Giving Fans Latitude

Curator's Note

by: Sierra Laddusaw and Jeremy Brett, Texas A&M Univeristy

Thought of by many as the map that started the trend of maps in fantasy works, Middle-Earth was originally drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien. The original map, in the Bodleian Libraries, boldly defines the landscapes of Middle-Earth and includes annotations by Tolkien and fantasy cartographer Pauline Baynes (who also drew Narnia). Over the years many have drawn their interpretation of Middle-Earth - a recent adaptation was hand-inked and colored by Francesca Baerald. Baerald's map closely follows Tolkien's, while adding an elaborate frame featuring important characters from the series.

With Westeros we see three different imaginative conceptions of the same fantasyland. The "official" version of Westeros looks like a map one might find in a real-world atlas, with relevant geographical detail. Baerald's Westeros appears as a relic of the age depicted in the novels - House sigils prominently displayed, elaborate borders typical of Renaissance-era maps, and placenames rendered in an handwritten style. Baerald's map allows us to feel closer to Westeros because it looks like it might have originated there. Michael Tyznik interprets Westeros through a modern lens, transforming it into a series of train routes that graphically portray distance and hint at journeys taken.

Skyrim, a province of Tamriel from the popular Elder Scrolls video game series, features an intricate network of roads for citizens to move between settlements. The official map, by game publisher Bethesda Softworks, came packaged with the game. It provides a broad overview of the province and includes only the main roads between the Holds. Tyznik reimagines all of Tamriel as a rail system; his map charts routes between the Holds, outlying villages, and forts. Tyznik used a London Tube map for design inspiration, producing a final map that places "real" world transportation understanding on a fantastical landscape.

Some fans create their own geographies by bringing multiple universes together into a single universe. Here Edison Yan does this first by collecting planets from different science fiction works and making one solar system out of them, in which Star Trek, Star Wars, Futurama, Doctor Who and others all share space. In the second, he maps a new world in which geographies from different videogames merge into a single set of islands. And the art collective Dorothy constructs an entire artificial city using song titles as location names; in this way music itself forms the context for geographic richness.


It's so interesting to see the pieces together. How much do you find fans try to align their work with the original world builders'? I played a good bit of Skyrim and have my own emotional map of the game, places I'd return to again and again, locations that were particularly fun or challenging.

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