Worldbuilding, Maps, and Atlases

Recently I posted on the creation of character names as a part of worldbuilding. Another major aspect of worldbuilding is geography, and sharing that geography using maps.

I remember as a young boy taking Shell and Esso roadmaps and plotting the route of our annual vacation to visit relatives. I would start from the dot marking Satellite Beach, Florida, and tally the mileage numbers from there to Cookeville, Tennessee, so I could create a table that would tell me, as we reached each major city on the route, how much further we had to go before we arrived. I remember noting each body of water we would cross, wondering where their names originated.

Maps of foreign lands, and lands of the imagination, were no less intriguing. I could follow the journeys in The Lord of the Rings using the maps tipped in to the Houghton Mifflin hardbacks, and the travels of Conan the Barbarian using the map shown in each of the Lancer paperbacks. Certainly, the more detailed and expansive a world a fantasy author creates, the more helpful a good map (or maps) will be.

Entire authorized atlases have been prepared for some fantasy fiction, giving fans resources that draw together not only maps but much background information as well. Some of my favorites are the amazing atlases authored and designed by Karen Wynn Fonstad, including

  1. The Atlas of Middle-Earth. (Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings)
  2. The Atlas of the Land. (Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant)
  3. The Atlas of Pern. (McCaffrey's Dragonriders)

Another excellent atlas is Barbara Strachey's Journeys of Frodo: An Atlas of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. (Unfortunately, it doesn't appear like Ms. Strachey published other atlases.)