A Very Deep Secret

Ven ven at vvcrane.fsnet.co.uk
Wed May 23 20:33:38 EDT 2001

> >Okay.  Cartography as fiction.  You have to go into more detail or...I don't
> >know, I'll do something horrible.  You've piqued my interest.
Nat replied

> 1. It is possible to create independent, free-standing works of 
> fiction in prose, in cinema, in theater, in various genres of 
> painting. Is it possible to do this with cartography? Maps 
> illustrating fictional worlds created elsewhere don't count, but I've 
> been thinking recently that game-board maps do (aha! ODWJR: i.e. 
> Homeward Bounders).

Are you familiar with the native art of Australia. I don't exactly 
understand how it works but I have seen examples of dot paintings, 
which are essentially maps of journeys I presume these could be 
created fictionally. And I've just remembered a friend and I once 
went for a walk in the woods under the influence of certain 
substances. It seemed like an epic journey and later on we drew a 
map of it, with pictures and text.  

To use a bit of semiotics jargon, maps are texts, assemblages of 
symbols, in a sense they are all fictional as they can only model 
reality. Consider, for example the shape of the coast line at 
different scales, the smaller the scale the more indentation will be 
shown. Maps are as subject to the processes of selection and 
representation as any other text.

So, can a map tell a story? -- yes. Could it be a fictional story? -- 
certainly. (I'm tempted to mention national boundaries here, they 
are, after all, mere social constructions).  

It is, I must admit, hard to imagine how to make that story clear 
without some context -- a title and some names. However it would 
be possible to create conventions that could then be indicated by a 

>2. How would such a map be used and would creating a new way 
of using  maps in this regard shed light on we use fiction in other 

As a role player I have created a number of fictional maps, but of 
course they are made as an adjunct to the role playing fiction. The 
degree of information varies from the straightforward indication of 
physical relationships between places, roads, buildings etc, to 
more complex palimpsets, involving land use, historical sites and 
events, vegetation, climate and so on. The act of drawing the maps 
is an important part of building up the setting for the game. I find it 
one of the most difficult but most rewarding parts of the business. It 
can be where the ideas really come together. I just wish I knew 
more about physical geography -- I worry that my landscapes are 

> 3. A corollary: how much does fiction depend on character? Can you 
> create effective fiction in any medium without characters? If not, 
> what is a map-character?

Yes to fiction without characters -- Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities 
springs to mind (although I suppose Marco Polo is in there). The 
character of a map might be given by its style -- space age or 
medieval, hastily scribbled or beautifully drawn. Hmm that does, in 
fact, say something about the map's creator, who would be, in fact, 
a character.

I wonder if something could be done by drawing a number of maps 
of the same place as drawn by different hands? And at different 

Finally I wanted to mention Thomas Hardy's Wessex
as an example of a fictional mapping of a real place, although I'm 
not sure he actually produced the map I've seen.

Any help Nat?


If all the good people were clever,
And all clever people were good,
The world would be nicer than ever
We thought that it possibly could.

Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth, Good and Clever 1990
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