Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings

Article excerpt

HERE BE DRAGONS: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings. By Stefan Ekman. viii and 284 pp., maps, ills., bibliog., index. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2013. $67.50 (cloth), $20.62 (paper), ISBN 9780819573230.

Stefan Ekman has set out to fill a gap in fantasy literary criticism, namely the importance of landscape in fantasy literature. He notes that "apart from occasional brief reflections on the landscape's central importance to fantasy, little has been written on the subject" (p. 2). He points out that although the landscape is considered important to the genre, in other studies most attention is paid to character and plot.

In fact, little has been written on maps and landscape in literature in general. Philip and Juliana Muehrcke's 1974 "Maps in Literature," Yi-Fu Tuan on maps in Sherlock Holmes, Ricardo Padron's "Mapping Imaginary Worlds," J. B. Post's Atlas of Fantasy, George Demko's website "Landscapes in Crime," and Nicholas Tam's website article "Here Be Cartographers: Reading the Fantasy Map," plus unpublished theses and conference presentations are some of the main sources. I know of nothing book length. Even books on the writing of genre fiction rarely discuss use of maps, although they may address setting. And yet, maps and setting play a major role in much genre fiction, especially in science fiction and fantasy where new worlds are created, described, and mapped.

This book focuses on works from the mid-1970s to 2007, but makes an exception for the works of Tolkien and refers to the Lord of the Rings trilogy throughout the book. Ekman's main interest lies in how the setting works in relation to the story. He uses a "topofocal" or place-focused perspective to examine the four types of fantasy divisions described in the chapters.

The book is well structured. The first chapter is an introduction and defines terms such as high and low fantasy, primary and secondary worlds. The four main chapters are "Maps," "Borders and Boundaries," "Nature and Culture," and "Realms and Rulers." Ekman describes these chapters as moving from large-scale to small fantasy maps, divisions between domains, interrelationship between two domains in an urban setting, and finally, the link between rulers and realms. These chapters are designed to stand alone and can be read in any order. Each of the main chapters has an introduction followed by a discussion of several examples from fantasy literature and a summary.

The chapter on maps is likely to be of particular interest to geographers. In keeping with the basic chapter structure, Ekman first looks at previous explorations of fantasy maps and then asks the now obligatory question "what is a map?" and more specifically, "what is a fantasy map? …

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