We love maps and atlases. We have a very large collection of atlases, and maps adorn most of our walls. Jim likes historical and topographic maps, and I prefer maps of fantasy lands. This gorgeous book, which features all kinds of maps along with essays about them, is the perfect addition to our library, but not one to file; rather, it will stay out, to be savored over and over again.
Most of the authors who have contributed to this book report having spent hours in their own childhoods looking at maps and imagining the worlds depicted in them. I too, spent hours doing so, beginning with maps in The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. Even today, when I read a fantasy with a map at the beginning, I return to it over and over as I read.
The essays in the book are delightful, but it is the illustrations that accompany the text that make this book so wonderful. It includes famous maps as well as idiosyncratic maps that inspired writers, often on two page colorful spreads. For example, one can spend hours examining the details of “The Land of Make Believe” drawn by Jaro Hess in 1930. It shows everything from “Old Mother Hubbard’s Place” to the hill climbed by Jack and Jill. Other landmarks indicate that “Peter Rabbit Lived in This Hole” and “Here the Blackbird Picked Off The Maid’s Hose.”
In Huw Lewis-Jones’s own chapter, he opines:
“[It is] what is not on the map [that] proves tantalizing. The edges of the maps, the blanks, the borderlands, this is where many writers, myself included, are inexorably drawn. It’s good to head to places where we’re not sure what is going to happen.”
I, on the other hand, am drawn to what is included. My favorite maps when I was little were maps from the earliest times that had features like the representations of the four winds in each corner, turtles holding up the world, or dragons in the unknown areas.
Lewis-Jones reports that the first atlases were made in sixteenth-century Italy, containing many features from classical mythology, such as a representation of Atlas holding up the Earth. [In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan condemned to hold up the sky for eternity. The great cartographer Gerardus Mercator, born in 1512, was the first to title a collection of maps (and a treatise on the universe) as an “atlas.” He chose the word as a commemoration of the legendary King Atlas of Mauretania whom he considered to be the first great geographer. This King Atlas was a son of the Titan Atlas but the two myths coalesced.]
Individual maps were made much earlier; this book includes a reproduction of Ptolemy’s world map from 1482 – the first to appear in color.
The historical maps reveal much about the state of epistemology at the time. We saw some wonderful early maps in the Vatican Gallery of Maps in Rome, and notably they reveal religious conceptions of the shape of the world, with Jerusalem at the center.
Lewis-Jones also uses the idea of mapping as a metaphor for the way authors plot out a story as part of their creative process. Readers can often “see” such maps hovering above texts when, for example, they dive into mysteries with red herrings and/or clues strewn throughout the text – these elements had to be figured out in advance, with physical or mental maps carefully followed so both author and readers wouldn’t get lost along the way.
Sometimes writers don’t include actual maps in their work, but depict places so real you envision them yourselves, as, Lewis-Jones points out, did Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem “Kubla Khan”, which begins:
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.”
Maps in the book that also have essays about them include Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Treasure Island, Jonathan Swift’s tales of Gulliver’s Travels, A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (with maps of the Hundred Acre Wood), C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia, the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers (illustrated by Mary Shepard, whose father E.H.Shepard had drawn Winnie-the-Pooh), and of course the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The works of some authors have inspired maps to be made by others, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. As one essay notes, “Each new generation finds its favourite literary maps…”
Isabel Greenberg, in her chapter, expresses the opinion:
“Maps of places that would be impossible to traverse in reality, or visit, are the ones that are most exciting: Faerie, Heaven, the Constellations, Middle-earth, Earthsea; even old maps of our Earth, long before we knew what lay beyond the fringes of experience. The kind of maps with wide-eyed women blowing winds from the four corners, and shaky, beautiful penned lines. It doesn’t matter that you can’t follow them; in fact that makes them better.”
I totally agree. And this book allows you to visit many of those types of maps over and over, via not only the essays but also from the 167 beautiful full-color images. Chapters include, inter alia, not only discussions of grid maps and story maps, but explorations of women cartographers, anatomical maps, maps of other planets, and a survey of discoveries that were made in pursuit of erroneous information on maps (e.g., the discovery of America).
Huw Lewis-Jones wraps up the book by discussing the accuracy of Google Earth maps, juxtaposing these maps with the need we retain for “there to be some mystery in the world”:
“Imaginary places can offer us new kinds of discovery. Some of the pleasure of spending time with maps comes not only from the idea of exploring areas unknown, but also from remembering that where we stand is just a small part of a massive, and bewildering, whole. Maps remind us that there is so much more out there, and so much more at stake.”
Evaluation: What a great gift this book would make to any lucky recipient who still takes time to revel in travels of the imagination. It is true the book primarily highlights works done in the West, and a companion book that would include more diverse contributions and influences would be most welcome. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended.
Published by the University of Chicago Press. 2018