Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mapping Imaginary Places, Part 2

My own obsession with mapping the imaginary probably dates to my obsession with the Hugh Lofting book The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, and the description of how the doctor and his assistant, Tommy Stubbins, choose the destination for their voyage:

It was a tense and fearful moment--but very thrilling. We both had our eyes shut tight. I heard the atlas fall open with a
bang. I wondered what page it was: England or Asia. If it should be the map of Asia, so much would depend on where that
pencil would land. I waved three times in a circle. I began to lower my hand. The pencil-point touched the page.

"All right," I called out, "it's done."

We both opened our eyes; then bumped our heads together with a crack in our eagerness to lean over and see where we were to go.

The atlas lay open at a map called, Chart of the South Atlantic Ocean. My pencil-point was resting right in the center of a tiny
island. The name of it was printed so small that the Doctor had to get out his strong spectacles to read it. I was trembling
with excitement.

"Spidermonkey Island," he read out slowly. Then he whistled softly beneath his breath.

This was something like 1970, I think. We were living in Manila, where my father was posted with the US Foreign Service, and I'd just come back from home leave with a supermarket paperback edition of The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle. And reading about the blindfold-and-atlas game, I had to have my own atlas. I have it still.

It was partly the maps in the beginning of A Wizard of Earthsea that inspired me in the early 1970s to begin the book that became The Spellkey. It started not with words, but with the map of an archipelago. I had hoped the book would feature its own map, but by the time it was published in the late 1980s the economics of children's book publishing made it difficult to dress most books up with the kind of maps that graced my editions of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis.

I'm grateful to Radiogirl for alerting me to this traveling exhibit of maps, "Maps: Finding Our Place in the Wold," coming to Baltimore's Walters Art Museum, and be sure to check out her own wonderful shop, The Interimaginational Institute for Fantastical Exploration and Cartography over at Etsy.

Shown: London during the Great Exhibition of 1851
by George Shove
ca. 1851; printed map on leather
The National Archives, U.K.
Fashion and map aficionados alike will enjoy this map of London on a glove created for the 1851 Great Exhibition.

[OK, London is not an imaginary place, but how cool is a MAP ON A GLOVE?!?!?!!!!]


  1. I was excited to see a part 2 to your post (I found you the other day and again now through a Google alert for "imaginary maps") and now I am tickled to see my own name... Thank you for the link.

    I wish I could pinpoint where my obsession with maps started. I think it must have been National Geographic; I plastered my bedroom ceiling with maps when I was about ten and I used to write away to travel bureaus and consulates for their tourist brochures, which I stockpiled in my closet.

    On a side note, I'm very much enjoying reading your blog; it's overflowing with the magic of reading.

  2. So glad you're enjoying it...I've been doing this since last May, and so far few comments. Glad to have connected with a fellow fan of imaginary places. And I will have to scan some of my son's maps and send them to you... I think you'd get a kick out of them.