Maps And Getting There And Back Again: Part 1 – Realtime Journeys

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.

Map from The Book of Three

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.)

Modern Time Pre-Automobile Time
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?

Check out Part 2: Fictional Modes of Travel

More Fun With Maps:

How To Create A Fantasy Map In 12 Easy Steps

The Pinterest Fantasy Maps board

Creating Your Fantasy Bible: A Lesson In Geography from There and Draft Again (I’m guessing they like The Hobbit too.)

Side Note 1: Here’s a comparison of the cost of being Batman in the past and now

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.

14 thoughts on “Maps And Getting There And Back Again: Part 1 – Realtime Journeys

  1. Fictional maps I’ve liked: Treasure Island; the not-always-accurate-in-her-stories Darkover map for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s stories; the real coastal map for the fictional “Riddle of the Sands.” There have been others, but those are the three that come to mind.

  2. Oooh, those sites look like fun. I’m definitely going to have to waste some good time there. But I’m excited and worried about a Batman/Superman movie, given my extreme boredom in Man of Steel. And Zack Synder’s still directing it, right? *le sigh* Well, at least Henry Caville will be in it. I guess.

    • Zack Snyder has a style of grandioseness that could be good. I don’t think I’ve watched any films by Snyder all the way through. His movies seem to be ‘very serious’ and ‘very big’. While DC needs to do things differently than Marvel, they also need to display at least some humor.

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  3. I love the LOTR maps. I also like looking at real maps and imagining/planning my journey across them. Like the epic 3-week canoeing/backpacking journey that my friend and I plotted out this weekend. 2 summers from now. It’s gonna happen. Also-Yellowstone road trip?! When! I am there (here?)!

    • I know you’re in Yellowstone – this was an ulterior motive for the trip. We’ll be arriving around August 7 or 8 (I don’t remember exactly) and be there for about a week. Plans for ridiculousness will follow.

      • Hrm…my parents will be here August 9-13, and then I work, but have evenings free Monday-Friday, then I will be in Utah August 16-21.

  4. I’m a sucker for a fictional map. Love the LOTR maps, the map in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, and in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series. I feel irked when a fantasy book featuring a long journey does not include a map, yet mentions a hundred places.

    • I’m so glad you mentioned Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series. My brother works at a Barnes and Noble and his ‘personal selection’ is Sabriel, and tries to spread the word. They’re all cool books in a cool world.

  5. You should check out Alison Croggon’s Pellinor series. Great maps, great stories… I’d often get lost in my head on long trips. I’d be so quiet, thinking and imagining, that my parents would inevitably ask if I were asleep. Then one of them would peer into the back seat to confirm I was yet awake.

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