We have a
late lost entry from a previous Mind Meld, Which Fantasy Maps Are Your Favorites?…and we here at SF Signal couldn’t resist sharing it with you!
I think the need for a map is entirely dependent on the fantasy in question. For sprawling epics like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, or Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law, a map is essential. This isn’t because of the length of the work, it’s because of the importance that geography plays in the story. The same is true for Tolkien. You must have a map, or you’re not going to appreciate how much time the Shire has because the Nazgul have such a large search grid to cover all the way from Barad Dur.
But there are also fantasies where this isn’t so much of an issue. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is a good example. A basic understanding of the geography of the world we live in is sufficient (and I don’t think maps are included in those novels). Or Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains, where I was only too happy to “fly blind” and let the story take me wherever it went. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles (oldies, but goodies) never stressed the geography too much, and these were as epic as YA books get. I’m pretty sure Piers Anthony gave us maps in the Xanth books, but I never felt the need to pay any attention to them.
So, to reiterate: The significance of geography in the story raises or lowers the importance of having a map. I want to add that, even if there isn’t a map and I feel one is needed, I’m still going to enjoy a good book. I’m just going to be a bit frustrated (and thrown out of the story) as I sit down and try to puzzle out where the heck everyone is.
That said, maps can add a lot to the sense of resonance and wonder that a reader has. A feeling of reality and immersion comes from complete worldbuilding, and a map can be a valuable part of that. My favorite map is easy to remember. Do you remember the old Ralph Bakshi animated Lord of The Rings film in 1978? They made a vinyl record of it, and it came with a huge fold out map. My mom bought it from me when I was little, and I can still remember unfurling that map on the dining room table. I’d pore over it for hours, sounding out the foreign sounding places (Oooorthanc, Eiiiiisengaaaard, Miiiiinas Tiraaath) and dreaming about how I would visit each one and what it would be like. I’d sit there until mom would make me get out of the way so she could set the table for dinner. That map really helped to spark my love of Tolkien (and hence my love of fantasy), so I suppose you could say that it started with a map for me.