I was reading a post from A Pilgrim in Narnia titled The Land Where Oz Is North of Middle Earth and was led to ponder my own love of fictional maps.
The first fictional map I remember is from The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. I spent hours looking over the Great Avren River, tracing the path of Taran in his quest to find and rescue Hen Wen, a prophetic pig. I was fascinated by areas beyond the scope of the story, promising of a larger, unexplored world. When I began writing, I would mimic these maps, including the clusters of trees to symbolizing forests.
I loved the map from The Hobbit, and remember mostly the geography from my first failed attempt to read The Lord of the Rings (I began with The Return of the King when I was 12 – it did not make much sense, but it was cool).
A map at the beginning of a book is more than a snapshot of the journey you and the characters are about to embark on. It is a glimpse of the entire world you are about to enter. A good map matched with a good story will add depth and realism to the world, the mountains and rivers becoming a part of the narrative.
Maps inform political alliances, cultural similarities and differences, main trade and travel routes, the development of a civilization, and other key world-building concepts.
Maps also show places to be traveled, to be explored and journeyed to.
Journeying itself is often long, mind-numbing, aggravating work with brief moments of beauty and excitement along the way. Even a journey narrative, such as The Hobbit or Finding Nemo, sums the hours and hours of trudging into the unknown into a few expert lines of prose or a brief montage. It is a great challenge, as a writer, to get characters from Point A to Point B in an interesting and exciting way.
In the real world, I live in Southern California and have to cross a large portion of the Mojave Desert to reach anywhere outside of the state. It is about 6 hours of endless, empty miles of sage brush, cacti, and dirt to reach Las Vegas. Beyond Vegas, there remains more hours across empty stretches of Nevada to reach Arizona or Utah.
And while I bemoan these 10-20 hour road trips, let’s compare the methods of travel from over a century ago.
(For simplicity, I’ll use Los Angeles to Las Vegas – roughly 265 miles. As a side-note, we in Southern California tend to use time rather than distance i.e. it’s 6 hours to Vegas vs. it’s 265 miles to Vegas.)
|Car (going near speed limit)||6 hours||Steam Train||10 hours (estimate)|
|Plane (excluding security)||1.2 hours||Horse||7 days (estimate)|
|Bus||9-10 hours||Wagon Train||10-15 days|
|Hitch Hike||Good luck…?||On Foot||You’d be dead, unless you found water.|
I’ve read and heard many accounts of pioneers traveling from the East coast, across the frontiers of America, and to Utah, California, and Oregon. Everything was piled into wagons or handcarts. The journey took between 3 to 5 months, depending on weather conditions, hazards, illnesses, accidents, and any other hardship imaginable (as many of us have learned from the Oregon Trail games).
There is a children’s song in my church which goes: “The pioneer children sang as they walked, and walked, and walked, and waaaaalked.”
[I am sure the children also played their own versions the Alphabet Game, 20 questions, or the Poke Your Sibling Till They Smack You Game (fun, but dangerous).]
If only the pioneers and ourselves could have the magic of fiction to ease the length of travel. In the Hobbit, most of the book covers Bilbo’s journey from The Shire to The Lonely Mountain, while his return of the same distance is captured in a brief chapter. Maybe this is similar to falling asleep while someone else is driving, and magically waking to find yourself home.
I suppose these thoughts are partially brought up by my pending road trip to Yellowstone in a few weeks. Looking forward, I must remember that my creativity developed on these endless road trips, beginning a few hours before dawn, and extending late into the night. My imagination took me to worlds far beyond the confines of the car and my sweaty legs sticking to the vinyl seat.
The mind, truly, is the quickest mode of travel.
What is your favorite fictional map? How do you entertain yourself on long trips? What would you sing as you walked, and walked, and walked, and waaaaalllked? What is your favorite fictional journey?
More Fun With Maps:
Creating Your Fantasy Bible: A Lesson In Geography from There and Draft Again (I’m guessing they like The Hobbit too.)
Side Note 2: Batman! Superman! They’re now going to be in one movie. I hope it’s a good one. – this may become a blog post after I wrap my head around it.
Side Note 3: Tomorrow, July 24, is Pioneer Day for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It’s a day to celebrate the pioneers who sacrificed much to cross the plains and reach the West.