Maps in Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. Introduction
  2. Reading List
    1. Nonfiction
    2. Fiction
  3. Websites


For more than eight years, I ran The Map Room, a blog about maps. During that time, I became increasingly interested in the use of maps in fantasy and science fiction, which I’ve been reading my entire life. I suspended that blog in June 2011, but I haven’t abandoned my interest in maps. In fact, it’s opened up an opportunity for more in-depth work that the routine of daily blogging didn’t really allow.

So I’ve started working on a research project that combines two obsessions: SF and fantasy, and maps. (Being able to do that is all kinds of awesome sauce.) The end result of this project might be a few semi-scholarly articles, convention presentations, and who knows what else. At the moment, I’m focusing on building up some knowledge.

I’m interested in three questions:

  1. The history of map design in fantasy and science fiction literature: where does the classic fantasy novel map “look” come from, and how has it changed over time? (My working hypothesis is that current fantasy maps are the direct descendents of the work of children’s book illustrators like Pauline Baynes and E. H. Shepard.)

  2. A comparison of fantasy maps to their real-world equivalents: what, for example, do medieval maps look like compared to fantasy maps of a roughly analogous period? (So far, it seems that they have almost nothing in common with one another; a medieval map would probably be unrecognizable to a modern fantasy reader.)

  3. The use of maps within the stories themselves: as treasure maps, as portals, as symbols, as metaphors.

This page serves as the central hub for my studies. It’s constantly updated and revised as I Learn New Things. I’ll also post updates on my personal blog; see in particular the Maps category. Here are the relevant posts so far:

If you’re interested in this subject too, scroll down to the reading list. In addition, the following category archives from The Map Room will be helpful: Imaginary Places, Fiction About Maps (for item no. 3 above) and, for an understanding of pre-modern maps, Antique Maps and History of Cartography.

On the question of the history of cartography, the first three volumes of Harley and Woodward’s extremely expensive History of Cartography series are available for free online in PDF format.

Reading List


These are articles about the use of maps in fiction. In some cases they are, or contain, writers’ accounts of how they used maps in the creative process. If there’s something else out there I should be aware of, please let me know.

Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990.1

Cheney, Matthew. “Maps and Fantasy.” The Mumpsimus (blog), July 12, 2006. [My post]

Ekman, Stefan. “An Asian Age of Discovery — and a Lost Hand.” Mythotopes (blog), Dec. 26, 2010.

———. “What’s the Point of Mapping Imaginary Worlds?Mythotopes (blog), Feb. 3, 2010.

———. Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings. Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2013. [My post, my review]

Elliott, Kate. “Maps (and Miscellaneous).” But Enough About Me! (blog), July 4, 2012. [My post]

Harpold, Terry. “Verne’s Cartographies.” Science Fiction Studies 32, no. 1 (March 2005), pp. 18-42.

Jacobs, Frank. “509 - Magical Siberia: A Russian Take on Middle-earth.” Strange Maps (blog), April 11, 2011.

Johnson, Victoria. “The Maps We Wandered Into as Kids.” The Awl, Feb. 7, 2012. [My post]

Jones, Diana Wynne. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Rev. ed. New York: Firebird, 2006.

J�nsson, Johan. “The Reader and the Map.” Strange Horizons, July 10, 2006. [My post]

Kaveney, Roz. “Maps.” The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, John Clute and John Grant, eds. (1997; London: Orbit, 1999).

McCalmont, Jonathan. “The Aesthetics of Fantasy — Part One.” SF Diplomat (blog), February 25, 2007.

———. “The Aesthetics of Fantasy — Part Two.” SF Diplomat (blog), February 27, 2007.

Muehreke, Phillip C. and Juliana O. Muehreke. “Maps in Literature.” Geographical Review 64, no. 3 (July 1974), pp. 317-338.

Padr�n, Ricardo. “Mapping Imaginary Worlds.” Maps: Finding Our Place in the World, James R. Akerman and Robert W. Karrow Jr., eds. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 255-287.

Post, J. B. An Atlas of Fantasy. Rev. ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.

Renk, Thorsten. “Mapping Darkover.” Online essay, n.d.

SF Signal. “Mind Meld: Which Fantasy Maps Are Your Favorites?SF Signal, August 2011. [My post]

Sibley, Brian. “Mapping the Imagination.” Brian Sibley: His Blog (blog), October 1, 2006.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. “My First Book: Treasure Island.” The Idler 6 (August 1894).

Tam, Nicholas. “Here Be Cartographers: Reading the Fantasy Map.” Nick’s Caf� Canadien (blog), April 18, 2011. [My post]

To investigate

I haven’t seen these, but I’ve seen references or had them recommended to me. I don’t have easy access to university libraries (especially when it comes to old journals held in storage), so any help in obtaining copies of old articles would be, well, helpful.

Day, Frank W. “The Role and Purpose of the Map in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature.” M.A. thesis, Bowling Green State University, 1979.

Duane, Diane. “Cartography for Other Worlds: A Short Look at a Neglected Subject.” SFWA Bulletin 11, no. 5 (1976), pp. 10-14.

Ekman, Stefan. “Exploring the Maps of Secondary Worlds.” Paper presented at the 29th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, Orlando, Florida, March 19-22, 2008.

Hann, D. “Maps in Children’s Literature: Their Uses, Forms, and Functions.” M.A. thesis, California State University, Long Beach, 2008.

Hunt, Peter. “Landscapes and Journeys, Metaphors and Maps: The Distinctive Feature of English Fantasy.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 12, no. 1 (1987), pp. 11-14.

McDermott, Paul. “The Design of Fictional Maps.” Proceedings of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, Fall 1976, pp. 348-362.

Petel, Claude. “La Cartographie des ‘Voyages Extraordinaires.’” Bulletin de la Soci�t� Jules Verne 123 (1997), pp. 42-44.

Ranson, Clare. “Cartography in Children’s Literature.” Sustaining the Vision: Selected Papers from the Annual Conference of the International Association of School Librarianship (Worcester UK: International Association of School Librarianship, 1996), pp. 164-66.

Walker, R. C. “The Cartography of Fantasy,” Mythlore 7, no. 4 (1981), pp. 37-38.


These are short stories and novels that use maps in the course of the story, or that are stories about maps and cartography. If you know of a story like that and it’s not on this list, please let me know.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On Exactitude in Science.” (“Del rigor en la ciencia,” 1946.)

Boyczuk, Robert. The Book of Thomas, Volume One: Heaven. Toronto: ChiZine, 2012. [My post]

Cato, Beth. “Cartographer’s Ink.” Daily Science Fiction, August 24, 2012.

Cheney, Matthew. “A Map of the Everywhere.” Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing, Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, eds. (Easthampton MA: Small Beer Press, 2007), pp. 207-221. [My post]

Duncan, Andy. The Night Cache. Hornsea, UK: PS Publishing, 2009.

Goldstein, Lisa. Tourists. Rev. ed. New York: Tor Books, 1994.

Jasper, Michael and Niki Smith. In Maps and Legends. 2011. [My post]

Larsen, Reif. The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet. New York: Penguin, 2009.

Lopez, Barry. “The Mappist.” Light Action in the Caribbean (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), pp. 146-162. [My post]

Owen, James A. Here, There Be Dragons. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. [My post]

———. The Search for the Red Dragon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

———. The Indigo King. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

———. The Shadow Dragons. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

———. The Dragon’s Apprentice. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

———. The Dragons of Winter. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Parker, K. J. “Let Maps to Others.” Subterranean, Summer 2012. [My post]

Polanco Masa, Alejandro. El viaje de Argos Barcelona: Scyla, 2012. [My post]

Priest, Christopher. The Islanders. London: Gollancz, 2011.

Rowe, Christopher. “Another Word for Map is Faith.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 111, no. 2 (August 2006). [My post]

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. London: Cassell, 1883.

Swanwick, Michael. “The Dala Horse.”, July 2011. [My post]

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. London: Allen & Unwin, 1937.

Valente, Catherynne M. “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica.” Clarkesworld 20 (May 2008). [My post]

———. Palimpsest. New York: Bantam, 2009.

———. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2011.

Walton, Jo. Among Others. New York: Tor Books, 2011.

Wilson, Alex. “A Wizard of MapQuest.” Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 23 (November 2008).

Wolfe, Gene. “The Map.” Endangered Species (New York: Tor Books, 1989), pp. 20-36. [My post]

Yu, E. Lily. “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.” Clarkesworld 55 (April 2011). [My post]

Zelazny, Roger. Here There Be Dragons. (Hampton Falls NH: Donald M. Grant, 1992). [My post]

To investigate

I haven’t seen these yet: many are on this list mostly because the word “map” is in the title (yes, it was a sophisticated search) and may not actually have anything to do with this subject; others were suggested by people who know the field better than I do. I’ll track them down and see.

Ashley, Allen. “A Life in Maps.” The Third Alternative 13 (1997); Urban Fantastic (Crowswing Books, 2006).

Berg, Carol. Flesh and Spirit. New York: Roc, 2007.

———. Breath and Bone. New York: Roc, 2008.

Burchill, Julie. “A Map of the Heart.” The Time Out Book of London Short Stories.

Dung Kai-cheung. Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City. Trans. by Dung Kai-cheung, Anders Hansson, and Bonnie S. McDougall. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Cockayne, Steve. Wanderers and Islanders. London: Orbit, 2002.

———. The Iron Chain. London: Orbit, 2003.

———. The Seagull Drovers. London: Orbit, 2004.

Domingue, Ronlyn. The Mapmaker’s War. New York: Atria, 2013.

Flynn, Michael. The January Dancer. New York: Tor Books, 2008.

Gentle, Mary. Rats and Gargoyles. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1990.

Gilman, Felix. Thunderer. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2007.

———. Gears of the City. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2008.

Kelleghan, Fiona. “The Secret in the Chest: With Tests, Maps, Mysteries, and Intermittent Discussion Questions.” Realms of Fantasy 5, no. 1 (October 1998).

Kirstein, Rosemary. The Steerswoman. New York: Ballantine Del Rey, 1989.

———. The Outskirter’s Secret. New York: Ballantine Del Rey, 1992.

———. The Lost Steersman. New York: Ballantine Del Rey, 2003.

———. The Language of Power. New York: Ballantine Del Rey, 2004.

Lewis, D. F. “A Map of Memories.” Palace Corbie Eight (Merrimack Books, 1999).

Massey, Misty. “At Map’s End.” Rum and Rhinestones (Calgary AB: Dragon Moon Press, 2010).

Stackpole, Michael A. A Secret Atlas. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2006.

———. Cartomancy. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2006.

———. The New World. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2007.

Wilson, Robert Charles. “The Inner Inner City.” The Perseids and Other Stories (New York: Tor Books, 2000).


Fantastic Maps
The home page of fantasy/roleplaying cartographer Jonathan Roberts; includes much in terms of fantasy map design.

Fuck Yeah Fictional Maps
A tumblelog about fantasy, game and other imaginary maps.

The Maps from the Voyages Extraordinaires
A collection of maps from Jules Verne’s novels.

Acknowledgements and Thanks

Marie Bilodeau, Lila Garrott, Angela Aftanas Griffin, Zvi Gilbert, David G. Hartwell, Matthew Johnson, Marissa Lingen, Farah Mendlesohn, Emmet O’Brien, J. B. Post, Alison Sinclair, Michael Swanwick, Ren� Walling, Jo Walton, Dwight Williams.


  1. Card discusses mapmaking as part of the creative process.