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Imaginary Worlds: the Allure of Fantasy Maps in Literature

Fantasy is my favourite genre of novel. I read it fanatically, almost to the exclusion of any other genre, I've edited it with the indomitable Jo Fletcher as my guide, I've drawn maps for it, I've lived and breathed it. Fantasy literature has a unique ability to transport readers to far-off realms, introducing them to magical worlds brimming with mythical creatures, epic quests, and untold adventures. One integral aspect that enhances the immersive experience of these fantastical realms is the inclusion of intricate and imaginative maps. Among the pioneers of this captivating practice is J.R.R. Tolkien, whose masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, laid the foundation for the art of fantasy cartography.

Tolkien's Middle-earth: The Map that Started it All

A watercolour map is shown with the characters from The Lord of the Rings illustrated in the border above, and the wraiths in the border below. The land of middle earth is illustrated in the middle, with important buildings and places highlighted in circles.
Pauline Baynes' map of Middle-Earth

Okay, so I don't actually know if Tolkien's map really did start it all (in fact, I know the Treasure Island map - an incredible piece of cartography - came around 80 years earlier) but I do know that Tolkien's detailed map of Middle-Earth, drawn by illustrator Pauline Baynes, and included in the front pages of The Lord of the Rings, is an iconic example of how a map can enhance the storytelling experience. As readers journey through the Shire, traverse the Misty Mountains, and explore the dark realms of Mordor, the map becomes an indispensable guide. It not only aids in visualising the vastness of Middle-Earth but also sparks the imagination with the promise of unexplored territories.

A different illustrator, Daniel Reeve, was also to bring Middle-Earth to life years after Pauline Baynes' map made its debut, and these are probably the maps you know the best. His mountains, calligraphy and style have all been a great source of inspiration to me - and if you can see that in my maps, then I'll be a happy woman.

Beyond Middle-earth: Fantasy Maps as Literary Treasures

The allure of fantasy maps extends far beyond Middle-Earth. Numerous authors have recognised the power of cartography in enriching their fictional universes. George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, brought to life on screen as Game of Thrones, features maps that intricately detail the lands of Westeros and Essos. These maps serve as essential companions, providing readers with a geographical context for the complex political and cultural landscapes of Martin's world.

The Chronicles of Narnia: A Map to Another World

Image shows a watercolour map with a 70s style. Calligraphic place names decorate the map, with a crest in the bottom left corner and a lion in the top left. the sea is green, the land pink and yellow.
Pauline Baynes' map of Narnia

C.S. Lewis, in his timeless series The Chronicles of Narnia, transports readers through the back of a wardrobe into a world of magic and talking animals. The inclusion of a map in each book, also created by Pauline Baynes, amplifies the sense of discovery as readers follow the Pevensie siblings through the enchanted land of Narnia. The map becomes a key to understanding the diverse regions, from the frozen realm of the White Witch to the lush landscapes of Aslan's domain.

Modern Fantasies, Timeless Maps

Contemporary fantasy literature continues the tradition of incorporating intricate maps into storytelling. Authors like J.K. Rowling and Brandon Sanderson have embraced the art of cartography to enhance the worlds of Harry Potter and the Cosmere, respectively. Rowling's detailed map The Marauder's Map, created by Miraphora Mina, was an integral part of the story, and contributes to a sense of wonder, while Sanderson's maps guide readers through the expansive and interconnected realms of his epic fantasies.

Closing Thoughts: Charting the Course of Imagination

In the realm of fantasy literature, maps are not mere illustrations but gateways to extraordinary realms. They ignite the imagination, allowing readers to embark on epic journeys alongside beloved characters. Whether it's the hidden corners of Middle-Earth or the sprawling continents of Westeros, fantasy maps enrich the reading experience, turning each page into a cartographic adventure.

As we continue to delve into fantastical worlds, let's celebrate the artistry of fantasy maps—a testament to the enduring power of literature to transport us to places beyond our wildest dreams.

A map of Ingary, a magical land created by author Diana Wynne Jones is in a frame on a wall. The map is hand painted in gouache, so it's very matte. The colours are vintage, sage greens and baby blues. An intricate border shows the phases of the moon and the characters of Sophie and Howl. Howl's castle wanders over the wastes, and fantastical creatures lurk in the waves.
My map, hand painted as a personal project, of Ingary, from Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

If you want to read a bit more about fantasy maps and their role in literature, I can highly recommend the stunning book The Writer's Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones. A fascinating book containing a plethora of maps used in fantasy literature, as Huw Lewis-Jones puts it 'Books, like maps, are filled with magic'.

Would you like to add any fantasy maps to the list? Comment below and let me know about the ones you love!

As always, thanks for reading.


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