My last post about young writing projects turned my mind towards thinking about another small obsession of mine: maps. Historical maps, speculative maps, fantasy maps. There’s something about maps that fired my imagination as a child and still does today.
Maps are fascinating artefacts. For all their claims to representing the real world, they’re just as surely artistic endeavours that result from a series of choices made on the part of the cartographer; choices like naming and colour and notation. Like writing, maps embed narratives, can suggest stories. A medieval mappa mundi marries geography and chronology in a weird symbolic system that takes whole scholarly monographs to sort out. The map on an overleaf in a fantasy novel is an enticement and a promise and a one-glance summary. Maps can do all sorts of things.
I doubt my early efforts exploited all of them.
I drew pages and pages of maps when I was in Elementary School. I still have some of them, stowed away in a white binder, which are the ones I’m going to share. Far more are lost. I loved drawing maps back then just as much as I loved…well, drawing. I think it really started with an old atlas of the ancient world I got my hands on in Grade Five, filled with beautiful maps of the Hittite Empire and Egypt and Assyria. That led to me borrowing all sorts of historical atlases from the library, and it surely led to this:
…probably copied from somewhere. I know just as soon as I discovered historical atlases, I discovered ancient and medieval maps of the world. I’d peg this one as me, at age ten.
And I seemed to have come up with my own mappa mundi a couple of years later, completely ignorant of the principles behind such a map. I just liked the world-contained-in-a-circle design.
I included this in my Grade 8 time capsule to be opened when I reached Grade 12. I can only assume I must’ve been just as proud of it at thirteen as I was when I was twelve.
In Grade 6 I went through a post-apocalyptic phase that led to all sorts of crazy future scenarios, in which I became quite adept at drawing continental outlines. Or, y’know, just traced them out of an Atlas.
Gnomes and dwarves were obvious nuclear mutations, eh?
And that novel I wrote when I was twelve? I had a map for it too.
There is an even odder leftover from my younger days, a notebook from when I was ten outlining the history of a civilization from its beginnings on the planet “Onacivasif” to its conquest of a galactic empire. The early pages include this highly simplistic map;
I know the world’s history went through at least one more iteration in another notebook when I was eleven, that I made at least one vastly more complicated wall map at age twelve, the world continuing to mutate until, at age sixteen, I drew this:
Of course, the only relationship was the (not so great) planetary name. The adventures set to take place in this world were vastly different from the ones set out for that one, and the only vast historical timeline was embedded in the lines of the map. The rough geography came from an aborted novel from Grade 7, the map itself was for an unfinished novel I started in Grade 11 which only took place in a tiny corner of it.
It was strange rediscovering this map in particular, which I’d forgotten about, because I realized some of the names and features survived into my latest work, along with three character names from that dead novel. Some things stick with you, over the years, waiting to actualize. I guess bits and pieces of this map were one of them.
Of course a map would do that to me.
Of course it would.