Friday, May 05, 2006

To map or not to map

(Cheating slightly and posting this the night before, because Friday is Internet Moratorium Day while I catch up on my languishing manuscript.)

I love maps. My traveling buddies used to call me "MapMaster J." I can entertain myself for hours with a Rand McNally, wondering what's in all those blank spots in North Dakota.

Many fantasy novels include maps near the front of the book, which I appreciate as a reader. I never truly understood what was going on in Lord of the Rings until I followed the map. All that walking...geez...where the hell were they going? Now I know.

Maps provide context that can help the reader understand the fractured cultures or climatic challenges the characters face--all with a quick glance instead of many pages of explanatory text (not that LOTR lacked explanatory text--it took me two drowsy weeks to read the purgatorial Council of Elrond scene).

Much as I love maps, I decided not to include one for Eyes of Crow. This decision was based partly on the desire to make my publisher's overworked production staff love me.
Hooray! One less stupid map to draw! Let's knock off early today and have a drink in Jeri's honor.
But mostly it was because the book doesn't warrant it. After all, it contains a grand total of two major settings. Sure, there's a larger world out there, with other friendly villages and a big sea with bad dudes on the other side of it, but none of my characters go there in this opening novel. A map would have been a tad pretentious.

Geography plays a much bigger role in Voice of Crow, so don't worry: MapMaster J will have her day.

How about you? Do you refer frequently to maps in novels, or do you just like to use them as a coloring book?

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5 Comments:

I think it depends on how important the geography is as a component to the story. In LOTR, I found myself looking to the map to understand the relationship of Isengard, Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor. I think this is because there were events ocurring in each all of those locations at once. Also, the location of each kingdom shed light on the motivations of their leaders.

I don't remember if Pern books like Dragonflight had maps, and I don't think they needed them. The dragon's ability to instantly go anywhere made geography a non-issue.

In The Hobbit, everyone pretty much stayed together and went in a straight line. I didn't look at the map until I was done.

The only other book I can think of that had a map is The Sword of Shannara. I didn't care for this book, mostly because it seemed unnecessarily wordy. I never looked at that map because the plot also went in mostly a straight north-south line. The countries in that book were rarely mentioned until the plot arrived there, at which point their relevence to the plot was explained in excruciating detail (like this comment).

Posted by: Blogger Andrew at 5/05/2006 1:11 PM

I also love maps, and can get lost in them. One of my favorites, The Belgariad, would have been very confusing without the maps, which I studied with gread delight.

Posted by: Anonymous Don at 5/06/2006 11:10 AM

Good points on all counts, guys. Another book I read last year where the maps were essential was The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Even though I've been to Gettysburg a half dozen times and done the tour and watched the big lit-up map show and seen the movie, there was no substitute for reading the narrative and studying the map simultaneously.

This is a great book to read, BTW, for anyone writing a battle scene in a novel.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/08/2006 8:04 AM

I'm a map fanatic. I sometimes wish I could write something that would require a map - but I just no good at that kind of grand, sweeping adventure.

You're right though, maps very often are not necessary.

PS: The Pern books had maps. So did Watership Down

Posted by: Blogger gugon at 5/09/2006 1:02 PM

Watership Down had a map? Didn't it take place in a field or something? Though I guess to the character (a rabbit, for those of you who haven't read it, or only know of it from the TV show Lost, whose creators copied the significance of the novel, like so many other details, from Stephen King's The Stand), it was a big world.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/09/2006 4:08 PM

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