The use of topographic maps in fantasy and science fiction literature


Topographic maps are visual representations of a physical environment, showing the location and elevation of natural and man-made features. While they are commonly used in real-world navigation and land surveying, topographic maps have also found their way into the realms of fantasy and science fiction literature. In these genres, the use of topographic maps serves a variety of purposes, from world-building to plot development.

One of the most prominent examples of topographic maps in fantasy literature is in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In this epic tale, the fictional world of Middle-earth is meticulously depicted through detailed maps, including topographic ones. These maps not only provide readers with a visual understanding of the landscape but also serve as a tool for the characters as they embark on their perilous journey. The topographic maps in this series help the characters navigate through treacherous terrains, determine the best routes to take, and anticipate potential obstacles.

Similarly, in science fiction literature, topographic maps are often used to depict alien worlds or distant galaxies. In Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” for example, topographic maps are essential in understanding the complex geography and ecosystems of the desert planet Arrakis. The maps also play a crucial role in the political and economic systems of the story, as the control of certain territories is determined by access to essential resources, which can only be accurately located and exploited through topographic mapping.

The use of topographic maps in fantasy and science fiction literature goes beyond serving as a navigational tool or an aid in world-building. In some cases, they also play a significant role in shaping the plot. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea,” the protagonist uses a topographic map to track the powerful and evil Gebbeth, who is immune to traditional navigation methods. By using the map’s intricate details of the land, the protagonist can anticipate and intercept the villain’s movements, leading to the climax of the story.

Topographic maps have also been used to explore the concept of time travel in science fiction literature. In H.G. Wells’ classic novel “The Time Machine,” the protagonist uses a topographic map to travel into the future, using it as a guide to navigate through changing landscapes and civilizations. The complexity and detail of the map allow the protagonist to visualize how the world will transform over time, adding an element of realism to the futuristic setting.

In conclusion, topographic maps have proven to be a valuable tool in both fantasy and science fiction literature. They not only aid in visualizing and understanding fictional worlds but also serve as a practical means of navigation for characters. Additionally, their use in plot development adds depth and complexity to the narratives. Whether used as a navigational aid, world-building tool, or plot device, topographic maps have become an integral part of the literary landscape in these genres.