect. We use them to track our characters’ course, to orient ourselves within our characters’ world, and to feel connected and a part of that world.”
Another teenage friend, Sosha Sullivan, said she likes maps as works of art and a way to extend the experience after finishing a good book—and only sometimes for orientation. “I tend to appreciate if the writing doesn’t require me to orient myself. If the map is a piece of art to be proud of, thumbs up. If the story leans on the map or else a reader is totally confused and disoriented, not so much.”
A map works two ways: as illumination for the reader, and as a way to keep the writer sane. As authors, most Inkies who weighed in on this subject agreed that they had to sketch maps while writing, just to make sure the action was possible and not contradictory.
For THE UNNAMEABLES, I sketched a map of Island and a street map of Town, both of which were handed to mapmaker Jeffery Mathison for inclusion in the book. But I also drew also floor plans for two characters’ houses and the town hall that will never reach the public eye. “For my trilogy,” P.J. Hoover said, “I drew a map with the extra continents on it. It's on my website (and come to think of it, I'll push to get it into Book 3).”
Drawing a map, Kiki Hamilton said, “helps me as I plot and I think helps the reader envision the world easier too.”
From the mapmaker’s perspective, Ian Schoenherr said, “I like when the author has a clear idea of what they want and where they want it on a map, and when my job is, in essence, to ‘translate’ their rough ideas into something more finished or aesthetically pleasing. I'm not so fond of extensive Legends or Keys on maps: I'd rather have the place names and other notes be part of the picture, not part of a list in a box along side — the latter approach is too ‘dry’ for me and not much fun to draw or to look at. It helps, too, if the map is on the endpapers, as it can get lost or overlooked when it's wedged inside the pages.”
Although the maps Schoenherr draws tend to be detailed, his favorites as a reader are Earnest H. Shepherd’s charming endpaper maps for the Winnie the Pooh books (detail at left) and WIND IN THE WILLOWS. “They’re completely different from the style I’ve fallen into, but what I love about them (and what I look for in other maps) is how they hold my attention—they make me want to go to the places depicted and, most importantly, they make me want to read the books.”
The Tolkien maps are the ones I’ve enjoyed most, although the one in Cornelia Funke’s INKSPELL also told me things I didn’t have to know but enjoyed finding out. Inkies have pointed out the dark-textured map in Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN, and Diana Wynne Jones’ satire of a fantasy map in THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASY LAND. Kristin Cashore's GRACELING and FIRE have useful maps, as does Rick Riordan's THE LAST OLYMPIAN.
Topping the list of maps many of us wish they could see would be a book version (NOT the movie version) of the Marauders’ Map in the Harry Potter books.
What about you? How, when, and why do you use the map in a fantasy novel--or do you disapprove of them? What’s your favorite book map? What book needed a map but didn’t have one?
Ian Schoenherr and Nolan Ellsworth had more to say about maps. For their complete comments, more Ian Schoenherr mapping samples, and Diana Wynne Jones’ satirical take on maps from TOUGH GUIDE, click here.