Mythical Cartography, The Artistry of Maps
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Published: August 16, 2012








"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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Comments (939)
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.  
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322282823's avatar
did you draw these maps
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Cirias's avatar
Cirias|Professional Digital Artist
Love this article.
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hensen007's avatar
 I saw this topic-password protect folder without software many times, this time I do as the post step by step, It works finally. Great sharing. 
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Realmwright's avatar
Realmwright|Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
1. Asking my favorite map is like asking a favorite food. There are too many flavors of other lands to pick just one. However, Middle Earth will always spring to mind since the Hobbit was my intro to fantasy.

2. I don't see how new maps, especially those of the unknown vastness of space, could ever dull our sense of adventure. Even when every inch of every possible parsec has been filled in, I'm sure we'll still continue to make fictional maps.

3. I'm not much of a gamer, but the 3 worlds I loved wandering were Tamriel, Hyrule, and the sweeping west of Red Dead Redemption.

4. I have a whole Nerdatorium devoted to fiction worlds. The walls are adorned with everything from Pathfinder to Middle Earth and less well known maps from cartographersguild.com. The only drawback is that I have way more maps than wallspace!
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Goblynoid's avatar
Goblynoid|Hobbyist Traditional Artist
1. What’s your favorite map of a fictional land?
Don't think I could pick just one. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" world map is a current favorite though.

2. Do you think the increasing similarity of “cosmic” maps as created for videogames and superhero movies is dulling our collective sense for adventure?
Hadn't really thought of it like that, so I suppose my answer is, no. Although it does bother me a bit whenever I see a star map in a movie or some such that has obviously no bearing on even the basic structure of the cosmos. IE: Star system to galaxy to galactic cluster to universe.

3. Which videogame maps do the best job of totally immersing you in another world?
Actually the map screen in "Dawn of War" and its' expansions was pretty immersive in that it was presented as a tactical auspex of the WH40K universe.

4. Is there an actual map hanging anywhere in your home, and what is it of?
Not at the moment, but somewhere around here is the map of my home brewed game world for my GURPS Fantasy campaign that I put up on the cork board for gaming sessions.
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DeVaujany's avatar
DeVaujany|Hobbyist Writer
Here is the last version of the Map of Tryskellia for the first chapter of my novel, made with a real parchment. Sorry for the french comments ! [link]
In another way, I really love The Game Of Thrones open show with the Evolutionary Map and the music.
[link]
Reply  ·  
DeVaujany's avatar
DeVaujany|Hobbyist Writer
Here is the last version of the Map of Tryskellia for the first chapter of my novel, made with a real parchment. Sorry for the french comments ! [link]
In another way, I really love The Game Of Thrones open show with the Evolutionary Map and the music.
[link]
Reply  ·  
seberin's avatar
1. Middle-earth. In particular, there was an impressive map that Iron Crown Enterprises made a long time ago that extrapolated what all of Arda might look like, outside the well-known northwestern region drawn by Tolkien.
2. I guess it would be better if more maps looked unique... but I'd rather have similar attractive maps than unique ugly ones.
3. The Ultima games' cloth Britannia maps were great; I spent hours studying them. More recently, I was really impressed by the in-game maps for Dragon Age, especially the antique Orzammar map. Also, the Grand Theft Auto series has a surprisingly strong tradition of really good maps.
4. Not currently, but in the past I've had maps of Middle-earth, San Francisco, and Yosemite hung in my bedroom.
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LulyBartolomy's avatar
1. The Old Kingdom/ Ancelstierre map
2. Maps only enhance our sense of adventure and anticipation of adventure. :)
3. I don't play many games, but I always appreciate those that offer maps.
4. Yes, of earth.
Reply  ·  
Iwan88's avatar
Iwan88|Student General Artist
1 . Isla Sorna in Michael Crichton's Book the Lost World

2 . Nope

3 . Mass Effect, handsdown

4 . No, sadly :( but good idea! I think I'll get one.
Reply  ·  
GrimvaarWolfthane's avatar
The original cloth map from the DarkSun campain setting is my favorite.

Skip the next two ...

I have two painted maps, one of the USA, & one of this solar system.
Reply  ·  
Kura-Ai-Yuki's avatar
My favorite map so far is one my friend made. This one! It should totally be up there! [link]

And nope. I don't think cosmic maps change anything I still find the game fun.
And I think final fantasy, they got some awesome maps.
And nope. No maps up. :(
Reply  ·  
Agent-0013's avatar
Agent-0013|Hobbyist General Artist
I think at this time my favorite map of a fictional world is the one depicted in the RPG Final Fantasy XII. It has a lot of detail. There are many other maps included within the game as well that show the detailed layout of specific areas.
As for cosmic maps, I have found that seeing the same constellations in the skies of almost all fictional worlds in video games that show the skies at night makes me wonder at the imagination of those that create the games. A very familiar constellation "Orion" shows up in multiple video games, and if you study the constellations that surround that one you will see that they too are familiar and in the same places relative to "Orion" as they are in the sky of Earth. Perhaps it is too much to create a world's own version of the night sky, although I have seen many games that did have their own skies.
As I have already indicated, the Final Fantasy video games seem to have some of the best maps; however, this is not by any means an exclusive. The maps included in "Oblivion" and the other games associated with that world are just as fantastic. I would also include the maps for many of the Legend of Zelda and the Metroid games. All of these maps have the detail that is needed to help you figure out where you are in the game, which to me is very important.
From time to time I hang different maps in a conspicuous place that can be readily accessed for reference while playing a video game related to that map. Sometimes I hang multiple maps of the same video game world to see and compare the differences and changes that have been made to that world across the series of games that have that world in them.
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jdcm1965's avatar
How about Riven?
Reply  ·  
patriciaenola's avatar
[link] This sounds good - I am somewhat of a Map Fiend myself - I have the Game of Thrones Map and some of Frodo's Journeys - now looking for a map of Disc World - I think I shall have to go to somewhere like Diagon Alley
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TopHat83's avatar
Does anyone know of a good map-making software/freeware. Something that creates maps similiar to the ones shown in this article? I'm really interested myself.
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Agent-0013's avatar
Agent-0013|Hobbyist General Artist
There are several art applications that can be used for this purpose. I use Bryce from DAZ 3D to create my topology and cities and so forth, then I take the map to a program that can be used to add the names and designations of areas of interest in those maps. Microsoft Office PowerPoint is a good one. I don't know if a free version of PowerPoint is available but you should be able to do a search for a comparable free program that will do the job. Bryce 7 Pro is free to download, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend the Bryce 7 Artist's Guide, which will tutor you through nearly every aspect of the software with concise and very clear instructions, along with screen captures to help you see what is being done. This guide is free also, and it comes in PDF form, (you will need to have Adobe Reader, preferably the latest upgrade, which is also free).
If you have any questions concerning the above software and related items, feel free to contact me personally via e-mail. Here is my address: "artmage13@yahoo.com". I will be glad to help you in any way I can.
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techgnotic's avatar
Great question. There must be something out there. You might want to ask the cartography guild. [link]
Reply  ·  
scareysherrie74's avatar
scareysherrie74|Hobbyist Traditional Artist
1.The map of the world of Naruto is my favorite because it adds detail.
2. No i think they add to the experience of the game or movie and give us ideas. It can only dull your sense of adventure if you allow it to.
3. This I have no idea about because I don't play many games.
4. I have a world map and my son has a map that was his great grandfathers, it is of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company's British Columbia Coast Service. It is historical and allows him to have a connection with his namesake who died many years before.
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Lurockia's avatar
Lurockia|Professional Digital Artist
This journal has influenced me to finally upload my own fictitious world map. Thank you!
I must say that I'm rather proud of it.

--------> [link]
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Agent-0013's avatar
Agent-0013|Hobbyist General Artist
Very nice map! You did a wonderful job creating this one. I like the way you show the two halves of your fictional world in a familiar historic format. Excellent!
Reply  ·  
Lurockia's avatar
Lurockia|Professional Digital Artist
Thank you, that was the idea. :)
I looked around at all sorts of old maps and just fell in love with the two circle style.
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techgnotic's avatar
So glad the article inspired you to do so. We will add your map to the collection in the article.
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