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Ten Fun Facts: Maps in Science Fiction & Fantasy


By L. Frank Baum (illustrated by John R. Neill) - Tik-Tok of Oz, first published in the United States in 1914., Public Domain

Each week I set out to research and document ten "fun facts" on a topic loosely based on the two books I've reviewed that week.  "Loosely" being the operative word. 

This week I reviewed I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison, a collection of seven of his "speculative fiction" stories from the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Michael Blanding's The Map Thief, the true story of E. Forbes Smiley, a rare maps dealer who was convicted in 2006 of stealing close to 100 rare maps from libraries and museums.

Though Ellison preferred the term "speculative fiction" many of his stories can be seen as science fiction / fantasy works, and most of those more toward the fantasy than "hard" sci-fi end of the spectrum. 

In the introduction to The Map Thief, Blanding talks about his own love of maps, referring back to a shared interest he had with his father in fantasy tales, and the maps of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I have to thank Michael Blanding for making the connection between these two books for me.

Here then are this week's ten fun facts on maps in science fiction and fantasy:

Maps in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Its a truism that as long as there have been stories written about fantastic, magical or unknowable places, there have been maps drawn about those places. Some of these fantasy lands were even sometimes thought to actually exist and so could be mapped in relation to known places, like the "here be dragons" references on old maps. 

The topic of mapping lands of science fiction or fantasy is a large one, and these ten examples are only the tip of the iceberg. If you'd like to take a deep dive on this topic I highly recommend you visit Jonathan Crowe's long running blog The Map Room, particularly the category on "Imaginary Maps" or his posts tagged "fantasy maps".  

With that, here we go - 
  1. Islands of Jules Verne - Along with H.G. Wells, Jules Verne is often called the "Father of Science Fiction". Many of his works were adventure stories involving journeys "there and back again" across land, sea and air. His first several books were originally published in his native France in serialized form in the magazines of Pierre-Jules Hetzel. Garmt de Vries-Uiterweerd has collected a number of maps from those magazine serials at his website. While most of these maps deal with the real world, there are a few, like those of the islands of "New Switzerland", "Ile Lincoln", and the "Chairman's Island" that are entirely imaginary.
  2. The Land of Oz - The map on this post (above) is from the 1914 The Tik-Tok of Oz. While we all think of the Oz books as children's classics rather than fantasies per se, they are definitely set in a fantasy land. The Oz Wiki on Fandom has a page that discusses Ozian cartography, including a gallery of Oz maps.
  3. Narnia - C.S. Lewis' beloved novels were set in the fictional world of Narnia, and the original books were illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Each of the books contained a map of a portion of Narnia. Baynes created a poster in 1972 that showed Narnia and the surrounding countries.
  4. Middle Earth - Baynes also worked with J.R.R. Tolkien, producing illustrations for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings among other Tolkien works. In 1970 she produced a color poster map of Middle Earth based on J.R.R. and his son Christopher Tolkien's cartography. It's Christopher's mapping style though, that most of us think of when we think of Middle Earth.
  5. Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin's magical water planet Earthsea has hundreds of islands but no continents. You can find many versions of Earthsea maps online, including Le Guin's own.
  6. Gotham City - The story of the mapping of the home of the Caped Crusader is pretty cool, as Smithsonian tells us.
  7. The Lands Beyond - Did you read The Phantom Tollbooth as a child and travel with Milo to the Lands Beyond? Did you visit the Mountains of Ignorance, or the Dictionoplis? Then I'm sure you found Jules Feiffer's map of the Kingdom of Wisdom to be very helpful.
  8. Panem - The dystopian future America of the Hunger Games series, Panem, was not mapped in Suzanne Collins books. So fans have made all sorts of maps of their own. Here's a blog post that highlights some of them, and you'll notice they don't agree with each other. As far as I know there are no current plans to provide an "official map" of Panem.
  9. Arrakis - Frank Herbert's Dune takes place on the desert planet of Arrakis, with this helpful map laying out the geography around the pole where the action plays out. I read the book a million years ago and remember it not making much sense to me. And the movie from 1984 didn't help. I think I owe it another chance, and expect some day I'll pick it back up again. Maybe the delayed new movie with Timothee Chalamet will help?
  10. Westeros - Who can forget the map of Westeros on the floor of the courtyard of the Red Keep in HBO's Game of Thrones? And the fact that each episode of the HBO adaptation started with the camera gliding over a map of the George R.R. Martin Ice and Fire world? The speculative world map of theMountainGoat is a beautiful rendering of that world, and includes the ability to map the paths taken by major characters in the series.
So there you have it. What's your favorite mapped fantasy / alternate world? Leave a comment below.