Mapping the Imagination: Or How I Learned to Love The Compass Rose
Posted on October 1, 2015 by Simon appleby
“Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with landsurveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.”
In a letter from 1954 to what would now be referred to as a “beta-reader”, J.R.R. Tolkien answered a question about the geography of Middle-Earth as follows:
I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities…
How right he is. Indeed, I feel the same way about reading fantasy books as Tolkien feels about writing them: without a map I’m lost. When I read about Frodo and Sam’s journey through the Shire via Woody End and their harrowing flight through the mists to Bucklebury Ferry, or in the delay the black rider will suffer having to detour up and across the Brandywine Bridge, my fingers inevitably flip back through the pages to find the map. Inch-by-inch across the length of the wonderful fold-out provided in the back of Houghton Mifflin’s 1965 red hardbound edition of The Lord of the Rings I follow Frodo and the Fellowship’s slow journey from the Shire and Rivendell to Moria and Lorien, Fangorn and Isengard, Rohan and Gondor, and of course across Mordor itself to Mount Doom.
But, my experience reading Tolkien is duplicated across dozens of my favorite novels, and the inside cover page, where the map often lies, is inevitably well-thumbed in any fantasy book I’m reading. In Pern I must know where Ruatha Hold is, and how far the dragonriders of the Benden Weyr must fly to protect its people from thread. When I read about Ged’s travels through the hundreds of islands of Earthsea I cannot move through the adventure except by a careful examination of the Bantam volume’s exquisitely stylized wood-cut map. And, I’m not even sure its possible to follow the stories of Rand and his myriad companions, through The Wheel of Time, or Garion through the Belgariad volumes without having the maps of those worlds handy.
This is, of course, all in preface to my own adventure in publishing. When Harper-Collins told me that they were going to do a print version of Book 1 of the Charming Tales, A Fairy-tale Ending, my first thought, apart from “that’s amazing,” was to put together a map of the world and convince them to insert it into the book. You can imagine my surprise when they magnanimously said, “yes.”
Once my amazement had worn off, I turned my hand to making a map. I thought it would be a simple task, just put each location of interest onto a single page and making the distances, or at least the relative positions of the locations, somewhat reasonable. But, almost as soon as I put pencil to paper I realized that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. This was partly because I failed to take Tolkien’s advice and wrote the story before drawing the map, and partly because my own mind’s eye map of Royaume was a little hazy when it got down to specifics. How far was Gnarsh’s bridge to the Cooked Goose? How did both Liz and Charming end up at the dwarves’ cottage coming from Castle White and the Beast’s house, respectively? For goodness sake, where the heck was Prosper and how did Will get up to the Dragon’s Tower?
My first several attempts were… disasters, locations that took characters weeks to travel somehow ended up next to each other and places in the West ended up in the East and vice-versa. However, eventually I ended up with a sketch, which, even if a little clumsy, at least had all the right bits and pieces in all the right places. From there it was necessary to find an artist capable to transforming my scrawl into something book-worthy. In this I was lucky to run across the website of Maxime Plasse, a real cartographer and artist. He was able to breathe life into places like Castle White and the Scoundrel’s Bridge, and to give a feel for that make-believe place of my dreams: Royaume.
As the release of the print version of A Fairy-tale Ending comes nearer and nearer (October 13 being the official date), I wanted to give my readers a glimpse of what is to come. Here then is my map. I hope that it gives you as much pleasure to look at as it has given me to make. I hope you find your fingers flipping back and forth between text and map to track the travels of Liz and Will and Charming and Rapunzel as they plot their own courses through their new fairytale world.