In the last post I wrote about the maps that from the perspective of a person living nowadays are imaginary, because they visualize wrong and distorted information or consist of images that today we would describe as fairylike. However, these maps are the important historical source to analyze and they are an overview of the concept of the world people had in the past. There are also a great source of inspiration. In this post I would like to reflect on maps created with the purpose of being imaginary. Those maps serve as illustrations to fictional stories and non existant literary lands.
Ancient mappe of Fairyland
Fig. 1. Sleigh, B. (1918) An Anciente Mappe of Fairy Land newly discovered and set forth. [image] Available at: link (Accessed on 17 Nov. 2018)
mapped out by Bernard Sleigh in 1918 is a great example of an otherworldly place that make the viewer dream and wonder about what stories this land could be telling (fig.1. shows the whole image and fig.2. – a fragment). The illustration is filled with different characters that one can know from children tales and fables. I found it very entertaining to look at the picture with a closer view and analyzing whether some places or some protagonists are familiar to me. I passed through Red Riding Hood’s house, Peter Pan’s Never-Never Land, the Snow Queen and cheerful Humpty Dumpty. The author also put some descriptions of what is happening in a particular spot located on the map – such as ‘Here Cinderella liveth with her Prince
’ or ‘Here Perseus saves Andromeda
’ and my favourite one – ‘Tom Thumb is somewhere here but he is too small to draw
Fig. 2. Sleigh, B. (1918) An Anciente Mappe of Fairy Land newly discovered and set forth. – detail [image] Available at: link (Accessed on 17 Nov. 2018)
Everything is depicted in dreamy pastel colours and so it looks idyllic as if nothing bad
has ever happened there. It gives the impression of a perfect land, so picturesque and peaceful. Yet, if we put this image into historical context, considering the time when it was painted, it gives us another way to perceive it. The map was created at the end of the first world war. Devasted cities, destroyed houses and families, suffering and ambience of loss and pain are the strong contrast to this fantasy land presented by B. Sleigh. I was wondering how people back then looked at that map – Did they feel comforted? Encouraged? Did it brought good memories of their childhood? It is a nostalgic thought but, from my point of view, it made my experience of watching the image even more interesting and mesmerizing.
Fig. 3. Hess, J. (1930) The Land of Make Believe. [image] Available at: link (Accessed on 17 Nov. 2018)
The map of Fairyland drawn by Sleigh inspired a whole generation of artists. His influence can be seen for instance in the painting created by Jaro Hess, a czech artist known for his unique and vibrant imagination. Fig. 3. represents the map he painted in 1930 showing, similarily to the work of Sleigh, all the fairytales united in the single place – ‘The Land of Make Believe’
. Looking through the picture, one can find Hansel and Gretel standing in front of the Gingerbread House, the Emerald City of Oz and the Sleeping Beauty who sleeps in her castle. The visualisation of this dreamy land is far less picturesque than the Fairyland’s projection – Hess used darker colours and strong contours. He also decided to settle the scenery at night which can make us think about the darker side of all those stories. It is noteworthy to remember that a lot of tales known by today’s generations are the ones adapted by Disney movies. They show us happy endings and the victory of ‘good’ over ‘bad’. Evidently, we forget about the original tales, far more cruel and terrifying, that were fundamental for creating these animations. While studying ‘The Land of Make Believe’
I had the impression that the author wanted the viewer to reflect on this darker side of well-known stories. He points out that Sleeping Beauty still sleeps in the cursed castle and we can only suppose that maybe Prince haven’t arrived yet. In the drawing Cinderella lives in the little wooden house, probably still with her stepmother and stepsisters and Hansel and Grettel are about to encounter the cruel witch. Hess’s art is thought-provoking and non-obvious. The piece I really like is called The Jungle II
(fig. 4.), painted with vibrant but subdued colours. It reflects the mysterious atmosphere, hard to explain and that represents the unknown. The jungle he depicts is filled with confusion caused by a great amount of different animals and wild plants, some of them looking unreal and dreamlike.
Fig. 3. Hess, J. (circa 1968) The Jungle II. [image] Available at: link (Accessed on 17 Nov. 2018)
The two examples of the maps that I described are undeniable pieces of art – they stimulate our imagination and they provide a commentary to the stories that everyone knows. We look in a different manner at the maps created for the purpose of being an explanation for the plot of the book. We analyze them, sometimes as we read along in order to understand what is happening. Some stories are much more interesting when they are represented by the map where we can follow what protagonists are doing. As an accurate example, we can think of Lord of The Rings
and the Map of Middle Earth
created by J.R.R. Tolkien. The projection of the land described in his trilogy helps the reader to understand the journey Frodo had to pursue. One can clearly see how difficult it was and what challenges he had to face. From my point of view, the map was also crucial for the author to create the book. Firstly, Tolkien had to imagine the land he wanted his protagonists to live and travel in. The descriptions of that land had to be precise and accurate so that the book could be understandable. About the importance of creating the maps in order to write a novel, I read in the article written by David Mitchell called ‘Start with the Map – A writer’s lessons in imaginary cartography.’.
Mitchell is a writer known for creating the ‘Cloud Atlas
’, the book I truly appreciate. In the article, he explains the similarities between the writer’s and the cartographer’s mind. He points out that map-making is an important process while imagining the plot of the next novel. He writes:
‘While none of the novels I’ve published as a writer contain maps, my notebooks are littered with them. Scenes (or suites of scenes) need spaces to happen in. What those spaces look like, and what is in them, can determine how the action unfolds. They can even give you ideas for what unfolds. This is why mapmaking and stage-sketching can be necessary aspects of writing.’ (Mitchell, 2018)
The article caught my attention, because it have never crossed my mind before that the way imaginary cartography helps an author to create a story can also be crucial for an illustrator. Understanding the writer’s way of thinking can be an effective guidance to illustrate that story. Therefore, creating imaginary maps is a valuable skill to learn regarding the profession of illustration.
Mitchell, D. (2018). Start With the Map – A writer’s lessons in imaginary cartography. The New Yorker, [online] Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/start-with-the-map [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].
jarohess.wordpress.com, (2017). Jaro Hess (1889 – 1977). [online] Available at: https://jarohess.wordpress.com/biography/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
britishfairies.wordpress.com, (2018). British Fairies. A site studying and discussing British fairy lore. [online] Available at: https://britishfairies.wordpress.com/tag/jaro-hess/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
geographicus.com, (2018). Geographicus. Rare Antique Maps. [online] Available at: https://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AncientMappeofFariyland-sleigh-1918 [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].