Mythical Cartography, The Artistry of Maps

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techgnotic's avatar

"Scars can come in handy. I have one myself above my left knee that is a perfect map of the London Underground."—Prof. Albus Dumbledore

Early life becomes an exploration of invisible parameters, circles beyond circles, as one pushes out to test the boundaries of safety. There is one’s bedroom, one’s home, neighborhood, school and town, state and nation. Early on, maps become important documents – declarations of being and rights and privileges. In the art world, throughout history, maps have been a constant measure of human progress, from the Phoenecians recording their trade routes over 2000 years ago, or pre-Columbian times in which maps pictured the world as a flat chessboard balanced atop huge elephants or whales, the oceans spilling over the edges as waterfalls in infinite space – to the latest details of the surface of Mars, courtesy of the Curiosity probe. There’s something beyond the purely practical in always knowing where you’re at, look no further the mania of checking in with digital GPS devices. Somehow, just knowing you have a map in your pocket to guide you, maybe even one that speaks to you is a kind of a liberating power over the common frustrations of life.

The opening credits of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” features a massive raised relief map of the series’ warring kingdoms. In genre fiction, maps of the mythic lands in which the stories take place have always been a special enjoyment. From finding the Garden of Eden, to elaborate maps guiding Indy on his quest for the Holy Grail, or the map of “Hyborian Times” sketched out by Robert E. Howard to better immerse you in the wanderings of his barbarian hero Conan, storytellers have always known that there’s something about the “authentification” of seeing a map that can make even the most dubious quest seem real.

Mythical Maps are currently enjoying a resurgence in our favorite videogames, detailed 3D virtual "maps" upon which the mayhem of Call of Duty, Skyrim, and Gears of War are played out, are things of wonder in and of themselves. The DLC cry of “new maps” has become the call that new magical killing fields are at the ready to be tested for their vicarious thrill-potential. Where once explorers sought out maps to the Fountain of Youth or the gold-paved streets of El Dorado, today’s adventurers seek out the perfect multiplayer map.

Let us celebrate the imagination of our mythic mapmakers on deviantART.

From our shared common knowledge of the islands and coves within Peter's Neverland, to the navigation of the Dothraki Sea, to the celestial cartography of hidden maps to unknown worlds within the stars above us, mythical maps have carved out a space for themselves right along side, and just as important as, the maps based on a “knowable” earth. The importance of a map to any fantasy story reader is the key, the literal base anchoring the fantasy, to be referred to over and over again as a story unfolds. So much background information, and so much added story texture, can be conveyed to a reader through the art of a carefully thought out and executed map.

A small part in each of us is the sense of where we are not only physically but psychically and spiritually. Whether real or not, a great map tells a great story. One could argue that a masterful cartographer must be a skilled storyteller as well. As we create our mental maps of the fantasy realms we prefer to inhabit as part of our existence in the sometimes mundane world, let us celebrate the imagination of our mythic mapmakers on deviantART.

QuestionsFor the Reader

  1. What’s your favorite map of a fictional land?
  2. Do you think the increasing similarity of “cosmic” maps as created for videogames and superhero movies is dulling our collective sense for adventure?
  3. Which videogame maps do the best job of totally immersing you in another world?
  4. Is there an actual map hanging anywhere in your home, and what is it of?

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comradejuche's avatar
Favourite map of a fictional place?  Skull Island from the book The World of Kong.

I was drawing imaginary maps on large sheets of paper when I was a kid, long before the invention of the Internet.  Over the years I have found that I prefer a great diversity of maps and map styles rather than maps that are increasingly uniform.  To me, imagination and creativity is more important than technical perfection.  

To be honest I'm only familiar with a few video games but I have to say The Elder Scrolls maps have been the only ones that have really got me immersed in a video game world.

Actual maps hanging on my walls?  A map of Lesotho.