I am a sucker for epic fantasy. It was really only a matter of time before I’d discover A Song of Ice and Fire, and despite some of the naysayers, I find it relatively easy reading and very compelling story-telling. Except for all the names. I have this constant nagging feeling that I am reading about a character I have read about before that I just cannot remember. I am terrible with names.
But that is totally beside the point of this post.
One of the things I most associate with epic fantasy is maps.
Lots of gloriously detailed maps.
These are not so much maps that change the world, as they are maps that create worlds entire. And the best of them include details the story never even uses. With nothing more than a map and an imagination, so many more things can happen than the author ever has time to describe. My favourite characters have whole back-stories and futures. Lives lived, adventures survived, and tragic deaths at the unlikeliest turns.
I was crazy enough for maps that I bought a companion volume to Lord of the Rings that consisted of nothing but maps expanded from the narrative of the book, laying out the paths of the members of the fellowship. It had maps of the major cities and fortresses. It added so much more to the story for me.
At one stage I even tried my hand at creating my own imaginary worlds by drawing maps. A place for my own stories to happen. I’m by no means an artist, so the details where somewhat more rudimentary. But all it takes is a good coastline, some mountains, lakes and rivers. I bought a book on geology to make sure I wasn’t drawing anything too horribly unlikely. I was never as interested in geography in school as I was in studying it when I was creating my own.
Now there are of course many more tools that can be brought to bear on this problem. Computer simulations of physical processes, automatic terrain generation, 3D engines. Second Life is a veritable playground for world builders. And if you present people with a mere game like Minecraft, you’ll find that eventually someone builds a country.
I have wondered though whether we have the right set of integrated tools that we could enter Tolkien’s world into it and see if it “works”. And then perhaps walk through it. With simulated weather. Will there one day be amateur Tolkien-historians that go into a virtual world, approach Helms Deep and discover a flaw in how “The Histories” describe the battle unfolding? It sounds far-fetched, but at the same time, it is hard to overestimate the time and dedication that some people will put into pet projects.
I’m not as much of a map addict now.
Although I still like planning out trips beforehand.
There is still something about looking at a map that is in some aspect almost like being there to me.