I have to be honest with you, dear reader: I, an adult woman, love those
maps in the front of fantasy novels. Sorry. I just love them. Give me those little triangle mountains surrounding the ruined Citadel of E'rroth, man. I'm all about it. So if you, like me, are an otherwise reasonable person who geeks out over small line drawings of imaginary nation states, here are some of the best maps from fantasy books.
Many fantasy writers, like the
brilliant N. K. Jemisin, prefer a map-free novel, and that's fine. I get that maps can spoil the plot sometimes (gee, do you think our heroes will find trouble along the Demon Pass?). And they can limit the reader's imagination. And they can feel a little silly, if you're insecure about your adult reading habits. But I don't care. I want those little squiggly lines signifying the Swamp of Sorrow. I want to see the Lands Beyond that run right off the end of the page. I want to be able to track our heroes quest and then calculate the miles they've traveled based on the approximate time it takes them to get from one city to another by foot.
No shame, fellow map lovers. Here are some of the best maps fantasy has to offer.
Middle Earth from 'The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien
But of course. The mother of all fantasy maps. The style of the
Middle Earth map varies a bit depending on which edition of the books you're reading (and there are some very detailed maps of Middle Earth out there online). But Tolkien's original map practically invented all the fantasy map cliches. It's gorgeous, detailed, vaguely European, and it uses those cute lil' triangle mountains.
Earthsea from 'The Earthsea Cycle' by Ursula K. Le Guin
The map of Earthsea might not be the easiest to read—check out the adorable
version that Ursula K. Le Guin drew for more detail. But this map gets several extra points for its beautifully illuminated style (look at that little wind dude!), and for not being based on freakin' Europe. And with so many islands in the Earthsea archipelago, you definitely need this map to orient you throughout the series.
Land of Oz from 'Tik Tok of Oz' by L. Frank Baum
OK, so... maybe this is not the "best" map of a fantasy world, but it was certainly one of the first. Decades before J.R.R. Tolkien first doodled Mirkwood Forest, L. Frank Baum was publishing
Tik Tok of Oz, which featured this brightly colored, deeply confusing map of Oz and the surrounding lands (where's my spin-off series about the "Vegetable Kingdom"?). Notice that "East" and "West" are reversed on the compass, because Oz is kooky like that.
Fiction Island from 'One of Our Thursdays is Missing' by Jasper Fforde
Fiction Island is the place where all your favorite books came from. In Jasper Fforde's
Thursday Next series, select non-fictional people are able to jump "into" literature and travel to the BookWorld, a sort of "behind the scenes" place where literary characters live together in relative harmony. All of fiction now resides on Fiction Island, and you can hop on a train from one genre to the next.
Fantasyland from 'The Tough Guide to Fantasyland' by Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones'
Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a loving send up of the fantasy genre, with a map to match. The map of Fantasyland includes classic staples of every fantasy realm, like the "Forest of Doom," the "Dark Citadel," the "Death Mountains" and lots of place names involving apostrophes. As Jones puts it, "the Map is useless, but you are advised to keep consulting it."
Narnia from 'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis
The maps in the actual, physical Narnia books are a bit of a tease. In most editions, each book only shows a tiny corner of the Narnia map, so you have to piece them all together to get an idea of Narnia as a whole (also, apparently Narnia is just one country and the Narnia planet contains other countries as well??). Check out illustrator
Pauline Baynes' website for a larger map of Narnia, complete with floating lion head.
Discworld from 'The Discworld Mapp' by Terry Pratchett
As we all know, Discworld is a flat planet on the back of a turtle, held up by several elephants. Terry Pratchett didn't bother with printing a tiny map in each and every one of his
Discworld books, though. Instead, he published an entire book entitled The Discworld Mapp, to give Discworld the full-on atlas it deserves. The book includes a detailed map of Discworld's distinctly nonsensical geography.
The Lands Beyond from 'The Phantom Tollbooth' by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth features one of the most educational fantasylands of all time. The Lands Beyond are a strange jumble of fantasy tropes and math puns, as captured in the simple-yet-clever map. Features include the Doldrums, the Sea of Knowledge, and the island Conclusions (you can jump there).
Florin and Guilder from 'The Princess Bride' by William Goldman
The Princess Bride covers a lot less area than some of these sweeping fantasy epics, but the map of Florin and Guilder is still one of the most beautiful and intricately detailed of the fantasy maps. You can track our heroes from their picnic by the ravine in Guilder all the way to the Zoo of Death in Florin.
Westeros and Essos from 'A Song of Ice and Fire' by George R.R. Martin
Look, I have my quarrels with the TV adaptation of
Game of Thrones (where the HELL is Lady Stoneheart?), but I have to hand to them: they kept the map in the beginning. And it's pretty darn close to the map from the books, just with much more dramatic music. If you're interested in the kind of painfully detailed map that makes reading a fantasy book feel like studying for a high school history test, then George R.R. Martin can't be beat. Also, there's an interactive Westeros and Essos map online, with spoiler control. You can view multiple different character paths. Someone needs to take this away from me or I'm not getting anything else done today.