(The following is an article written by Hannah Stahl and featured in the September/October 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. Stahl is a library technician in the Library’s Geography and Map Division. This article is adapted from a series of posts by the author on the Geography and Map Division’s blog.)
Maps of fictional places in life and literature help fuel our imaginations.
Among the road maps, topographic maps and country maps in the Library’s Geography and Map Division are maps of intangible places that will set the hearts of ction and fantasy lovers aflutter.
The practice of mapping imaginary worlds started as early as the Middle Ages and continued to be popular during the Renaissance. Readers of Dante’s “Inferno,” written in the 14th century, have mapped the nine circles of Hell through which Dante traveled. Another 14th-century work, Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” has inspired maps showing the pilgrimage from London to Canterbury.
Some of the most famous maps of imaginary places created during the Renaissance also depict imaginary journeys. One such map is the “Royaume d’Amour/Kingdom of Love,” created by Tristan l’Hermite and Jean Sadeler, and published in 1650. This map, which shows the journey of love, depicts the real island of Kythira (Cythera) in Greece. The mythical Aphrodite, goddess of love, was said to have lived there, making the island a perfect place for the Royaume d’Amour. It includes fictional place names such as “Grande Plaine d’Indifference” (the Great Plain of Indifference)—places that lovers who travel in the Royaume d’Amour would eventually reach on their journey.
Many fictional stories take place in the real world, as in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” (1813), which inspired one reader to create “ ” to show important places in her novels. Similarly, readers have depicted Huckleberry Finn’s journey down the Mississippi River as told by Mark Twain.
Authors who include maps of imaginary worlds in their works help their readers disappear from their comfy armchairs by the fire into fictional worlds, perhaps with dragons and magic. Where would we be if A. A. Milne had not shown us the Hundred Acre Wood inhabited by Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends or if J. R. R. Tolkien had not plotted Frodo’s journey to Mordor? The first edition of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” (1954) actually contained three maps: a general map of Middle-earth, a map of the Shire and a detailed map showing Rohan, Gondor and Mordor. Would we lose elements of the story if these maps did not exist?
The mapping of imaginary worlds is as popular as ever today. The Geography and Map Division holds a collection of maps showing places in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” a series of books that are the basis for the popular television show, “Game of Thrones.” The beautifully illustrated maps depict in detail such places as Westeros, Essos and King’s Landing. In an interview at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2014, Martin discussed the influence that Tolkien had had on his work:
“I revere ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I reread it every few years; it had an enormous effect on me as a kid. In some sense, when I started this saga I was replying to Tolkien, but even more to his modern imitators … I wanted to combine the wonder and image of Tolkien fantasy with the gloom of historical fiction.”
While Martin’s story and themes in “A Song of Ice and Fire” are different from Tolkien’s in “The Lord of the Rings,” the worlds they created consist of similar topography and both depict the journeys of the characters that inhabit them. A careful reader may see a vaguely similar style in Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth and Martin’s map of the North (North Westeros).
But why collect maps of places that exist only on the pages of books and can come to life in our imaginations? As Professor Albus Dumbledore says in J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series—which itself has inspired many maps— “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
You can read the entire September/October 2016 issue of the LCM here.