Book Review: The Writer’s Map

The Writer’s Map:  An Atlas Of Imaginary Lands, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones

Cartography is a somewhat underappreciated aspect of fantasy literature, and this book does a good job at putting fantasy literature with a sense of place that helps both the writer and the reader better understand the worldbuilding that is going on.  Sometimes as storytellers we can better understand the works we are reading or writing once we put pen to paper and sketch out the world we are dealing with?  What is the nature of the city we are dealing with?  Is it one of Calvino’s shifting geographies, or is it somewhere that is heavily rural?  What kind of rivers or mountains or forests or deserts are there in the world?  Is there one empire or scattered city-states or a few rival nations and peoples?  Knowing these answers can hep shape the sort of experience that is being written about, and can help the writer and reader zero in on the particular places that are most important.  Maybe there is an area that is contested between different nations, or a remote area where no one would expect a hero to come from or something like that.  That would make an obvious place to focus on.

This particular book is made up of four parts with several other pieces of miscellaneous material written by various authors.  The book begins with a prologue by Philip Pullman, best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy.  After that comes two essays in the first part of the book on make believe, looking at literary geographies and the mapping of memories.  After that comes several essays on the writing of maps, which examine first steps, going off the grid, looking at the Viking worldview as well as other examples of imaginary cartography, and looking at imagination and what is wild.  The third part of the book looks at the creation of maps, ranging from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to other faerie stories and even Robinson Crusoe.  The fourth part of the book then discusses the reading of maps in such areas as Dungeons & Dragons as well as the landscapes of the mind and the discovery of the unknown.  There is also a postscript of sorts where someone discusses the beauty of books and also ends with some notes about the contributors, acknowledgments, suggestions for further reading, sources of quotations, sources of illustrations, and an index, for a total of about 250 pages or so.

For the most part, this is a very excellent book and it was enjoyable to read.  There is definitely some evidence, though, that many of the contributors of this book did not read what others had written, because a lot of the individual essays here cover the same small set of material over and over again, especially when it comes to maps of Middle Earth and Narnia, which are mentioned repeatedly by many of the contributors.  This book could have been even better if the editor had made sure that the authors didn’t continually circle around to the same few fantasy worlds and their maps over and over again but explored a broader range of fantasy worlds, or better yet had more original worlds that were not familiar to the reader.  At any rate, this book does succeed at expressing an appreciation for the maps of fantasy worlds and also in encouraging future fantasy writers to pay attention to the mapping of their own or other fantasy worlds.  Whether or not the reader views cartography as important in fantasy worlds, the fact that one is reading this book indicates that the subject is at least of some interest.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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