13 January 2007

Maps, Footnotes, and Other Historians' Fantasies

There are books on my reading table that together add up to 1,516 pages. Of those pages, over 141 are reference material, including:

  • 12 maps
  • multiple glossaries
  • multiple tables of names
  • footnotes
Are these the Revolutionary War history books that I study? No, of course not! Academic historians must beg for a budget that covers maps. And as for footnotes on the same page instead of endnotes stuck at the back of the book (if they're stuck in at all)--well, only Bartimaeus has the power to make that possible.

Yes, the books I've dissected are all fantasy novels for young readers:
And yes, each of these thick-enough-to-stand-in-a-high-wind books is also merely one installment in a series. There are thousands of more pages about these worlds on the shelves or in the works, quite possibly with hundreds of more pages of reference material. In fact, Monster Blood Tattoo started as notebooks of non-narrative reference material and only later turned novelistic (a journey I don't think it's completed with full success, but that's a topic for another day).

Creating a verisimilitudinous world is one of the joyous responsibilities of fantasy writers who set their stories in other universes. A map can ease that task and excite readers with the possibilities of life in that world beyond the borders of the book. But dictionary entries just aren't that much fun to read, especially when one must read them to understand a story, when they duplicate information in a story, or when they give away bits of the story--which some of these reference materials threaten to do. At the very least, they make the historian in me jealous.

One dissection of fantasy literature that reads exactly like a collection of dictionary entries--because it is--is Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland, republished last fall in trade paperback form. Originally that book was a mass-market paperback in the US, so it had to be reset and redesigned for this edition. It looks like that task was handled by a designer with the geographically evocative name of Tony Sahara.

Unfortunately, a major casualty of the shift to larger pages was the old-fashioned map in the first edition. It's been replaced with a mere thick-lined representation of a map, like something one would found on the back of a cereal box. No, no, no! Fantasy novel maps are crowded, antique affairs full of stippled mountains and far too little farmland. If this genre of fiction must include reference material, those pages should look right.


lemming said...

If I live to be 186 I will never forgive Ruth Plumley Thompson for reversing the Munchkin and Winkie countries, thus ensuring that all subsequent maps would get it wrong. Grrr.

J. L. Bell said...

To be fair to Thompson, the map she was working from, originally published in Tik-Tok of Oz, pointed right to the west and left to the east—opposite our standard. So after a few books she understandably began to picture Munchkinland, on the left side of the map, as in the west of Oz.

Thompson switched back to the original orientation for a couple of books, then put Munchkinland in the west again. And at some point the publisher Reilly & Lee, which hadn't helped her by correcting her errors, reissued the map of Oz with its compass in the usual format, thus reinforcing what Thompson's latest books were saying.

The Int'l Wizard of Oz Club publishes maps with the proper compass orientation, Munchkinland in the east, and locations from all of the Oz books and Baum's related fantasies laid out. It's a masterpiece of speculative cartography.

lemming said...

Thanks for the linked suggestion - I have been looking for a proper map, one of a size that I could copy, color in and keep on hand for reference, for quite a while. I'd found an Atlas of fictional places, which had a lovely map for the countries around OZ, but reversed the two, and was most frustrated.

J. L. Bell said...

The Oz Club maps are about ledger size (11x17 inches), and come in glorious color already. I hope that fits your wish list.

Also, Books of Wonder sells a "Wonderful World of Oz" poster by Dick Martin that gives an overview of the country (with Munchkinland properly in the east) in the style of some other classic storyland posters.