Monday, October 12, 2020

The First Fantasy Map

I have loved maps of all sorts since my youth. In fact, I'd go so far as to credit my love of maps with my attraction to fantasy and fantasy roleplaying games. I can still remember the first time I beheld Tolkien's map of Middle-earth, which roughly coincided with my discovery of D&D. In my memory, the two events are very closely intertwined, to the point where it's hard to separate them. Since then, maps and fantasy are inseparable concepts and I tend to assume that all works of fantasy will include maps.

As it turns out, that's not true. There are plenty of fantasy settings lacking maps contemporary with their creation (Eddison's Mercury is one example). Thinking about this then led me to ponder the first map created specifically to describe an imaginary world. What was it? Answering this question isn't easy, because its terms need to be defined. For my purposes, I'm interested solely in what are sometimes called "secondary" worlds, which is to say, wholly imaginary settings with no direct connections to the real world. In this way, Plato's Atlantis or More's Utopia don't count, as they're both supposed to be places on Earth rather than some other world. Further, I'm looking for secondary worlds that have maps approved by the creator, if not necessarily drawn by him.

This narrows the range of possibilities quite a bit. Prior to the 20th century, there aren't many serious candidates that fulfill both requirements. The earliest one that comes to mind is Edwin A. Abbott's 1884 novella, Flatland, and it only works if one considers its title page to be a map, an interpretation that is apparently controversial.

A map or an illustration?
There are a number of significant secondary worlds created after Flatland, but none of them have contemporary maps, not even Barsoom, which, as I've argued recently, is one of the underappreciated primary inspirations for Dungeons & Dragons and, therefore, all roleplaying games. In 1936, Robert E. Howard sketched out a map of the lands of the Hyborian Age, but, alas, it does not meet both my criteria, as Conan's world is just our own in the prehistoric past.
Sadly not a contender but I like the map anyway
1936 was also the year in which Tolkien's The Hobbit was published and it includes not only a map but one drawn by its author. But does Middle-earth meet my criteria above? Like the Hyborian Age, it, too, is a prehistoric – perhaps a better word is "mythic" – Earth. I'd love to let it pass, but, if I stick to my own rules, I must exclude it and look elsewhere.

Is there a contemporary map of Nehwon? Narnia? At this point, I'm honestly not sure and have begun to wonder if perhaps my criteria are too specific and, therefore, limiting. Still, it's an interesting question. Having only just begun to dig into the matter, it seems as if my long-held association of maps with fantasy might be of more recent vintage than I thought, a development of the 1960s, in the aftermath of the wider dissemination of The Lord of the Rings. If anyone has any additional thoughts on the matter, I'd love to hear them.

31 comments:

  1. Oz puts us at 1908: https://oz.fandom.com/wiki/Maps_of_Oz

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    1. Technically, the Land of Oz is located on Earth, so it doesn't meet both my criteria. Otherwise, it'd be a strong contender for sure.

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    2. From what source do you infer this from?

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    3. The location of Oz, you mean? It's apparently something Baum himself claimed, according to multiple online sources, most notably Wikipedia, which includes citations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_of_Oz#Location

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    4. Yeah, Oz is always referred to as a "country," theoretically somewhere on Earth. It's a "fairy country," so it operates by different rules than Kansas and Nebraska, and you have to get there by air (or sometimes water) because of the Deadly Desert surrounding it, but it's always treated as being on Earth somewhere.

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  2. Here is a Kickstarter post from Michael Curtis when we was researching the Fritz Leiber Papers collection at the University of Houston that mentions a very early Nehwon map:

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1409961192/dcc-lankhmar/posts/2329511

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    1. Thanks for reminding me of that. Of course, that map was never published ...

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    2. Oh right, I forgot the published caveat. My bad...

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    3. Not at all. I'm being needlessly finnicky, as is my wont.

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  3. I don't have my copies of the Narnia books at hand, but I'm sure at least some of them had maps.

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  4. There is a map of the Mercury of The Worm Ouroboros from 1925, created by Gerald Hayes.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Worm_Ouroboros

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    1. Yes, I knew about that one, but does it still exist? I couldn't find an image of it anywhere.

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  5. The Well of the Unicorn, by Fletcher Pratt, was published in 1948. It has a map and is not set on Earth.

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    1. If the map is contemporary with publication, this is a very good candidate.

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    2. It is, to the best of my knowledge. The cartographer, Rafael Palacios, did maps for Pratt's Civil War histories.

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    3. Are there any copies if it online?

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  6. Thing is, the "it's Earth, therefore it doesn't count" idea falls apart when you consider that The Hobbit and the Middle-Earth cycle explicitly take place in a mythical prehistory of our world.

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    1. I know; that's why I excluded The Hobbit as a serious contender, even though its map is very early.

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  7. I think that you can count Barsoom, as Burroughs produced a couple of sketch maps for reference while writing, and did publish them. They inform Jeff Dee's article on reconciling Burroughs with the actual map of Mars, titled The Secret of Exum.

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    1. Thanks for that link. I don't believe I've ever seen it.

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    2. Withdrawn. Further investigation indicates that the maps weren't published until 1973, in Post's An Atlas of Fantasy.

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  8. There have been "maps" of hell based on Dante's Inferno, but you could probably argue that hell is more like a place instead of a world ... Whether you consider hell a place on earth is a different matter, of course :-)

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    1. Dante's Hell is explicitly inside the Earth (and Purgatory is exactly opposite Jerusalem on the globe, so it would be somewhere in the Americas by current reckoning).

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  9. Umberto Eco has written a book about the history of imaginary countries and places: "The Book of Legendary Lands" that lists many imaginary continents and places (most if not all of them outside the sphere of modern fantasy literature): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-Legendary-Lands-Umberto-Eco/dp/0857052969

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  10. First a slight correction - The Hobbit was published September 1937, 16 months after REH died in June 1936. So the maps are not from the same year. Very close together though.

    I would state that the maps in The Hobbit count. At least for the 17 years that it took for The Fellowship of the Ring to appear. Before Lord of the Rings was started the lands in The Hobbit was not intended as a part of Middle Earth. The Hobbit only entered the Middle Earth legendarium as Tolkien started and developed the sequel. Prior to the publishing of the sequel (17 years) it was Wilderland, not Middle Earth. Gandalf was just a Wizard. Gollum's ring was just a magic ring. Gollum was not obsessed with the ring. The Necromancer was not Sauron. In this case the map is the first map of a fantasy realm that was not the mythic past of our planet Earth.

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  11. Would Utopia count, for example, https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30320837294&cm_mmc=ggl-_-COM_Shopp_Rare-_-naa-_-naa&gclid=Cj0KCQjwoJX8BRCZARIsAEWBFMKowx4MXdw8cEhzSV9dDKP5_FxkWAqGmTIFPdoBQewNigaMQIJ1L-UaArCxEALw_wcB

    Completed in 1602.

    The idea to search for this came from The Fantasy Atlas by JB Post which is a great source of early maps.

    I think it would be excluded, but the oldest map in that book is of Eden from 776.

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  12. Oops, sorry, I skimmed to fast, you already excluded Utopia...

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    1. No worries. My criteria are, I am starting to think, needlessly persnickety.

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  13. What is the first Fantasy RPG map? It might be this: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/3168404/ironhedge-1st-5th-editions

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  14. I can make no claim to the first fantasy map in history, but in my personal experience it was the map of the Lands Beyond in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. This map was drawn by Jules Feiffer and was published in 1961.
    I'm very interested in what you find.

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