There is a long tradition of accompaniment maps in fantasy novels, and as a whole, I have to admit to a love of those maps. Now, I’m a geologist by trade and a very visual-spatial person, so this is no surprise. Before I could even read words, a book of maps could keep me occupied for hours and little has changed in the decades since. So, while I love maps, I feel that no fantasy book needs them – and if one does, that book is fundamentally flawed.
I’ll happily admit to flipping often to maps of continents, countries, and cities when reading the likes of Tolkien, Jordan, Martin and Erikson. I’ll also admit to craving a map when reading someone like Pratchett (whose take on maps I fully support) and to finding maps both useless and pointless (see Scott Lynch’s books). But, I have to say, particularly in the case of Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, readers who are demanding a map, seem to be missing the point.
As Joe indicates in his discussion of maps, they can be distracting and take away from the direction the reader should be looking in. It doesn’t matter where they are – Logen Ninefingers doesn’t have map – the point is who they are and what they are doing. Abercrombie’s efforts are to focus on the characters – not the big picture. Rather than taking the larger, world-view, he is intent on showing a few people caught up in it all. To be worrying about where the characters are physically located in relation to each other and the rest of the world is really missing the point.
I’ll continue to love maps and I’ll continue to love books with and without maps. I’ll loathe the first book I read that depends on its map and I’d happily enjoy an Abercrombie book with a map. But let’s not loose the focus – a map is just an extra that may actually be a hindrance – it’s the words that matter.
Now, what are your thoughts on maps?