Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
So says Professor Jones to his archaeology students. Of course, his alter ego Indiana Jones proves that the opposite is often true. When he finds a hidden passageway in the floor of the Venetian library, the concealed entrance is marked with a prominent X that can only be seen from above. Which just goes to show it all depends on how you look at this things. The professor hides his passion for archaeology behind a stuffy academic exterior. But the adventurer Indiana knows that secret maps and buried treasure are the stuff of brilliant storytelling. This post celebrates cartography in children's literature, the maps that made the best stories more vivid than ever.
It would be impossible to discuss maps in children's books without mentioning that most famous book on buried treasure, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883). Treasure Island is a rollicking tale of piracy and plunder on the high seas that provided the blueprint for countless other pirate stories. Stevenson created a hugely iconic character in Long John Silver, the one-legged pirate Captain with the parrot on his shoulder.
Stevenson drew a map (see above) of his invented island. In an essay on the novel he wrote of it:
[The map] was elaborately and (I thought) beautifully colored; the shape of it took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance 'Treasure Island.'
Every time I return to Tolkien I am struck by the beauty of his map-making. The simple lines, the runic inscriptions and the pointing finger all form part of his inimitable style. The map below is included on the inside cover of The Hobbit. Thror's map is the map of Bilbo's adventure, given to the hobbit by the wizard Gandalf. He learns to read the runes and hidden 'moon letters' with the help of Elrond in Rivendell. For readers, the map at the beginning of the book is a promise of what has yet to come.
|The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien|
Tolkien wrote that his Middle Earth was in fact located on Earth at an imaginary period in Earth's past. The shire for example, was set at the same latitude as Oxford. Commenting on the similarity between the words 'Midgard' and 'Middle Earth,' he said:
Oh yes, they're the same word. Most people have made this mistake of thinking Middle-earth is a particular kind of earth or is another planet of the science fiction sort but it's just an old fashioned word for this world we live in, as imagined surrounded by the Ocean.
Like Stevenson, Tolkien would create the standard that subsequent works in the genre would measure themselves by. So pervasive was his influence that it would shape the contours of fantasy literature for generations.
The map from Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea marks a departure in fantasy literature world building. Looking closer, it is evident that Le Guin's Eathsea is a collection of loosely federated islands, accessible by sea rather than land. People lives are dominated by their relationship to the sea and there are few in the series who could be said to lead 'inland' lives.
|A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula la Guin|
I've included this map because I think it marks a conscious step away from the fantasy world standards established by Tolkien and others. Rather than using the standard medieaval European setting, La Guin chooses an island archipelago. She has criticised the assumption of fantasy literature that characters should be white by default and that society should resemble the Middle Ages in Europe. This is reflected in the ethnicity of her characters, the majority of which have red-brown skin.
Alternative Renaissance Europe
Celine Kiernan's Moorehawke map depicts an alternative Renaissance Europe. The setting is at once familiar and alien. Kiernan plays with old cartographic conventions in her 'there be monsters' details; several European countries are pock-marked with signs of her invented wolf/men race - the Loup-Garous. I like too the pleasant yellow hues used to imply antiquity and the depiction of ships at sea encircling the continent. Her choice of a renaissance era allows for an exploration of the technology of that age and marks a conscious move away from the medieval period that dominates fantasy literature.
|The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan|
Not all mapmakers in children's literature are concerned with world building. The map of the Spiderwick Estate in The Spiderwick Chronicles and the pastoral tribute the Thames Valley in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows are far more modest in their scope. These maps ground the magical creatures and anthropomorphised animals in their locality and add verisimilitude to the novels.
|The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black|
There is something charming about these local maps that make them eminently suitably to children's literature. After all, the known world for many young children scarcely extends beyond a few square miles. Knowing the borders of these worlds does not diminish the pleasure of discovery; rather it allows for a more complete immersion.
|The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame|