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Imaginary Maps in Literature and Beyond: Children’s Stories

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This blog post is part of a summer series on imaginary maps, written by Hannah Stahl, a Library Technician in the Geography & Map Division. Read the introductory post to the series here.

Our journey into imaginary worlds continues this week with maps of imaginary places that are related to children’s literature. My first exposure to maps came in the map found in the pages of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. For you it could have been Tolkien’s The Hobbit or L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Maybe others heard mention of the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, or were exposed to a map like the “Anciente Mappe of Fairyland,” which encompasses characters from fairy tales in one imaginary place.

Anciente Mappe of Fairyland
“Anciente Mappe of Fairyland” by Bernard Sleigh. 1920. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Anciente Mappe of Fairyland Detail
Detail from “Anciente Mappe of Fairyland” by Bernard Sleigh. 1920. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

As mentioned before, authors who choose to include maps in their works engage in world-building by laying out the geography of the places their characters inhabit. This has a unique power in children’s literature because it primes kids to learn geography with maps of real places later on in life. However, maps of real places are not always reliable. For example, map projections can distort the sizes of countries, leading to an unfaithful representation of how the world really looks. Additionally, charting with insufficient information can lead to wildly inaccurate maps, such as during the Age of Discovery when many explorers believed California was an island separated from the mainland of North America. What about maps in children’s books? Are they always reliable?

Map of California Shown as an Island by Joan Vinckeboons. ca. 1650. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Map of California Shown as an Island by Joan Vinckeboons. ca. 1650. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Detail from In the Land of Winnie the Pooh." Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.
Detail from “In the Land of Winnie the Pooh.” Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Take, for example, the map of the Hundred Acre Woods that accompanies A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. The bottom of the map gives us information about its author, “Drawn By Me And Mr Shepard Helpd.” The “me” is meant to signify that it was drawn by Christopher Robin, a child. This allows children to trust that the information given by Christopher Robin is true because a peer wrote it. The various misspellings of place names on the map also add a sense of verisimilitude to the map. The illustrations are even childlike. They are not as precise as the illustrations in the map of Fairyland, for example. The map in Winnie-the-Pooh is reliable in the sense that it allows children to trust the information being presented to them, making it easier for them to suspend their disbelief and lose themselves in the story. Adults reading Winnie-the-Pooh to their children, however, see the misspellings for what they are: part of a child’s imagination and not to be trusted. The map of the Hundred Acre Wood is actually a map of the adventures of a child and his toys in Ashdown Forest in England, a real place. It represents simultaneously the wonder of a child’s imagination and the heartbreak of growing up.

Another famous map in children’s literature that raises the question of the trustworthiness is the Marauder’s Map in the Harry Potter series. While J.K. Rowling declines to provide an illustration in the books themselves, she obliges in providing an illustration on her website Pottermore. The map also appears in movie adaptation of the Harry Potter series. It shows a plan of Hogwarts, the wizarding school, and its secret passages into and out of the castle. The map also shows the location of every occupant of Hogwarts. While a powerful tool in the hands of a rule breaker, Harry has his misgivings about the map when it falls into his hands. As quoted in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

But as he stood there, flooded with excitement, something Harry had once heard Mr. Weasley say came floating out of his memory. Never trust anything that can think for itself, if you can’t see where it keeps its brain. The map was one of those dangerous magical objects Mr. Weasley had been warning against.

Harry falls into this trap in the next book in the series (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). While sneaking back to his dormitory at Hogwarts, he spots a dot labeled “Bartemius Crouch” on the Marauder’s Map. Unbeknownst to Harry, the Bartemius Crouch the map indicates is the dangerous Death Eater Bartemius Crouch Junior, disguised as a Hogwarts professor. Death Eaters are the followers of the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, who aims to take over the wizarding world throughout the Harry Potter series. Having never met the true Bartemius Crouch Junior, Harry thinks that the “Bartemius Crouch” he sees on the map is Bartemius Crouch Senior, an employee of the Ministry of Magic, the governing branch of the wizarding world.

After seeing what Harry thinks is Bartemius Crouch Senior on the Marauder’s Map, Harry tells his trusted professor, Bartemius Crouch Junior in disguise, what he saw and lets him borrow the map. Bartemius Crouch Junior uses the map to track and kill his father, Bartemius Crouch Senior, when he shows up on the Hogwarts grounds to warn the headmaster about what his son is up to.

What is interesting about the Marauder’s Map is that the information presented on the map is true, regardless of spells or potions aimed to obscure identity. The problem with the map is what one does with the knowledge the map provides. The same can also be said for maps of the real world. Rowling teaches readers of the series to be careful about how to interpret the knowledge that is presented to them.

This is where we end our journey of maps in children’s stories. We’ll pick up with maps of fictional stories that are told in the real world. Be ready to dive in to the stories of Austen, Shakespeare, and a few others next time.

Comments (2)

  1. I am thoroughly enjoying this series on maps and literature. I have worked in GIS for nearly 20 years and recently I received my BA in English Literature and Language (emphasis on Children’s Literature). To see my professional life and my passion combined in this way is encouraging. I look forward to future articles. Thank you to the Library and the author for publishing!

  2. my grandson who is 9 yrs old has read the entire Harry Potter series this summer and enjoyed every minute of it. He has gone on to reading other series and we together enjoy maps I had to share with him. I had a grandfather born in late 1800 who like him and myself enjoy maps of all kind. I have my grandfathers books of various maps from the 1800s through the early 1900. We both look through them being very careful because of condition. We together look at maps from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the War of the Northern States against our southern states. His room is full of books and I now have someone that I can pass the love of history and maps to care for the future.

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