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Maps

I’ve always loved maps. When very young, as a Christmas present, I was given a very sturdy jigsaw puzzle of North America. I spent a lot of time playing with it, the result being I knew (and still know) the names and location of every U.S. state and Canadian province.

Somewhat later, my Scottish godparents sent me a 1965 edition of the Complete Reader’s Digest Atlas of the British Isles (naturally I still have it). I love every aspect of this atlas, especially the details on the origins of place names, dialects, folklore, animal and bird habitats, regional building styles and population trends. The only thing missing were national election results, which would – in my eyes, at least – have made the book perfect.

About the same time, for my own amusement, I began writing stories and making up worlds and their histories. I created a mythical kingdom in Eastern Europe. The place lay somewhere in the Balkans between what was Yugoslavia and what is still Romania, an area of the world which (since World War 1) has not only been a region of conflict, competing interests and changing borders but also remains to those of us in North America a rather mysterious and exotic place.

I created an entire storyline for this imaginary country, with lines of succession, a sociological and cultural history and, naturally, a map of the place and its neighbours. Unlike many of my collections of memorabilia, that creation, unfortunately, has completely disappeared.

My interest in maps and atlases has never waned. I have a large assortment now, only limited by my wife’s desire to keep my book collection within reason. Besides the Atlas of the British Isles, I have a National Geographic Atlas of the World, a Collins Atlas of 20th Century History, a DK Atlas of World History, The London Times Atlas of the Second World War, a 1991 Hammond Historical World Atlas and an Eyewitness Atlas of the World (bought for my son when he was young).

I also have four wonderful antique or vintage books filled with maps.

One is Henry Drummond’s Tropical Africa (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1889), given as a “Prize for Neatness” to my father’s great-aunt, Millicent Phillips, “given by The Misses Beak” at Christmas, 1890 (Montague House School Weymouth stamped on the leather-bound cover). Here is a copy of an American edition, held at the Library of Congress.

The second is an 11th edition of A New And Easy Introduction To Universal Geography; In A Series of Letters to a Youth at School by the Rev R. Turner (London, Collins, 1803).

The other two are guides for the early tourist: Cook’s Traveller’s Handbook for Holland (London: Thomas Cook & Sons, 1913) and Bacon’s Up To Date Atlas and Guide To London (London, G.W. Bacon & Co, 1938), which my father must have used during his time in England during World War II.

In 1980, I purchased an 18th century map of the Caribbean (“An Accurate Map of the Caribby Islands, with the Crowns, etc., to which they severally belong” by T. Kitchin, Geogr.), which I purchased when about to head off on a posting to Barbados. Thomas Kitchin (1718-84), an English engraver and prolific cartographer who became hydrographer to King George III, wrote a history of the West Indies, entitled “The Present State of the West Indies: Description of What Parts are Possessed by the Several Powers in Europe“. It would seem – from its title – that my map would have accompanied the work.

I also acquired a “Vietnam Conflict Map” printed at the height of the Vietnam War (1966/7) and an 8th edition of the London Daily Mail Special Map of the Boer Republics (“to illustrate the Present Crisis in the Transvaal”) from 1899, the latter inherited from my grandfather who served in the British army and local constabulary during this era (1895-1907).

But my pride and joy is the magnificent and comprehensive three-volume Historical Atlas of Canada published by the University of Toronto Press in 1990. These three atlases covered every aspect of Canada’s discovery economic growth, political changes, cultural, immigration, transportation, resource and industrial development, urbanization, etc. from original settlement by First Nations well into the mid 20th century (1961, to be exact).

Naturally, much has changed in the past 50 years, in terms of politics, attitudes and knowledge about the country. High time for a Volume 4, I’d say, to bring us up to date.

The map for The Ravenstones series was created for me by a friend, Sean Carrigg, a graphic designer who lived near Vancouver. Sean interpreted my rather rough design for this imaginary world and was good enough to put up with the many changes that I inevitably requested.

Maps are incredibly important in the fantasy genre, especially where one is creating an entirely new (and often complex) world. My goal was to do something like the one J. R. Tolkien used for Lord of The Rings (LOTR). in my view, the LOTR map was superb in every way – from the font used in the lettering, to the coloring and to the depiction of forests and mountains. It was, in sum, far more sophisticated and detailed than the modest one I’m using. To get everything in, it also covered two pages.

Perhaps I can come up with another, more elaborate design for The Ravenstones in the months to come, and by the time Volumes 6 and 7 are in print, another map focusing on central Aeronbed and the northern borders of Heimborn, where the final action in the series is concentrated.

It was Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who produced the original map for LOTR. Christopher, a skilled cartographer, died earlier in 2020 at the age of 95 (see the tribute by Jonathan Crowe on Tor.com, the SF/Fantasy online magazine that has been celebrating the genre since 2008).

Mr. Tolkien was overly modest about his work, noting that the map of Middle Earth was rushed to meet publication deadlines and contained errors that needed correcting later. In my view, he needn’t have apologized – it set the standard for much that followed.

In passing, let me give a huge shout-out to Jonathan Crowe. If any reader wants to know more about fantasy maps and their history, I’d highly recommend Mr. Crowe’s excellent series on the subject on Tor.com. And finally, I should add that not only does Mr. Crowe write articulate and comprehensive posts on the history of maps on Tor.com, he also produces, manages and writes The Map Room blog, a site about all things maps, from collecting to geospatial technology.

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