The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Hue Lewis-JonesThe Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Hue Lewis-Jones

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Hue Lewis-JonesBefore I get into the review proper of Hue Lewis-Jones’ The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, I have to note up front that my digital copies of the book had major formatting issues so that passages were jumbled up such that one paragraph would end and a wholly unrelated paragraph (one from either earlier or later in the book) would follow. Or the book would just stop, with pages from, say 25 onward, just being a sea of white. These issues arose on both my iPad and my Kindle, no matter how many times I downloaded a new version and deleted the old. I’m assuming the problem is just an artifact of the Advanced Reader’s Copy and won’t occur with purchased versions, but it had, as you might imagine, a bit of a deleterious effect on my own reading experience. Something to keep in mind.

The book itself is a collection of essays by authors (and a few artists) about maps, sometimes maps in general but more often literary maps in particular — book maps they fell in love with as child readers, rough sketches of maps they made for personal use while creating their own imaginary worlds, or gorgeously finalized maps that appeared in their books. Included with the essays are the maps themselves, nearly two-hundred full-color ones, making the book as much a visual treat as a narrative one.

As with any collection, the quality of the individual essays within The Writer’s Map vary, though none are worse than solidly engaging thanks to the personal voice of each author. In other words, while some essays are a bit slight, or not particularly interesting or insightful, none could be labeled “bad.” The authors/artists include Philip Pullman, David Mitchell, Lev Grossman, Cressia Cowell, Chris Riddell, Brian Selznick, and Isabel Grenerg, amongst others. Some write adult fiction, some YA/MG or children’s books, some make maps for books and/or films. Some do all of those.

There’s a definite English-ness to some of the texts/shows/films referenced and though I didn’t find that a detriment to enjoying the essays, awareness of some of those references will almost certainly enhance the experience. What did detract a bit for me was the repetitiveness that occasionally cropped (lots of references, for instance, to Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe). While certainly not a major flaw, it was definitely noticeable, and while some such repetitiveness could be expected thanks to everyone focusing on the same topic, some editing or maybe even some notification to authors of topics already covered (“You might want to skip over Robert Louis Stevenson if you were planning on mentioning him … “) would have negated some of what arises.

Among the essays, some of my favorites were by Robert McFarlane (one of the more insightful and semi-academic ones), Miraphora Mina (for its fascinating specificity on her creation of the Marauder’s Map for the Harry Potter films), Lev Grossman (for his smooth move from the intimately personal to broader societal analysis), and David Mitchell for his humor. Others, as noted, vary in impact and interest, but most offered up some new tidbit of information I hadn’t been aware of, despite my keen interest and extensive reading in the area.

Visually, the book is stellar. The maps are gorgeously recreated and cover a wide spectrum of type, style, time period, and intent. If you’re like me, you’ll spend a lot of time lingering over the images long past the time you finished an essay’s particular text.

I wouldn’t call The Writer’s Map an in-depth look at maps in literature or society. But as a collection of light, brief, often interesting, almost always personal stories by those who have been inspired by them and use them in their own works, the anthology is certainly a success, one enhanced by the excellent visuals. I’ll be picking up a physical copy, myself.

Published October 22, 2018. It’s one of the first things we discover as children, reading and drawing: Maps have a unique power to transport us to distant lands on wondrous travels. Put a map at the start of a book, and we know an adventure is going to follow. Displaying this truth with beautiful full-color illustrations, The Writer’s Map is an atlas of the journeys that our most creative storytellers have made throughout their lives. This magnificent collection encompasses not only the maps that appear in their books but also the many maps that have inspired them, the sketches that they used while writing, and others that simply sparked their curiosity. Philip Pullman recounts the experience of drawing a map as he set out on one of his early novels, The Tin Princess. Miraphora Mina recalls the creative challenge of drawing up ”The Marauder’s Map” for the Harry Potter films. David Mitchell leads us to the Mappa Mundi by way of Cloud Atlas and his own sketch maps. Robert Macfarlane reflects on the cartophilia that has informed his evocative nature writing, which was set off by Robert Louis Stevenson and his map of Treasure Island. Joanne Harris tells of her fascination with Norse maps of the universe. Reif Larsen writes about our dependence on GPS and the impulse to map our experience. Daniel Reeve describes drawing maps and charts for The Hobbit film trilogy. This exquisitely crafted and illustrated atlas explores these and so many more of the maps writers create and are inspired by—some real, some imagined—in both words and images. Amid a cornucopia of 167 full-color images, we find here maps of the world as envisaged in medieval times, as well as maps of adventure, sci-fi and fantasy, nursery rhymes, literary classics, and collectible comics. An enchanting visual and verbal journey, The Writer’s Map will be irresistible for lovers of maps, literature, and memories—and anyone prone to flights of the imagination.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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3 comments

  1. I will definitely have to keep an eye out for this one — I love fictional maps! Thanks for putting it on my radar, Bill, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  2. What a fun idea! It’s always enjoyable to learn the reasons behind art, and I remember pouring over a map or two in some magical books growing up.

  3. This book is getting so much buzz! And it’s another one to go on my Christmas list.

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