More maps

Thank you, Sir Terry. Once more, you amaze and inspire me.


Reality catching up

I love how the beginning of Sourcery states:

“This book does not contain a map. Please feel free to draw your own.”

And about ten Discworld novels later, Pratchett realises that people have actually followed his advice and begun writing letters to him:

“Readers are perceptive. They notice little details. If a journey that takes someone three days in one book takes someone else two hours in another, harsh things get written. Irony is employed.” (The Discworld Mapp)

And this is still a far cry from the Discworld maps we have nowadays…


Stories within stories: The mapping of Discworld

Recently, I have read that some fantasy authors are afraid of providing maps for their worlds because once readers can follow the roads with their fingers, any mistake by the author will be met with angry fan mails.


Many promising authors died of sudden fan mail avalanches. Thankfully, e-mails are a bit less fatal.

The central argument of the chapter I read was that mapping fantasy worlds effectively means petrifying them. In the long run, any creative impulse will be measured against the maps that tell you where exactly your characters have to be, how long their dialogues may take and which seasonal clothing they ought to wear. The world becomes rigid, the author has to move within clear-cut borders.

I am of course exaggerating, since a good author knows ways to sneak past such borders. Even more, mapping does not have to be a corset for storytelling but can offer new means of expressing creativity. Not surprisingly, this is the point where Pratchett comes in, hands you the newest City Guide to Ankh-Morpork, checks out your bookshelves, and leaves again.


Victorian London just did a double take. 

Do you see the address in the large ad for Godber’s Glandular Trousers? 4 Tenth Egg Street, Ankh-Morpork? Well, this street exists. The Compleat Ankh-Morpork really is complete, as even the most dangerous back-alleys have been mapped in this City Guide. Okay, some of the shadier parts of the Shades are still obscure, but you can’t blame explorers for valuing their life higher than exact cartography.

What I’m getting at is this: Mapping Ankh-Morpork in ever-finer detail has not led to its petrification. In the last few years, the Discworld franchise has taken a turn to Neo-Victorianism and Steampunk, and Pratchett still manages to come up with fresh ideas as his world becomes more tangible to us – Raising Steam could be the next (Industrial?) revolution for the Discworld. And apart from the big stories covered in the novels, there are smaller stories like the picture above, telling a tale within the frame of its advertisement.

From big to smaller to small, or: Discworld in perspective

I think I never shared the structure of my thesis with you. So here it is in a very sketchy outline:

Part I: I look at what makes stories work and how they create worlds.

Part II: I look at Discworld and how it works as a set of layered stories.

Part III: I look at how Discworld is visualised and works as a world.

As you may have guessed, Part III is largely about maps. Maps like this: 


Or this:


Or this:


What’s interesting when looking at these maps is to keep in mind that Terry Pratchett in fact went from a very large scale (i.e. Rincewind and Twoflower travel across Discworld in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic) to a smaller region (Lancre with Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick in Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters) and finally focussed on the city of Ankh-Morpork (The City Watch in Guards! Guards!).  At least in the first ten Discworld novels or so.

Even though these maps did not develop in accordance with Pratchett’s approach to Discworld – the City map was the first, followed by the World map and the map of Lancre – I think it is a good idea to analyse them in a manner that goes from huge (world) to small (city). 

The comparatively hasty nature of this post is due to something I am planning. I can’t tell you yet, but stay tuned. Feel free to spam my ask box if the need arises.

PS: As a bonus, here’s the map of Death’s Domain. I never imagined his gardens to be so tidy. 


What I’ve been having fun with lately: The Carta Marina

I’m in this new seminar about early modern cartography, and it is nothing short of brilliant. Let me fill you in on the details:

Sebastian Münster was a German cartographer and author of the bestselling Cosmographia, a description and mapping of the world first released in 1545 in Basle, a Swiss city where I happen to live. And it really was a bestseller back in the day. This book sold thousands of copies for nearly a hundred years, which is huge for that time.


Harry Potter for the 16th century. Hippogriffs and dragons included.

But my real highlight so far is the Carta Marina, a map of Scandinavia and Northern Germany that was published in 1539. Go and lose yourself in its full, high-res glory here. This is cartography on acid. If the Atlantic ocean had really been haunted by all the creatures depicted on that map, Columbus would have been eaten, crushed or dragged to the bottom of the sea at least a dozen times on his journeys to America.


“Oh no, not another one of those! Turn the sails! Turn the sails!”

The Carta Marina is a goldmine for authors and illustrators searching for fantastic creatures. But we shouldn’t forget that while the oceans were surely a lot less crowded than early modern maps tell us, people still believed in such monsters. It might have been a whale or dolphins which the sailors saw, but in their eyes, these were dangerous creatures from the depths of myths. Not for long anymore, however.

Cartography began to change towards the end of the Middle Ages. Rationalism was taking over. People started trusting their minds more than their imagination. And the world was soon a mystery no more. 


According to the scientific method, unicorns shouldn’t exist. Thankfully, they don’t care.

Yet all the creatures and monsters that were banned from reality have found a new home in fantasy. It is where you can still find them, in the blank spots on the edges of our modern world maps. Pratchett and Gaiman and Rowling often go there. And if one of the roadside signs says “Here be dragons”, you’d better believe it this time.