Monday, July 16, 2012
"[T]hey pondered the storied and figured maps..."--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
"We must emphasize that no [Fantasyland] Tour is complete without a Map. Further, you must not expect to be let off from visiting every damn place shown on it."--Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
"Oh, I do love maps! I have quite a collection."--Bilbo Baggins, in the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit.
Mappa mundi is the term given to the European world maps of the Middle Ages; these were often largely conceptual affairs showing Jerusalem as the center of the world with the distant margins peopled with fanciful creatures like monopods or cynocephali. It has often been an impulse (especially post-Tolkien) for imaginative writers to "give to airy nothings a local habitation and a name;" it lends verisimilitude and can keep the reader oriented in a spiritual space.
I personally love a "figured" map, that shows tiny pictures of places rather than simply dots, lines, and names. You can walk places like that in your head with ease. I have the map-drawing urge myself; I can hardly count the times I've re-drawn Thror's Map from The Hobbit. I paid the enormous sum (for me at the time) of three dollars for the National Geographic map of Shakespeare's Britain when I was in middle school. This and Tolkien's maps influenced my own efforts producing maps of fantasy worlds for a long time, and they include every darn detail from little molehill mountains to feathery trees to hairy ground labelled "marshes" that Diana Wynne Jones skewers so lovingly in The Tough Guide.