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How important are the Maps? (1 Viewer)

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LadySilence

Senior Member
In many famous books, for example:
Stephen King, George Martin.
There are maps of the city, even if the book is set in the present.
Is it really necessary to insert it?
I prefer to describe the place, leaving the reader to imagine the place.
Am I wrong?
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
They're definitely not essential. I always saw them as an optional extra, and only interesting at all to the extent understanding the geography of the world matters to the story. If your story is only within a limited geographical area, they're definitely unnecessary.

In A Song Of Ice And Fire they're sort of useful to visualize the different kingdoms and stuff. They're not something you need to include for the reader, so long as you do the job through the writing.

For what it's worth, I always thought the Tolkien map of Middle Earth was ludicrous and actually caused me to take the world less seriously when I saw it. Random, unnatural patterns of mountains all over the place, way too much empty space, and just generally pointless.
 

Joker

Senior Member
Andrej Sapkowski wrote a million words in the Witcher saga across a large continent without a map. It's definitely not necessary, just a gimmick for map nerds like me.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
As a reader, I never look at them.

As a writer, I either use a setting I know, or if it's a fantasy story I'll draw a map for my use while writing.
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
They're definitely not essential. I always saw them as an optional extra, and only interesting at all to the extent understanding the geography of the world matters to the story. If your story is only within a limited geographical area, they're definitely unnecessary.

In A Song Of Ice And Fire they're sort of useful to visualize the different kingdoms and stuff. They're not something you need to include for the reader, so long as you do the job through the writing.

For what it's worth, I always thought the Tolkien map of Middle Earth was ludicrous and actually caused me to take the world less seriously when I saw it. Random, unnatural patterns of mountains all over the place, way too much empty space, and just generally pointless.


I thought I was the only one who found Tolkien's maps inconsistent with the story.


Andrej Sapkowski wrote a million words in the Witcher saga across a large continent without a map. It's definitely not necessary, just a gimmick for map nerds like me.

I don't know The Witcher book.
I love descriptions very much.
I believe that a good description, can avoid a map.
My fear is that not all readers like long descriptions.


As a reader, I never look at them.

As a writer, I either use a setting I know, or if it's a fantasy story I'll draw a map for my use while writing.

For personal use, when writing, it is okay to draw a map.
I do it too.
I am perplexed, publish maps in a book set in modern times, like a Stephen King book.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I thought I was the only one who found Tolkien's maps inconsistent with the story.

Inconsistent with elementary geography. These mountain ranges look like a five year old drew them: There are far too many, the patterns are bizarre. The forests don't make sense.

Also apparently Tolkien or whoever drew it got bored between Rhovanion and the Sea of Rhun and south of Gondor because there are hundreds of miles of basically nothing but empty space. If you're going to draw maps, draw good ones. 2/10 try harder.

middle_earth_map.jpg
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
^ I remember reading an article about "fantasy rivers" (as you do) and it cited Tolkien and loads of others as drawing rivers in ways that could never physically exist. Usually because ... you know ... mountains. The Seas of Nurnen and Rhun are a case in point. Where the hell is the outflow? Frodo should have just waited for some bad weather to flood Mordor. Then of course the fires might have been doused and he'd be stuck with the 1R.

I still like a good map though. There are some reasonable cartographers in Twitter that, come publishy time, I might chuck a little money at. Failing that, there'll always be inkarnate.com.

EDIT: You know what I could go for? I could really go for a story set in Far Harad. Kind of a Silk Road fantasy vibe or something.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
^ I remember reading an article about "fantasy rivers" (as you do) and it cited Tolkien and loads of others as drawing rivers in ways that could never physically exist. Usually because ... you know ... mountains. The Seas of Nurnen and Rhun are a case in point. Where the hell is the outflow? Frodo should have just waited for some bad weather to flood Mordor. Then of course the fires might have been doused and he'd be stuck with the 1R.

I still like a good map though. There are some reasonable cartographers in Twitter that, come publishy time, I might chuck a little money at. Failing that, there'll always be inkarnate.com.

EDIT: You know what I could go for? I could really go for a story set in Far Harad. Kind of a Silk Road fantasy vibe or something.

I agree about maps. I'm not a huge fantasy reader but I find maps tend to make the world 'make sense' spatially. I was deeply confused by the world of A Song Of Ice And Fire until I looked at the map because understanding a world purely through anecdotes and occasional descriptions is difficult.

I mean, if a martian's understanding of Planet Earth came down to what they heard described and casually talked about by people on earth, they would likely be confused because certain things dominate identity. For instance, you hardly ever hear about deserts in China but it's a huge part of their landmass. Likewise, parts of Russia are very warm, Mediterranean and coastal, but you would have to look at a map to really grasp that. Based on cultural variety and soft-power projection, certain countries that are not very big seem like they should be enormous landmasses (France, the UK) while other countries that are truly quite vast seem comparatively tiny (Kazakhstan, Australia).

This only matters if the story itself actually spans something close to a 'world', though. It's annoying to find a world map only for the novel itself to only take place in a tiny percentage of it, which is likely why Tolkien's map is so imbalanced. If you look at the pathways of the characters in The Hobbit and LOTR (which you can do here) most of the characters and scenes occupy a fairly narrow corridor which is detailed. There's only a few deviations. Nobody much goes to Khand or Near Harad and I suspect much of these places only exist in passing references so why bother.
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
Inconsistent with elementary geography. These mountain ranges look like a five year old drew them: There are far too many, the patterns are bizarre. The forests don't make sense.

Also apparently Tolkien or whoever drew it got bored between Rhovanion and the Sea of Rhun and south of Gondor because there are hundreds of miles of basically nothing but empty space. If you're going to draw maps, draw good ones. 2/10 try harder.

The book that I own, does not have a map, only now did I realize that it is not there.
 

epimetheus

Friends of WF
Also apparently Tolkien or whoever drew it got bored between Rhovanion and the Sea of Rhun and south of Gondor because there are hundreds of miles of basically nothing but empty space. If you're going to draw maps, draw good ones. 2/10 try harder.

Why the need to take the maps literally?

Plate tectonics only became widely accepted in the geoscience community in the decade after LOTR was published - not elementary knowledge back then. Geographically accurate maps are a relatively new invention - up until the 1880s the Mountains of Kong were mapped south of the Sahara. Tolkien's map is evocative of older maps, the kinds that had 'here be monsters' at the edges as well as London and Paris in approximately the correct locations. The reason the south of Gondor is empty is because these lands are unknown to the civilisations in the story, not because they are literally empty.

One of the principal purposes of that map is to act as a framing device to tell the reader that Middle Earth is a fantasy world unlike other contemporary fantasy worlds. The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Chronicles of Narnia* were all fantasy worlds from which the child protagonists returned to the real world. But in the context of LOTR, Middle Earth is the real world. There will be no returning from it, and so the protagonist's journeys are going to be different to those of other fantasy works. I think the map is a part of this framing.

Now, for better or worse, it is a trope of the genre.


* Even though Narnia had a map, its otherworldliness is left in no doubt: "This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." I'm not sure what function the Narnia map serves - perhaps it was a later addition after Tolkien had popularised their use. Anyone know?
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Why the need to take the maps literally?

Plate tectonics only became widely accepted in the geoscience community in the decade after LOTR was published - not elementary knowledge back then. Geographically accurate maps are a relatively new invention - up until the 1880s the Mountains of Kong were mapped south of the Sahara. Tolkien's map is evocative of older maps, the kinds that had 'here be monsters' at the edges as well as London and Paris in approximately the correct locations. The reason the south of Gondor is empty is because these lands are unknown to the civilisations in the story, not because they are literally empty.

One of the principal purposes of that map is to act as a framing device to tell the reader that Middle Earth is a fantasy world unlike other contemporary fantasy worlds. The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Chronicles of Narnia* were all fantasy worlds from which the child protagonists returned to the real world. But in the context of LOTR, Middle Earth is the real world. There will be no returning from it, and so the protagonist's journeys are going to be different to those of other fantasy works. I think the map is a part of this framing.

Now, for better or worse, it is a trope of the genre.


* Even though Narnia had a map, its otherworldliness is left in no doubt: "This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." I'm not sure what function the Narnia map serves - perhaps it was a later addition after Tolkien had popularised their use. Anyone know?

I mean, it's not a bridge I want to die on or anything, but maps are supposed to be taken somewhat literally aren't they? That's why they're maps, not illustrations.

I buy that (old) maps had gaps of the kind you mention at the edges and in areas that were genuinely unknown...but the gaps in Tolkien's map aren't simply at the edges but across lots of patches that, according to the 'scale' are sometimes over a hundred miles. Between populated places, like the area between Gondor and Eriador. That wasn't the case with the old maps AFAIK?

I do take the point about plate tectonics however you don't need to understand plate tectonics to know that mountain ranges don't tend to form themselves into near perfect right angled boxes, as they do around Mordor. The world is 'Middle Earth' and we can assume follows earthly science so I'm just confused as to how such things could exist.

I dunno man, maybe you are right and I'm being massively unfair and pedantic, but I just think that for the degree to which people applaud Tolkien as the consummate fantasy world-builder his world doesn't smack with a ton of realism, at least in visual form.

The map of Narnia isn't hugely detailed or anything but at least the topography and tree lines seem to make a bit more sense, I think. These guys sure do love their mountains...

naridia_archenland.jpg
 

epimetheus

Friends of WF
I mean, it's not a bridge I want to die on or anything, but maps are supposed to be taken somewhat literally aren't they? That's why they're maps, not illustrations.

Well, that's the question, and the devil is somewhat. The British Library had a good exhibit of maps recently, the take home message was that a map told you more about the culture that produced it than the geography it represents. Even the Mercator projection map everyone thinks is an accurate representation of the world is massively distorted towards the poles.

With regards to Tolkien's maps, that it gives approximate locations is not the point, it's supposed to tell you something about the cultures. Is there a big, 'unrealistic' gap between two cities? Maybe the author wants us to think those cities are culturally/economically distant.

In the context of novels i think scientific realism a strange metric to assess the quality of a map, rather than a mythological metric. That may have changed with the Google map generation, but given the mythological inspirations for LOTR, i would judge it the latter.

Yes, mountains feature a lot in fantasy maps. We could wonder why the authors thought that was an accurate representation of the distribution of mountains, or we could seek the mythological meaning of mountains: home of the gods, nests of dragons and monsters, hordes of treasure - all the stuff you need for a fantasy novel.

Also, check out the Carpathian mountains - they look like an upside down version of the Mordor mountains, including a right angle.
 

Lee Messer

Senior Member
If the place actually exists, I use google earth, or I actually go there. Sometimes, if the place does not exist, imagine yourself gliding in from the clouds like you're actually going there. Sometimes I'll make a map so I correctly reference the settings if long travels are in the story. It is absurd to say for instance that travelling in one direction will take you home most of the time because they're not going all the way around the world. So, at some point, if you turn around and go back, you have to go back and read what you said and describe it backwards.

The reader will pick up on it I'm sure. Yeah, Tolkien's river's for example... they'd have to flow in both directions at some point.

I like Google earth though. One nice feature is that you can look at a part of the world, remove all words from the screen, and zoom in to see an area at almost tree levels. I sometimes use random biomes for my story, and actually describe places that exist, but are uninhabited by people, and rotate the screen so that north is no longer relevant. At higher levels, cities can't even be identified by time period. I mean, you can't see cars or buildings, but you can tell it's a city. It could be an ancient city. I then describe what I see.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
^ I was just thinking -- put a QR code in your book and go to an interactive map online... :)

(And hah, yeah, it's probably been done...)
 
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Sir-KP

Senior Member
Not necessary, I guess. Our job as writer is to make readers visualize things through text.

Though personally, I'd take anything like that as extra sauce.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
In the context of novels i think scientific realism a strange metric to assess the quality of a map, rather than a mythological metric. That may have changed with the Google map generation, but given the mythological inspirations for LOTR, i would judge it the latter.

I disagree it's an either/or.

I'm not sure what the 'mythological metric' is here, but when I think of effective mythology, part of its propensity to engage and inspire is whether it feels real. Not real as in 'this exists!' that's obviously silly. But real as in, I could imagine it existing, that it is at least consistent with its own ideas and bridges those ideas credibly with the real-world default experience of the reader. Suspension of disbelief, etc.

The fact is the Carpathians aren't actually in a near-perfect three-sides-of-a-square. They are a bit more square-ish than most mountain ranges, sure, but you can't tell me with a straight face that Tolkien's rendition looks like a mountain range that could even imaginatively just spring out of the ground, as mountains do. It looks like a child's idea of 'scary mountains that conveniently encircle (ensquare?) a scary thing'.

That wouldn't matter if Tolkien gave some kind of explanation -- maybe Sauron pulled them out of the ground to create a natural fortress in Mordor? -- but as far as I know (and I could be embarrassing myself here because I never read all his stuff that closely or deeply!) he doesn't. Tolkien is depicting them as Regular Mountains, albeit in an imaginary version of Earth: Same deal with the rivers, etc. He could have made those things at least semi-scientific without losing any mythology and, more importantly, enhancing the realism of his world.

Why not? Are the laws of science on middle earth not broadly similar to that of real earth? If they aren't, what are they? Why is the gravitational pull the same? Why do they have day and night? Why is blood red? If they are broadly similar, then I want some kind of consistency and I want that which is different (magic) to have some kind of explanation, even if it's an unscientific or vague one (magic exists because wizards exist, hobbits live older than humans because they aren't humans). Without those explanations, I am prone to defaulting to earthly expectations. When things deviate from the earthly, I need some foundational clues as to how the world works, or else there is a risk that the world does not work.

Again, not a bridge to die on and I'm sure everybody is different, but I tend to get a bit hung up on this stuff with fantasy, which is part of the reason why I don't enjoy a lot of it (while tremendously enjoying some of it).

I haven't got data or anything, but I suspect this sort of problem is actually what stops a lot of people from liking fantasy. Not the maps particularly, but the lack of apparent attention to small details that can throw you out of a story. The kind of arrogance that comes with insisting that readers accept things 'just because'.

A lot of fantasy authors seem oblivious or indifferent to this: The notion that people may not walk into their stories starry-eyed believers but agnostics, or even skeptics. I see nothing wrong with being a skeptic. I think the world NEEDS more skepticism...and I think fantasy authors should cater to us, at least if they have any interest in bringing in readers outside the base. It can be done.
 
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epimetheus

Friends of WF
I disagree it's an either/or.

I agree it's not either/or, but the mythological aspect of maps had hitherto not been discussed on this thread: hopefully it gives the OP another angle to consider.

As to what effective mythology is, that will change between individuals and generations. I think Tolkien's maps served their purpose 70 years ago and it's unfair to judge that aspect of his story with modern understanding. Just like Frankenstein is today criticised for unrealistic science, ignoring that over 200 years ago scientists were just learning that animals could be 'animated' by electricity. I suspect the unrealistic features of Tolkien's maps were only raised closer to the millenium as people became more educated.

But if you are asking questions about the gravitational constant, iron binding potential and tectonic theory in a fantasy world, i can see why you don't enjoy the genre too much. However, there does seem to be a generation of writers who do try to go for this sort of realism in their fantasy. Genre's shift just as do tectonic plates, and i'm not surprised that a generation raised with the military precision of Google maps would want far more detailed maps than authors were willing and able to supply 70 years ago. What passed in yesteryears is a different question to what passes today.

As to Mordor's mountains, apparently Tolkien based on a volcanic arc seen under the Carribean sea, although the entire Middle Earth was built by the angel-like Valar. Huh, also it seems the entire world was built flat then bent into a sphere. Again you could read that as a literal thing that just happened in the world, or you could see the parallels to how some human cultures had to shift from seeing the world flat to understanding that its spherical.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
As to what effective mythology is, that will change between individuals and generations. I think Tolkien's maps served their purpose 70 years ago and it's unfair to judge that aspect of his story with modern understanding. Just like Frankenstein is today criticised for unrealistic science, ignoring that over 200 years ago scientists were just learning that animals could be 'animated' by electricity. I suspect the unrealistic features of Tolkien's maps were only raised closer to the millenium as people became more educated.

The problem with this kind of argument, for me, is it contradicts the status Tolkien otherwise enjoys.

I agree completely that writers of the past should not be beholden to the standards of today except when the same writers are still called masters of the craft by the standards of today.

The consensus is that Tolkien is the greatest worldbuilder of all time. Not the greatest worldbuilder of 70 years ago. People will argue, often quite stridently, that his work is still unparalleled, that his approach is still relevant as a modern text, a lodestar of modern fantasy as well as a product of its time, not a historical classic that should be viewed critically. Nobody argues that Frankenstein is still the greatest science fiction book. The general view on Frankenstein is that to the degree it can be called science fiction at all, it's mainly as a display of Victorian scientific attitudes and we read it in that context. Science Fiction authors aren't really using Mary Shelley's understanding of science to drive their own. On the other hand, a lot (most) fantasy authors do use Tolkien as their ideal even now. I assume that would include map-making.

I'd be willing to bet any money there's a fantasy author out there somewhere who is, right now, sketching their imaginary world map complete with nutty geography 'because Tolkien'. I am less confident there is an aspiring SF author out there outlining a novel based on Shelley's science.

Also, to be clear, I'm not 'asking questions' about tectonic plates, etc. I could not care less about tectonic plates. What I do care about is created worlds being fathomable and consistent with the observable, real world...unless there is a fitting 'except for' that explains the difference adequately.

So, when I see rivers and mountains and seas that don't align with reality, I want to feel that the author knows they don't fit with reality and has accounted for this divergence through some sort of explanation -- 'this world is your world...but with dragons' -- which does not necessarily have to be 'scientific' but merely needs to be credible -- I can certainly imagine dragons evolving so it works as a premise: "Dragons exist". Otherwise, if it don't get a sense of continuity within the world, I (and I think a lot of others) start to eye roll because, suddenly, we are conscious that the author is pulling stuff out of their orifice.

It starts to feel like they are just, yeah, scribbling out their map on a piece of paper thoughtlessly: "Let's put a mountain here...a sea here...a river here...empty space, can't think of anything, just leave it empty -- somebody will say it's because I want them to think those cities are culturally/economically distant."

I think a really important, and often overlooked, aspect of fantasy worldbuilding is that it should not actually feel like a fantasy world. It should feel like a different world.
 

epimetheus

Friends of WF
The problem with this kind of argument, for me, is it contradicts the status Tolkien otherwise enjoys.

I agree completely that writers of the past should not be beholden to the standards of today except when the same writers are still called masters of the craft by the standards of today. The consensus is that Tolkien is the greatest worldbuilder of all time. Not the greatest worldbuilder of 70 years ago. People will argue, often quite stridently, that his work is still unparalleled, that his approach is still relevant as a modern text, a lodestar of modern fantasy as well as a product of its time, not a historical classic that should be viewed critically.

Not sure i agree with that. I'd say Euclid was the greatest mathematician, even though by todays standards his mathematical knowledge is eclipsed by any grad student, and his 5th postulate turned out not to be quite so axiomatic.

Similarly, Tolkien can at once be the greatest world-builder (i'm not sure he is) and his methods can be flawed and dated - they are not mutually exclusive.

Once a master, always a master, even if standards improve, unless we're allowing for revisionist history.

Nobody argues that Frankenstein is still the greatest science fiction book. The general view on Frankenstein is that to the degree it can be called science fiction at all, it's mainly as a display of Victorian scientific attitudes and we read it in that context. Science Fiction authors aren't really using Mary Shelley's understanding of science to drive their own. On the other hand, a lot (most) fantasy authors do use Tolkien as their ideal even now. I assume that would include map-making. I'd be willing to bet any money there's a fantasy author out there somewhere who is, right now, sketching their imaginary world map complete with nutty geography 'because Tolkien'. I am less confident there is an aspiring SF author out there outlining a novel based on Shelley's science.

I'd argue that it's the greatest sci-fi of all time. It's certainly listed as one the all time greats of sci-fi. But i agree, no one should be reading Shelley for science ideas for a sci-fi, but if you're writing in that genre i'd say it's a must read.

Ditto for Tolkien. If you're going to look at maps for a fantasy book, you could do worse than start with LOTR. You'd be myopic to finish there, but on this thread you were the first to mention it and that was to denigrate it. I could perhaps understand if someone was holding it up as the only exemplar, but no one here is. Maybe it's just the different circles we associate with making us talk past each other. Personally i know loads of people into world-building and map making - comes with the hobby of RPGs - but i don't think i've even heard people mention Tolkien in that context.


Also, to be clear, I'm not 'asking questions' about tectonic plates, etc. I could not care less about tectonic plates. What I do care about is created worlds being fathomable and consistent with the observable, real world...unless there is a fitting 'except for' that explains the difference adequately.

So, when I see rivers and mountains and seas that don't align with reality, I want to feel that the author knows they don't fit with reality and has accounted for this divergence through some sort of explanation -- 'this world is your world...but with dragons' -- which does not necessarily have to be 'scientific' but merely needs to be credible -- I can certainly imagine dragons evolving so it works as a premise: "Dragons exist". Otherwise, if it don't get a sense of continuity within the world, I (and I think a lot of others) start to eye roll because, suddenly, we are conscious that the author is pulling stuff out of their orifice.

It starts to feel like they are just, yeah, scribbling out their map on a piece of paper thoughtlessly: "Let's put a mountain here...a sea here...a river here...empty space, can't think of anything, just leave it empty -- somebody will say it's because I want them to think those cities are culturally/economically distant."

Sure, some people will feel that (you obviously do), and some won't (i obviously don't). One way is not objectively better, i think it depends on what you want to convey with a map, which is not just geographical information, although you could certainly make a case that one way is better suited to certain markets.

I think a really important, and often overlooked, aspect of fantasy worldbuilding is that it should not actually feel like a fantasy world. It should feel like a different world.

That's certainly one approach and i'm all for it. But i think there's a place for soft-world building too, where attention to detail is eschewed for for a sense of otherness. Maps can get pretty abstract (a map of ease of commute looks very different to a geographical map, just check out the London underground map). In literature i think it's form should be dictated by the themes of the story (which in some cases will mean scientific precision). I'd love to start seeing writers experiment with more abstract forms though, might have a play myself if i delve into fantasy.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Ditto for Tolkien. If you're going to look at maps for a fantasy book, you could do worse than start with LOTR. You'd be myopic to finish there, but on this thread you were the first to mention it and that was to denigrate it. I could perhaps understand if someone was holding it up as the only exemplar, but no one here is. Maybe it's just the different circles we associate with making us talk past each other. Personally i know loads of people into world-building and map making - comes with the hobby of RPGs - but i don't think i've even heard people mention Tolkien in that context.

It's kind of crazy to me you don't think people fixate on Tolkien as a modern icon of worldbuilding. I literally googled 'best fantasy worldbuilding' and spot checked the front page and Tolkien is mentioned frequently. Stuff like this even supplies the image of the map we are debating as an example right under 'creating a map' https://blog.reedsy.com/worldbuilding-guide/ Other sites quote Tolkien as a lead to follow (https://writersedit.com/fiction-wri...to-write-fantasy-sci-fi-and-real-life-worlds/). There are scores of online interactive maps, forums about the maps, books written and sold about the maps. These aren't terribly obscure either. Clearly somebody thinks this stuff matters.

Now, you may quibble with all this on the basis of (1) Worldbuilding does not always equate to map creation and (2) The 'use him as a starting point' thing. Point 1, I would say is short-sighted because even though a map is sort of an accessory it still is 'the world' and the world is hugely important. Point 2, I'm not sure I totally grasp. What difference does it make whether you start with Tolkien or finish with him if you are still taking pointers from him? Either way, it's fine. But it seems to me fairly obvious that Tolkien is to hard fantasy what Stephen King is to horror: A lot of people who think he can do no wrong (or nothing substantively wrong), and thus a ton of imitators aping him at every turn.

Regardless, I'm not holding him up as the only exemplar. I mentioned other authors. Look, I think Tolkien is just fine as a fantasy author and there is lots to admire in his work. There is also lots, and I mean lots, that is really not very good. Much like Stephen King I think there's a bit of cult-think here that results in a zero sum: We love Tolkien so we can't accept that Tolkien might actually just not be very good at certain things.

This thread isn't about Tolkien anyway, so we can probably leave it there. I will say I do think its interesting how even something as simple as 'Tolkien's maps demonstrate basic geographical misunderstanding' results in an extended debate and detour into a series of get out clauses: "Maps aren't really about providing accurate information", "It's not literal", "It's a product of its time", etc. In my view, these are all either wrong (most people do think of maps as sources for accurate information, certainly on geography?) or red herrings (the fact it's a product of its time does not matter in a writing conversation -- it would matter in a literary critique conversation, or a history-of-maps conversation).
 
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