An Atlas of Literary Maps Created by Great Authors: J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island & More

Plot, set­ting, char­ac­ter… we learn to think of these as dis­crete ele­ments in lit­er­ary writ­ing, com­pa­ra­ble to the strat­e­gy, board, and pieces of a chess game. But what if this scheme doesn’t quite work? What about when the set­ting is a char­ac­ter? There are many lit­er­ary works named and well-known for the unfor­get­table places they intro­duce: Walden, Wuther­ing Heights, Howards End…. There are invent­ed domains that seem more real to read­ers than real­i­ty: Faulkner’s Yok­na­p­a­tow­pha, Thomas Hardy’s Wes­sex… There are works that describe impos­si­ble places so vivid­ly we believe in their exis­tence against all rea­son: Ita­lo Calvino’s Invis­i­ble Cities, Chi­na Miéville’s The City and the City, Jorge Luis Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Ter­tius”….

What sus­tains our belief in the integri­ty of fic­tion­al places? The fact that they seem to act upon events as much as the peo­ple who live in them, for one thing. And, just as often, the fact that so many authors and illus­tra­tors draw elab­o­rate maps of lit­er­ary set­tings, mak­ing their fea­tures real to us and embed­ding them in our minds.

A new book, The Writer’s Map, edit­ed by Huw Lewis-Jones, offers lovers of lit­er­ary maps—whether in non-fic­tion, real­ism, or fantasy—the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pore over maps of Thomas More’s Utopia (said to be the first lit­er­ary map), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Trea­sure Island, J.R.R Tolkien’s Mid­dle Earth, Bran­well Brontë’s Ver­dopo­lis (above), and so many more.

The book is filled with essays about lit­er­ary map­ping by writ­ers and map-mak­ers, and it touch­es on the way authors them­selves view imag­i­na­tive map­ping. “For some writ­ers mak­ing a map is absolute­ly cen­tral to the craft of shap­ing and telling their tale,” writes Lewis-Jones. For oth­ers, mak­ing maps is also a way to avoid the painful task of writ­ing, which Philip Pull­man calls “a mat­ter of sullen toil.” Draw­ing, on the oth­er hand, he says, “is pure joy. Draw­ing a map to go with a sto­ry is mess­ing around, with the added fun of col­or­ing it in.” David Mitchell agrees: “As long as I was busy dream­ing of topog­ra­phy,” he says of his maps, “I didn’t have to get my hands dirty with the mechan­ics of plot and char­ac­ter.”

It may sur­prise you to hear that writ­ers hate to write, but writ­ers are peo­ple, after all, and most peo­ple find writ­ing tedious and dif­fi­cult in some part. What all of the writ­ers fea­tured in this col­lec­tion share is that they love indulging their imag­i­na­tions, mak­ing real their lucid dreams, whether through the diver­sion of draw­ing maps or the grind of gram­mar and syn­tax. Many of these maps, like Thoreau’s draw­ing of Walden Pond or Johann David Wyss’s illus­tra­tion of the desert island in The Swiss Fam­i­ly Robin­son, accom­pa­nied their books into pub­li­ca­tion. Many more remained secret­ed in authors’ note­books.

There are many such “pri­vate trea­sures” in The Writer’s Map, notes Atlas Obscu­ra: “J.R.R. Tolkien’s own sketch of Mor­dor, on graph paper; C.S. Lewis’s sketch­es; unpub­lished maps from the note­books of David Mitchell… Jack Kerouac’s own route in On the Road….” Do we read a lit­er­ary map dif­fer­ent­ly when it wasn’t meant for us? Can maps be sly acts of mis­di­rec­tion as well as whim­si­cal visu­al aids? Should we treat them as para­tex­tu­al and unnec­es­sary, or are they cen­tral, when an author choos­es to include them, to our under­stand­ing of a sto­ry? Such ques­tions, and many, many more, are tak­en up in The Writer’s Map, a long over­due sur­vey of this long­stand­ing lit­er­ary tra­di­tion.

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

12 Clas­sic Lit­er­ary Road Trips in One Handy Inter­ac­tive Map

Map of Mid­dle-Earth Anno­tat­ed by Tolkien Found in a Copy of Lord of the Rings

William Faulkn­er Draws Maps of Yok­na­p­ataw­pha Coun­ty, the Fic­tion­al Home of His Great Nov­els

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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