New maps of Story

The Book of Errantry has some good advice for travellers in the Perilous Realm:

“If you ever get lost, remember: either your map is wrong, or the world is.”

Travel in the world of Story is more difficult than in most other places, and not just because scary things tend to happen more often in stories than in what we call the real world. The Great Unweaving, the Broken Years, and simple time and change themselves have altered the Realm, and it keeps on changing each day, much to the frustration and bafflement of people simply trying to get from one place to another.

Just ask the professional quester Mimling Hammersong:

“The Realm has always been tricky, changeable, but it’s getting worse. There’s almost nothing you can place trust in anymore. The rivers, hills, trees, even the stones…. One thing I knew was stone. Stone is reliable. It stays in one place and doesn’t wander off. Or it didn’t used to. But now the old landmarks, even entire mountains, they’re either somewhere they’re not supposed to be, or they’re just gone.” (from The Fathomless Fire, Chapter 7)

Producing accurate, up-to-date maps of such places, needless to say, has to be a nightmare for cartographers.

It’s true that some parts of Story have been very well mapped: there are fine maps that pinpoint the exact spot in London where Sherlock Holmes lives, or trace the voyage of the Pequod across the oceans in search of Moby Dick, or identify the shores and villages that Raven the Trickster visits as he travels the world of the Haida.

But there are some landscapes of Story that just don’t translate well to a fixed system of geographical coordinates, and maybe that’s just the way it should be. When we enter a story we create our own mental map of it, which we may find differs from that of some other traveler, or the “official” map. Sometimes we change the story as we go through it, and so the only reliable map is the one we construct in our own heads along the way.

In video game terminology, the word map is sometimes used in a special way, to refer to a level in the game, or the whole world of the game. That is, the map isn’t a chart you follow to help you play, it’s the world of the game itself. That might be a useful idea to think about maps of Story, too. A map is the “virtual” world that you build in your head as you travel through a story.

There’s said to be an atlas lost somewhere in the deepest, darkest corridors of the library of Fable, an atlas of blank pages. The maps that you draw in this atlas become real places. The map actually creates the world. 

More about maps in the next post ...

Image: World Wildlife Fund Zoomorphic Map, 


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