logo

Vermont Softworks

Where good things develop

On reading “Here be cartographers”

    cartography     Tolkien

Nicholas Tam, occasional blogger at Ntuple Indemnity, wrote an immensely enjoyable post entitled “Here be cartographers: Reading the fantasy map” last … well, not “last” anything. Last April of 2011.

You know you’re reading a “long-form” blog, when it’s not until the seventh and eighth paragraphs that a writer tells you what he plans to write about:

So when we open up a novel to find a map, we can think of the map as an act of narration. But what kind of narration? Is it reliable narration or a deliberate misdirection? Is it omniscient knowledge, a complete (or strategically obscured) presentation of the world as the author knows it? Or is the map available to the characters in the text? If it is, then who drew up the map, and how did they have access to the information used to compose it? If it isn’t, then through what resources do the characters orient themselves in their own world? And finally, does anyone even bother to think about these questions before they sit down to place their woodlands and forts?

In the post that follows, I am going to informally sketch out a theory of fictional maps, which is to say that I will put up a lot of pretty pictures from novels and talk about why they are neat. There is likely some academic work on this somewhere — I would be astonished if there weren’t — but I’m not aware of any, and certainly nothing that has accounted for modern critical approaches to the history of cartography. Map history and the comparative study of commercial genre literature are niches within niches as it stands, and my aim is to entwine them together.

And so he does. Tam begin’s with “Thrór’s map” printed on the end paper of The Hobbit, observing that it can be thought of as a map drawn by Tolkien for The Hobbit, by Thrór for his heirs, by Bilbo Baggins (copying Thrór’s map), or by Tolkien (copying Bilbo‘s copy). And we’re down the rabbit hole.

With illustrations of different editions of Thrór’s map, and maps from The Princess Bride, Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels, Treasure Island, Star Wars, a Soviet Hobbit, the Oz books, Peter Jackson’s movies, the Duncton books, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, as well as pulling in references to Mercator, Cassini, Barbara Strachey’s Journeys of Frodo, Pratchett, and Carroll.

He concludes:

Mapmaking does not seem to permit carefully targeted ambiguity with the same flexibility as prose alone. With other forms of book illustration, one always gets the sense that the visual depictions could always be replaced or re-envisioned some other way. Maps exert a stronger form of authority: any improvements or revisions by readers or in future editions take place within the author’s borders as if they were immutable, objective truths.

It is a strange twist indeed that we are less liable to accept in fiction than in reality that cartography is a form of language: a medium for our perception of place, not to be confused with place itself. If there is a remedy for this, it may resemble the solution we developed for language, and take the form of self-conscious experimentation with maps as narrative voices — subjective, perspectival, and often unreliable. Literary writing deserves a literary map.

For anyone interested in cartography, fantasy writing, publishing, or semiotics (and, truthfully speaking, how many of us are not?), Tam’s essay is worth reading in full. Make sure you have a good half-hour for it; you’ll likely be thinking about it for days.

The database is done

    theProject

Three years it took. Not full-time work, admittedly, but it’s been the main thrust of my professional work for those three years.

Of course, it got re-designed in the middle, which never helps. The original design was actually working in limited use, but was far too complex for FileMaker to handle with any kind of speed. And — crucially — it would not have migrated well to a PostgreSQL or other database in iOS.

For rendering formatted text, of course, the better answer was light HTML formatting and intelligent CSS. It does mean that hundreds of little HTML text files are now proliferating on my Mac, but using the same Mac’s built-in web server and FileMaker web views is actually working perfectly.

At any rate, this is a great relief. References to maps, artwork, and text can easily be entered and formatted — and found again and selected and sorted and output and….

I’m so looking forward to finally getting on to the real work, now that the necessary tool has been written!

Ð

The climate of Middle-earth

    maps     humor     climate     Middle-earth

It seems that one Radagast the Brown (of Rhosgobel & The Cabot Institute) has published a paper presenting the results of his climate simulation modelling for Middle-earth. Though obviously mock-serious, the modelling and the science are real enough. Definitely worth a few of your hard-won free minutes.

(Not surprisingly, these last two seem to be merely nicely formatted font-transfers.)

Ð

Facsimile of Tolkien’s full 1956 letter to Cotton Minchin

    maps     primary sources     Tolkien

Tolkien’s letter to H. Cotton Minchin, page one

page two

page three

page four

page five

See The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981, #187.

The American auction house RR Auction recently sold Tolkien’s 1956 letter to H. Cotton Minchin.

2016-11-04: RR Auction has recycled its item numbers; this link now points to another item. — Ð

Much of the text of this letter has been available in the form of Humphrey Carpenter’s abridgment of Tolkien’s draft of the letter.

As part of the auction, RR Auction made available good-quality scans of all five pages of the letter, affording us the opportunity of reading the full text of Tolkien’s final (beautifully penned) draft for what I believe is the first time.

Pieter Collier at The Tolkien Library has republished the scans (as I have here, too), and has transcribed the letter in full. An ad hoc group of Tolkien scholars promptly submitted a number of corrections and suggestions, which Pieter immediately incorporated into his transcription. The result seems to be a highly accurate reading of Tolkien’s letter. Some highlights:

Maps take a lot of time and work. It would of course be impossible to make a map of an ‘invented’ tale, or rather to write a mappable tale, unless one started with a Map from the beginning. That I did — though inevitably some inconsistencies, needing the adjustment of map or text, crept in in the course of a long work, constantly interrupted. But there is a wide gap between a rough map, though accurate in scale and distances, and one drawn and lettered passably enough for reproduction!

You would, by the way, render us a very great service, if more and better maps are to be produced, if you would be so kind as to send us any notes of faults, inconsistencies, or omissions, in maps or text.

Ð

Vermont Softworks creates site for Tolkien in Vermont conference

    conferences     Tolkien

I am very pleased to announce that the annual “Tolkien at UVM” conference finally has a home on the web. Now known as “Tolkien in Vermont,” the conference can be found on-line at http://tolkienvt.org.

Vermont Softworks is responsible for its unabashedly spartan design, and is footing the bill for its hosting at Pair Networks.

Many thanks to Chris Vaccaro for putting this excellent conference together for so many years. Best wishes for the 11th annual conference (the 10th anniversary!) and for many decades to come.

Ð