Historical Uses of Relief Maps in Literature


Relief maps, also known as topographic maps, are cartographic representations of land surfaces that use contour lines to depict changes in elevation. While their primary purpose is to aid in understanding geographical features, they have also played a crucial role in literature. Over the centuries, relief maps have been used in various literary works to enhance the understanding of the setting, highlight symbolism, and add depth to the narrative. This article will explore the historical uses of relief maps in literature, showcasing their versatility and significance in shaping the literary landscape.

One prominent example of the use of relief maps in literature can be found in J.R.R Tolkien’s beloved fantasy novel, “The Lord of the Rings.” Throughout the epic journey of Frodo and his companions, Tolkien skillfully incorporates relief maps as a central element in the narrative. As the characters trek through Middle Earth, the detailed maps provide a visual aid for readers to follow their journey and understand the various landscapes they encounter, from the towering peaks of the Misty Mountains to the dark depths of Moria. By including these maps, Tolkien adds depth and realism to his fictional world, making it feel more tangible and immersive for readers.

Similarly, in Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” relief maps are essential in the portrayal of the characters’ descent into the center of the earth. The maps not only serve as a guide for the characters but also play a symbolic role in the story. As the characters move from the familiar surface to the unknown depths, the relief maps serve as a metaphor for their journey, visually depicting their progress and the challenges they face. Thus, in addition to their practical use, the maps also add a layer of symbolism, enriching the reading experience.

Aside from their role in fiction, relief maps have also been used in non-fiction works, particularly in travel writing. For instance, in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” the geographical journey into the heart of Africa is accompanied by detailed relief maps. These maps not only assist the readers in following the journey of the characters but also provide a deeper understanding of the physical and historical geography of the region. By incorporating maps, Conrad masterfully blends fact and fiction, blurring the lines between the two and creating a more vivid picture of the setting.

In addition to their use in traditional literature, relief maps have also been utilized in pieces of experimental or avant-garde literature. In the 20th century, the French Surrealist movement used relief maps as a means of subverting traditional literary forms and conventions. For instance, in Max Ernst’s collage and novel “Une Semaine de Bonté,” relief maps are used to juxtapose different physical features, creating a nonlinear and dreamlike representation of the landscape. In this way, relief maps are not only an essential tool for understanding the setting but also a medium for artistic expression.

In conclusion, relief maps have a rich history in literature, serving various purposes and enhancing the reading experience. From their use as visual aids to their symbolic and avant-garde applications, these cartographic representations of land surfaces have been instrumental in shaping the literary landscape. As technology has advanced, relief maps have also evolved, with the use of digital mapping techniques in modern literature becoming increasingly prevalent. Nonetheless, the historical uses of relief maps in literature continue to be relevant and significant, showcasing their timeless and versatile nature.