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.
“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle. Who knows?”
– George R.R. Martin
We pick back up today with a comparison between the maps in The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien and the maps in A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. Instead of focusing on the maps found in the books, we’re going to step outside their pages and examine maps made after the books were first published.
The wild success of The Lord of the Rings meant that poster-maps of Middle-earth were in high demand by fans. In 1969, Pauline Baynes was tasked with designing a poster-map to sell separately from the books. Baynes was the only artist approved by Tolkien, and she illustrated some of his other works. Baynes and Tolkien worked together to create the poster-map, which was based on the maps by Christopher Tolkien that were published in the first edition of the series. The poster-map was published in 1970 and included illustrations of characters in The Lord of the Rings on the borders on the map. Unlike the original map of Middle-earth that appeared in the first edition, this poster-map was colorful and contained additions by Tolkien. These additions were mostly new place names and a few corrections.
Similarly, the wild success of A Song of Ice and Fire lead to the demand of high quality maps of Westeros and Essos. This culminated in the creation of George R.R. Martin’s The Lands of Ice and Fire, which is a series of 12 maps of various places in A Song of Ice and Fire. The maps weren’t drawn by Martin himself, but he collaborated with the cartographer Jonathan Roberts on them, like Tolkien once did with Baynes. This map series is colorful and includes new details from Martin, such as the layout of the Summer Isles and the addition of the Grey Waste.
What is particularly interesting about the maps in The Lands of Ice and Fire is that they are designed from the viewpoint of Westerosi Maesters, which is why Essos has less detail than Westeros. Maesters, who live in Westeros, naturally wouldn’t know much about it except what they heard in reports from travelers. It is also why the maps have no scale or compass rose, which Maesters could not replicate.
Details of Westeros and Essos in the map (left) show the differences in the knowledge of the Westerosi Maesters. Essos is very sparse, whereas Westeros is littered with detail.
Other maps in The Lands of Ice and Fire lay out the geography of important places in A Song of Ice and Fire such as the land that exists north of the Wall, in which Jon Snow and Bran Stark complete important journeys that advance the plot of the books in significant ways. No spoilers here, folks. Sort of. In addition, The Lands of Ice and Fire also features a map that plots the journeys of characters in the series. For example, it plots Daenerys’ journey through the Dothraki Sea, to Quarth, and all of the way to Meereen.
What happens when The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire hit TV screens and computer screens? Maps and the topography of these fictional worlds are just as important as they are in the books. A map of Middle-earth makes an appearance in the prologue in the movie adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring. In the TV series adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones, the opening credits exclusively show the topography of Westeros and Essos depending on where characters are as the story progresses.
The desire to see the journeys of characters and their locations in the story also makes an appearance in online versions of maps of Westeros and Middle-earth. The LOTR Project, for example, is a website that creates interactive visual representations of The Lord of the Rings. One feature of the website is an interactive map in which the user can add layers to the map such as Aragorn’s path through the course of the novels or a timeline of The Lord of the Rings that connects events to place names in Middle-earth. Another fan of A Song of Ice and Fire created an interactive map of Westeros and Essos called “A Song of Ice and Fire Speculative World Map”. The map has layers that users can toggle between, such as outlines of the regions noble families control in Westeros, the paths of the main characters of A Song of Ice and Fire, and a toggle for spoilers in the books versus spoilers in the TV episodes.
Isn’t it interesting how two different fantasy stories, albeit one inspired by the other, can lead to the similar production of online maps, similar representations of maps in TV and movie adaptations, and similar production of poster maps? How different are the paths of Martin and Tolkien? Do they lead to the same castle?