Behold the Anciente Mappe of Fairyland, a Fantastical 1917 Mashup of Tales from Homer’s Odyssey, King Arthur, the Brothers Grimm & More

For most of pub­lish­ing his­to­ry, books for chil­dren meant primers and preachy reli­gious texts, not myth­i­cal worlds invent­ed just for kids. It’s true that fairy tales may have been specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed to the young, but they were nev­er child­ish. (See the orig­i­nal Grimms’ tales.) By the 19th cen­tu­ry, how­ev­er, the sit­u­a­tion had dra­mat­i­cal­ly changed. And by the turn of the cen­tu­ry, child­like fairy sto­ries and fan­tasies enjoyed wide pop­u­lar­i­ty among grown-ups and chil­dren alike, just as they do today. Wit­ness the tremen­dous suc­cess of Peter Pan.

The char­ac­ter first appeared as a sev­en-day-old baby in a satir­i­cal 1902 fan­ta­sy nov­el by Scot­tish writer J.M. Bar­rie. The nov­el became a play. Pan was so beloved that Barrie’s pub­lish­er excerpt­ed his chap­ters and pub­lished them as Peter Pan in Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens.

Then fol­lowed Barrie’s 1904 play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, in which baby Pan had grown up at least just a lit­tle. Only after this his­to­ry of Pan enter­tain­ments did Bar­rie write Peter and Wendy, the sto­ry we learned as chil­dren through Dis­ney adap­ta­tions or the 1911 orig­i­nal.

Pan’s influ­ence is wide and deep, and over a cen­tu­ry long. In 1917, one of the ear­ly adopters of Barrie’s Nev­er­land fan­ta­sy con­cept expand­ed on its world with a ver­sion called “Fairy­land,” described in an illus­trat­ed map of such a place. The artist, Bernard Sleigh, “begins with a stormy sea,” writes Jes­si­ca Leigh Hes­ter at Atlas Obscu­ra. (That is, if we read the map from left to right.) “There, waves lash the shore and tri­tons ride piscine steeds, while a wood­en ship and an unfor­tu­nate soul are half-sunk near­by, in a white whirlpool.” The influ­ence of J.M. Barrie’s descrip­tions is read­i­ly appar­ent.

The Anciente Mappe of Fairy­land (see the map in full here) “mash­es up dozens of sto­ries to make a com­pre­hen­sive geog­ra­phy of make-believe,” writes Slate’s Rebec­ca Onion: “Rapunzel’s tow­er, cheek by jowl with Belle’s palace from ‘Beau­ty and the Beast’; Hump­ty Dump­ty on a roof, over­look­ing Red Rid­ing Hood’s house; Ulysses’ ship, sail­ing past Gob­lin Land.” It’s a “Where’s Wal­do of Fan­ta­sy East­er Eggs,” by an Eng­lish land­scape painter “who wrote exten­sive­ly about fairies in Eng­land.” Sleigh was not only a fan­ta­sist, he was also a true believ­er.

Like Arthur Conan Doyle, Sleigh pro­mot­ed the exis­tence of fairies, and wrote an earnest work of fic­tion called The Gates of Horn: Being Sundry Records from the Pro­ceed­ings of the Soci­ety for the Inves­ti­ga­tion of Fairy Fact and Fal­la­cy in 1926. Like Doyle, he was a tal­ent­ed and pop­u­lar artist look­ing for mag­ic in a world of machin­ery. “The ancient map of Fairy­land,” with its visu­al anthol­o­gy of lit­er­a­ture, folk tale, and mythol­o­gy, “is said to have been his most famous work,” writes the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion. It was designed “dur­ing the ‘Arts & Crafts’ move­ment, which was in reac­tion to the Indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion.”

Like J.R.R. Tolkien, anoth­er artist who found inspi­ra­tion in Barrie’s fan­ta­sy world, Sleigh worked against a back­drop of world war. Onion quotes his­to­ri­ans Tim Bryars and Tom Harper’s com­ment that “com­pared with the dev­as­tat­ed, bomb-blast­ed land­scape of north­ern France, this vision of a make-believe land may have seemed a seduc­tive escape for a Euro­pean soci­ety bear­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal scars of mass con­flict.”

Unlike Tolkien, how­ev­er, or con­tem­po­rary inher­i­tors of the Peter Pan tra­di­tion like J.K. Rowl­ing a cen­tu­ry lat­er, or the ear­li­er Roman­tic lovers of mythol­o­gy and folk tale, Sleigh’s map invites a light reprieve from the hor­rors of war. “Any small amount of vio­lence or trau­ma you might find in ‘Fairy­land’ could eas­i­ly be evad­ed,” writes Onion, “by mov­ing on to the next area of the map, where a new set of sto­ries unfolds.”

Down­load high res­o­lu­tion scans of An Anciente Mappe of Fairy­land: new­ly dis­cov­ered and set forth from the Library of Con­gress and the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, where you can also pur­chase a print. (The map phys­i­cal­ly resides at the British Library.) Zoom into Fairy­land’s intri­cate fan­ta­sy land­scape and maybe take a break from the dark real­i­ties of yet anoth­er indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion and a world at war.

via Atlas Obscu­ra/The Vault

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

A Dig­i­tal Archive of 1,800+ Children’s Books from UCLA

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

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