Ever since I was little, I’ve been something of a map nerd. When we’d go to the library, I’d head to the reference section and page through the giant world atlases, with their close-ups of foreign countries. I’d stare at the maps of East and West Germany and trace the border wall that separated the two. I’d look at Australia, with its myriads of small towns with funny names, and my favorite was the smattering of tiny islands and atolls that dotted the Pacific Ocean, each one mysterious, tropical, and beguiling.
It’s no wonder then that I gravitated towards fiction that included maps. I’m a life-long science fiction and fantasy fan, and one of my favorite parts is cracking open a new book or series and looking at the topography of imaginary worlds. Maps are grounding features for me — it helps give my imagination a little boost as I read, especially for sprawling worlds with disparate and far flung locales.
That said, not all fantasy maps are created equal! Some are well-conceived and thought-out, while others seem like mere afterthoughts, doodles on a napkin rather than detailed expressions of the plot. So today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite — and least favorite — fantasy maps. The category headers are links that will take you to the maps themselves.
I spent literally hours as a youth staring at this map while reading (and re-reading) Ursula LeGuin’s masterful Earthsea series. Archipelagos are fascinating to me to begin with, but this map has an amazing level of detail. Each island in the series is unique, and the vast majority of them go unexplored, leaving them to the readers’ imagination. LeGuin drew this map herself and each named blob is a little world with their own culture and people. I want a book that has detailed histories for each island.
No Tottenham players reached the giddy heights of the Earthsea Archipelago.
N.K. Jemisin is on record as saying she doesn’t like using maps in her fantasy fiction, but her Broken Earth Trilogy is so reliant on geology for its magical system (and literal world-shattering events) that one is helpful and wise. I’ve never before seen a map that includes depictions of tectonic plates, but trust me, it’s extremely appropriate for this series. Also, you should all read it.
Harry Kane: All in all, Kane was Tottenham’s best player — outstanding in the first half, and seemed to suffer the least in the second half downturn out of any of Spurs’ starting XI. Eight shots and a goal in this match, and probably should’ve had more.
Steven Erikson doesn’t hold your hand in his Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Instead, he drops you from the get-go right into the middle of the story and you either sink or swim. Likewise with his maps — they are incredibly useful for keeping track of where various characters are but not once does he give you a vision of the entire world, only small slices. The Malazan world map (informally referred to as “Wu”) was pieced together by fans gleaning the shapes, relative sizes, and positions of the continents on the scant clues provided by the books. The linked map is of Seven Cities from the second book in the series, “Deadhouse Gates,” and it is wonderful.
Dele Alli: Welcome back, Dele. He was utterly fantastic in the first half, working well with Eriksen and Kane and reminding us what a good Spurs offense is really like. Faded badly in the second half, but it’s not his fault he wasn’t subbed off when he should’ve been. His first half performance keeps me optimistic for the remainder of the season.
Map nerds have PLENTY of problems with the Westerosi map, mostly due to GRRM’s supposed attention to detail and the map’s topography not making a lick of sense in that context. But if you’re not especially picky, there’s a lot to like here — varied climate, lots of places for castles and holdfasts to hide, and a lot of craggy shoreline that looks like... well, a continental shoreline. It also gives a good indication of how big this world is. It’s far from perfect, but it’s at least interesting and fits with the overall story that Martin wants to tell. I’m a fan.
Moussa Sissoko: Did his usual run around a lot and try hard thing, and it was mostly good. Pretty good passing, three tackles, one blocked shot. Not bad!
Christian Eriksen: Played in the first half as though he had a mind-meld with Kane and Dele, but as soon as Dele and Dier’s effectiveness trailed off, so did his. He has seemed to struggle a bit when asked to carry the entire weight of the team’s creative burden, but still had four created chances in this match, three in the second half.
Eric Dier: Dier looked GREAT for the opening 45 minutes (this is a theme in these ratings) but is clearly not 90 minutes fit and was on the pitch for too long. If he stays healthy, I’m confident Spurs’ next matches will be more like the first half and less like the second.
This is the fantasy map that started it all, inspiring multitudes of copycat authors to plop images of their own fictional worlds at the beginnings of their books. It has its issues — the geography doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, geologically speaking, especially the placement of the mountains and rivers — but hey, it’s fantasy, and it does give a pretty nice sense of scale regarding the respective journeys of the protagonists over the course of the series. Looking at this map makes me feel nostalgic and warm, even though maybe I’ve all moved past it a bit.
Hugo Lloris: Not at fault for either of Saints’ goals, had a few decent stops otherwise. He was not the problem.
Danny Rose: People are going to talk about the dummy before the first goal and yes, that was a big error, but focusing on that also overlooks that he was really quite good for most of the rest of the match. And that dummy isn’t as important if KWP doesn’t lose his man seconds earlier.
Lucas Moura: In a rare start, Lucas was bright going forward in the first half, and looked quite dangerous at times playing in the Son Heung-Min role. Faded in the second half along with everyone else and was subbed.
The map of the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series makes no goddamn sense, and that’s both ok and a perfect encapsulation of how utterly enjoyable his books are. Discworld is literally a flat circle perched on the backs of four elephants who are themselves standing on a giant turtle swimming through space, and the disc includes a “counterweight continent” to prevent the whole thing from toppling over. And somehow that’s the least interesting thing about the series. You don’t NEED a map of Discworld to enjoy the books — the only place it exists is in the Discworld compendium — but isn’t it lovely that we have one anyway?
Jan Vertonghen: Strangely lax in possession coming out of the back line against Soton and his progressive passing was not up to par. A bad game for Jan, it’s a good thing he doesn’t have many.
Davinson Sanchez: Periods of defensive solidity mixed with moments of youthful derpiness: the Davinson Sanchez 2019 Story™.
Son Heung-Min: Very un-Son-like considering Southampton’s defense is pretty poor and he was rested for much of the match. Feels like he’s been dragged off his wavelength by the return of Kane.
When it comes to fantasy maps, I’ve never been especially happy with the Wheel of Time. The major landmass is just... there, a giant earthy continent with inexplicable at-right-angles mountain ranges that conveniently keep the Trolloc and Aiel hordes at bay, weird, arbitrarily drawn countries with tenuous borders, and strange, blobby, randomish topography (like “Windbiter’s finger” that actually looks like a finger get it hurr hurr). It’s just... not that interesting. Throw in an inland sea, or some fjord-like crags or something, IDK. Make me care.
Kyle Walker-Peters: Yes, we’ve seen KWP have much better matches against different opponents, but he was absolutely shocking against Soton, primarily responsible for both of Saints’ goals. Even when KWP’s playing well he’s never really blown me away. Pretty sure he’s not the answer we need at fullback, and yes that is a challenge to prove me wrong.
Some people will call this ranking unfair. After all, this map of Oz was created in 1920, well before Tolkien or even high fantasy. But come on, just look at this map. There’s one desert around the middle that has four different names (should be called Donut Desert imo), the countries have names like Boboland, Scoodlers, and Loland/Hiland, and the Emerald City is, naturally, smack in the center. This isn’t a map, it’s a child playing with cut-outs of colorful paper.
No Tottenham Hotspur players were as bad as the map at the beginning of Tik-Tok of Oz.
Tom Carroll Memorial Non-Rating
Ben Davies, Fernando Llorente