January 12, 2018

Mapping the Fantastic

        This weekend I’ll be at the Arisia sci fi/fantasy/fandom convention where I will be exhibiting in the art show, presenting on a couple of panels, running a couple of block printing mini-workshops, and doing a reading from The Extraordinary Book of Doors.  I think I’ve got everything prepared and packed for all these various activities, although with a wide variety of events from both the art and writing sides of things, there’s a lot to keep track of and I hope I’m not forgetting anything vital!
        At any rate, the one event that really does tie together both the art and writing is a panel on the use of maps in fantasy.  Our panel members have been putting together a Pinterest board of map pictures to share with the audience, and it looks like there should be lots of interesting ideas about both larger concepts of cartography in world creation, and nitty gritty art tips about making cool-looking maps.  Here’s the link to the Pinterest board.  I’ve written a bit about my thoughts on fantasy maps previously here (or click the "maps" label in the sidebar),  but for this panel I also put together a simple graphic about the way I’ve broken down my thinking on fantasy maps.
        Roughly, the breakdown is that there are 1) the maps the writer/creator has for her own use in keeping things straight and visualizing a world in accurate, consistent detail, and then there are 2) maps that are intended for the reader/viewer/audience.  The maps intended for the audience can be divided further into A) the category of maps that reproduce a map within the story that the fictional characters see or use, and B) the category of maps that exist outside the story purely for the benefit of the reader.  Maps for the characters need to be consistent with the world in which they exist: What is the map for?  What kind of technology and materials exist in this world to gather information and depict it?  What kind of world view or religion would be reflected in a map made by this culture?  What priorities or agenda would it convey?  On the other hand, those maps that exist outside the story don’t need to worry about anachronistic style or accuracy.  They are often made to look as “realistic” as possible, in order to help the reader navigate or keep up with the story, and to help with the illusion that this world is indeed a real physical place that can be surveyed and mapped just like any place on the Earth we know.
        In case you don’t recognize them, the maps illustrating my graphic are, from left to right, top to bottom: a selection of my own notes for the Otherworld Series, the map from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, map of LeGuin’s Earthsea, map accompanying Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and a map of Gurney’s Dinotopia.
          Of course, I won’t know how the conversation with the panel goes until we get there and start talking, and hear what questions and ideas we all bring.  I certainly look forward to it!

[Picture: graphic by AEGN, 2018, using the maps noted above.]

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