Cake
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    • The other day I drew a map for a roleplaying game I'm running soon. I really meant the map to be pretty elemental: sea=West; mountains=East...that sort of thing. But I got carried away. I always do, with maps. I start out to get a rough idea, but soon I'm drawing all the fiddly bits around the fjords like Slartibartfast, or pausing to do a quick sketch of the tectonic past of the world and the previous configurations of the continents. Maps carry me away.

      I've always loved fantasy, and I've always loved maps. My parents had treasured Houghton Mifflin copies of The Lord of the Rings with fold-out maps. My mom considered them so important to the fantasy book experience that she carefully photocopied the maps for Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles and affixed them inside her copies of those, so we could really dig into the map before and while we read.

      In addition to the fold-out maps in their hardback copies of Lord of the Rings, my parents also had a poster-map of Middle Earth by Pauline Baynes, who is perhaps better known as the illustrator of popular editions of the Chronicles of Narnia. Her map fascinated and scared me as a little kid. I had only been There and Back Again -- which is to say, from Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain and back -- and the world was evidently much larger and more sinister. I think my parents feared spoilers, as I don't remember the Middle Earth map being hung up permanently until after they read the books to us.

      They also had a copy of her map of Narnia and the lands about it, which they very kindly allowed me to hang on my wall, even though I was a kid and likely to, you know, rip one corner right through Fenris Ulf and have to repair him with Scotch tape.

      I adore her script, of course, but I also love the little vignettes that show more detail than the properly scaled map can, and the very characteristically fantasy-map mountains that poke up rather than being shown as texture or contour lines (like my other love, topographic maps.)

      When I'm making up worlds and maps myself, I have to balance the constraints I want to place on my world -- or for games, characters' movement in it -- with my desire for verisimilitude. I don't want unnaturally rectilinear mountain ranges (unless I explain them somehow -- I guess Tolkien chalked up the Ephel Dúath and the Ered Lithui to Morgoth's handiwork. I never heard he was so big on straight lines otherwise, however!) or rivers that run the wrong way. It's not just that I used to be a geology major: it's that I find a scientifically accurate map more viscerally real and believable, and I think most people unconsciously do as well. I try to have my rivers meander where they have long flat places to flow through, and run faster and straighter where they plunge through mountains. I think about rain shadow and subduction, in a large map. I've always loved science as well as fantasy, and water and stone are still water and stone, even if naiads and trolls live in them.

      I suppose I'm obliged to post the map that inspired this post, though it will look even worse than it would otherwise after Pauline Baynes's beauties! It needs some more careful erasing and a better scan, and my script suffered from only having a brush-tip Pigma pen with me for the fine work when I hacked it out. But it's good enough for my gamers to navigate in, and to spark their imaginations: that's what a fantasy map is about, grounding people in the other world.

      What do you like in a made-up map? 'Here there be dragons'? Unreliable scale? What are your favorite book-maps?

    • This definitely feels like something lost, to me. Or lost by me, at least. As a child I would read with a finger marking whichever of the intro places held the map, so that I could reference character movements against it. The trip through the Mirkwood, definitely, but also the progress of lesser characters through lesser worlds. It's definitely a habit I've lost.

      One of the things that was interesting to me about the huge popularity of the Game of Thrones series, actually, was how it brought something like this specific pleasure to a new a new audience. The choice to base the credits around a world map was pretty aggressive, I think.

      I've barely dabbled in the creation of my own, and have never been tempted towards the delectable sorts of verisimilitude you describe - except for to the extent that, if someone notices that the river is running the wrong way, there's probably some space open for them or a collaborator to decide why.

    • Oh my gosh, that map of Narnia. 🤩

      I give you a map of the Spanish language game, Aventuras en la Marca del Este.

    • I love the crazy Game of Thrones map, and it really is a very literal map-before-the-book. I hadn't thought about how that would affect viewers who aren't already fantasy readers. I wonder if it encourages that behavior, if they go read Song of Ice and Fire?

      A lot of other gateway bestsellers to genre aren't second-world, so aren't going to involve a map. The map for Harry Potter is 'the corners of your own map'. The map for the Hunger Games, I assume, (I listened to it on audiobook!) is 'look upon your map of America and despair.' So it's interesting that, as you suggest, HBO is onboarding new potential readers with the map custom :)

    You've been invited!