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An Atlas of Great Literary Maps


A celebration of literary cartography, a book collects the maps which had hitherto existed only in books...

All literature may really be a sort of cartography; a collection of the blueprints of our inner lives. Within these maps, sometimes, there are still other maps. And perhaps this imaginary space is as important as the real world. The history of literature is after all replete with narratives in which spaces —cities, kingdoms, countries— are as important as any character (and spaces often constitute characters in themselves). They become, in fact, more real than reality. A celebration of these disembodied topographies, a new book is dedicated to the maps that of literature, The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones.

Some places in literature are simply impossible, like the invisible cities described by Italo Calvino, or the imaginary regions portrayed by Borges in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. There are also places which exist in our own reality, but which are reinvented in books, like the Dublin of James Joyce, or the woods at Walden Pond as portrayed in Thoreau’s poems, to name but a few. In the long tradition of literary cartography there are also writers who, in fact, made maps within their books, like those of Middle-Earth in the books J. R. R. Tolkien. Some of these places are the objects of The Writer’s Map.

Lewis-Jones’ book offers an opportunity to explore the lands of the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and, of course, the many regions and kingdoms that make up Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The book also contains several essays on literary cartography by both writers and cartographers. “For some writers,” writes Lewis-Jones, “making a map is absolutely central to the craft of shaping and telling their tale.” For others, maps allow one to avoid paragraphs and paragraphs of spatial descriptions.

One thing that unites writers whose maps are included in this volume is a love of the imagination, and for fantasy. Some maps were included in the published books while others come from the notebooks and private annotations of the authors. Such treasures included are Tolkien’s map of Mordor, drawn on graph paper, maps of Narnia from C. S. Lewis’s notebooks, and one from Jack Kerouac route from On the Road.

Literary spaces fascinate us because they offer the possibilities of real places, regardless of whether or not they offer para-literary elements or if they are entirely at one with the text. Such places, made of words, stimulate the imagination in ways even still unsuspected.

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