Peter Turchi (“Maps of the Imagination”) continued and other things.

Some of the most interesting things I look for in fantasy maps are the influence of medieval culture and myth on the locations, topography, place names, and artwork. I wish to dive further into Mapping Time and Space: How medieval mapmakers viewed their worldby Evelyn Edson during a later post, but I will discuss some of what I have learned as a means of bridging the gap between Turchi’s more abstract ways of thinking about fictional cartography and the aspects of reality that inherently exist in the way such maps are presented to readers. What I mean is that an imagined map is, in fact, and expression of the creator’s own perceptions and understandings of the world, much like a story is influenced and expressed through memories or events in the author’s life. How we construct time and space in our lives is how we may construct it for a fictional realm. Thus, specifically for fantasy maps, a medieval style (characteristic of the genre) of representation and presentation is the most common means of making them. Potential makes fictional spaces so incredible – the potential to create any space we want. This is difficult, though, because so much of what we imagine is influenced by our perceptions of reality. And the map, serving as a way to portray a fictional world as if it were real, seems to create certain limits, which are based in convention. It may seem like I am saying that reality places certain limits on how we can imagine space, which I believe is partially true after reading these two books, but what makes fiction great is being able to think beyond the conventional spatial limits.

The possible existence of weird people with strange anatomy was very popular in the Middle Ages and were sometimes depicted on maps at the edges of the known world.

“A great deal of what we know, we know only through our imagination – and that knowledge is crucial to our lives” (Turchi 92).

Castles on floating islands, mountain ranges extending in all such strange directions or citadels hanging over the edges aren’t something we see in reality, of course, but they can be represented as if they did on a map. As I have said before, the most common function of a map is to represent reality as a means of reference. It is a convention of cartography that people trust maps to show what is real. It’s an instinct for people to trust what maps say, just as they trust in their own mental maps (which they generate through memories and experience). To take it even farther, when someone suspends his belief of reality to trust in a story, or in Turchi’s words “accept its terms,” he instinctively trusts the map(s) accompanying it. Not once while reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight or the Fellowship of the Ring did I question the geography of those worlds. Yet, that’s just the thing, how can we begin to question these maps if they represent a “real” place that only exists in the imagination of the author/mapmaker? How can I critique something that represents something that truly doesn’t exist? And thus can’t be scrutinized against said reality?

It seems for now at least that I must use convention as a tool upon which to examine fantasy maps, based upon my readings so far. How do readers of fantasy stories understand imaginary maps? Do they gravitate towards suspended realism?

I have already established what the fantasy genre of fiction entails. In order to understand and critique the maps of those fantasy places, I must then subject myself to the imagined reality the story establishes. Real reality will always be the foundation upon which I form my perceptions and view those maps, but I must also try to perceive the geography as if that world were the reality.

“A few reminiscences…and the map itself, with its infinite, eloquent suggestion, made up the whole of my materials. It is, perhaps, not often that a map figures so largely in a tale, yet it is always important. The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like his hand; the distance, the points of the compass, the place of the sun’s rusing, the behavior of the moon, should all be beyond cavil. And how troublesome the moon is!” (Robert Louis Stevenson, in Turchi 231).

Using reality to critique fantasy maps might actually create more problems than it would seem, as I will go into in a later post about Habermann and Kuhn’s article about determining the climate/biomes of Middle Earth. We can always try to apply cartographic principles or technicalities to these maps, but is it a futile effort? I hope to find out the more I read.

I don't even know what this is, but apparently they though something like this existed around that road, or something. People in the Middle Ages had healthy imaginations!

This brings me back to what I started writing about. Having read some of Edson’s book, I have learned that medieval mapmakers filled in unknown places with certain “fantastical” creatures. The griffons, leviathans, yetis, and deformed peoples that appeared in the far reaches of southern Africa, the Himalayas and out at sea did not actually exist, of course, but the mapmakers used their imaginations to fill in what they thought might have existed there (based on rumor and myth and such). And without the aerial imagery and technology we have today, mapmakers would have generally had to use their imaginations to draw how they best thought the world appeared from a bird’s eye view. It is easy to critique these maps for the level of inaccuracy, particularly when examining the places they knew best, but how does one critique the spaces filled with dragons and hippogriffs? What similarities can be seen between maps from medieval cartographers and maps of imaginary medieval places? I think, in pursuit of those answers, I can gain a better understanding of how “reality” in fantasy stories is represented through maps.

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