Blog – Of Cartographers and Kings

Middle-Earth, Narnia, Alera, Malazan, Westeros… all of them worlds the true fan dares enter with a degree of confidence: he knows these worlds and their inhabitants. He speeks the language, knows the way. It other words: this is where he feels at home.

A lot of readers of fantasy share in this experience: gargantuan works of fantasy, no matter how many names they hurl at you, do not succeed in overwhelming you, in putting you off. This goes not only for the number of characters – Jordan, Martin, I’m looking at you guys – but also the sheer amount of topographical knowledge necessary for a precise reading and understanding of these books. Without them, you would not only fail to grasp the extent and twists and turns of the journeys the protagonists undertake, but also miss out on the socio-economic, cultural and climatological differences and polarisations that make a made-up world feel real. It’s a lot, it’s detailed, it’s often as much as or more than your average map of a common continent.

And yet… and yet the serious fan of fiction gobbles up this information. I remember, as a ten-year-old, the enormous difficulties I faced in trying to memorise European capitals, yet at the same time completely embracing, understanding and remembering the exact locations of Emyn Muil and Lebennin. Part of this stems from applicability – Sorry, Bratislava, but you and I have never met. In Rohan, on the other hand, I would generally stay for the weekend every other year – but another part of it is closely connected to one of the most fantastical aspects of your average fantasy book: the map.

Tolkien’s quintessential map to Middle-Earth, Martin’s practically piecemeal world of Ice and Fire, or Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles, presented in fragments… all of these maps offer the reader an enthusiastic acquaintance with the world he or she will be staying in during the reading of the book. Part reading aid, part ornament, part figurehead for the book in question.

When I started writing The Wanderers I knew I wanted my book to have a map. Not just because the epic scope of the writing demanded it, but also because, for me, a book without a map simply wouldn’t do.

There was a map – of course – from the days when The Wanderers still was a Dungeons & Dragons-campaign. This map, however, was comprised of little more than a series of loose lines and suggested outlines. Aside from the fact that this was the esthetical equivalent to a pile of garbage, it lacked structure. And so I started working on a more fleshed-out version, as seen below.

This did not prove easy: whereas, in the roleplaying campaign, I had been able to give only those places relevant to the plot, I know had to set up a world that felt complete on a macroscopic level. There were uncharted regions to explore, in the swampy south, mountainous north and rocky west. And as not to present my readers with barren flats, I turned to brainstorming about the different climates, cultures and histories that either connect or seperate these various regions. How to make every location feel unique, and yet also a convincing part of a wider Realm?

At the same time this map is not complete: the geographical contours are a given, but the only places noted therein are those the main characters visit, as well as the landmarks any citizen in the Realm would instinctly recognize: the Norholds, Respite and, of course, Dragon Spire.

I now had a map, but wisely decided to hand over fabrication of the definite map to a man far more capable: cover artist Ruben Mols gave me not one, but two exquisite maps! After completing a map of Arnos, he also delivered on a detailed representation of Cross Stone, the cornerstone city of the Realm, safely wedged beneath the outrunner of the Edge Mountain Range. You can admire the result of his work on that first map here:

Finally, I wanted my map to have something truly unique. Something to set it apart from the myriads of maps and cartographical canon already presented in so many books. Something that bore with it that tone – humorous, slightly sardonic – that runs throughout The Wanderers. And this is what I came up with:

What if this was the map used by our heroes themselves?

And that turned out a rather fruitful line of inquiry:

See the folds that hint at the extensive use of this map…

…the subtle, always loving sneers at one another…

…and, lastly, the reaction of the much appreciated captain of the company!

Want to know more about The Wanderers? Click here!

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