“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
As we drift past Imbolc and Candlemas, halfway points between the midwinter solstice and the spring equinox, I have been considering how season-centred some of my recent reading has been. And even my current read, Le Guin’s Malafrena, has so far been calibrated by principal periods of the year, especially the long hot summers and the winter feasts.
It might be an interesting exercise to consider how much fiction relies on not just space — and I’ll discuss this a bit more presently — but on the passage of time, especially certain liminal occasions; for, let’s face it, every moment is a liminal experience, balanced on a fulcrum of the present, between past and future, and frequently fraught with promise and danger.
In recent weeks I’ve posted reviews of novels which have featured the colder half of the year and associated chilly human attitudes — Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, and Joan Aiken’s Cold Shoulder Road. I’ve also included a couple of summer-set narratives, Wells’s The War of the Worlds dominated by fire and heat, and Lucy Boston’s The River at Green Knowe, in which high temperatures of August were moderated by cooling waters and pools. Whether I went deliberately for these contrasts I don’t now recall — perhaps I did it unconsciously — but either way it was pleasant to swap from one season to another.
But even more than seasonal contrasts I rejoice in the spaces with which fiction abounds. I don’t just mean the jumping between the orient and the occident that Salman Rushdie explored in his short story collection East, West — I’m thinking more particularly of the pretend lands that authors create as if they are themselves demiurges. To help me explore these territories I often resort to mapping — and coincidentally fellow blogger Nick Swarbrick only recently posted a piece specifically on this very topic.
Beginning with an appraisal of a map’s function he went on to discuss different audiences — the Reader, the Writer, and the Critic — and their responses. He then went on to ruminate on the map’s likely ethos and emotional qualities before talking about the relationship of the map with the text and with other illustrations which fictional works might include, giving copious examples from authors such as Tove Jansson, C S Lewis, Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin and a few modern children’s authors.
I myself habitually draw my own maps based on literary works where no maps exist or prove sketchy. Whether my efforts are diagrammatic or more cartographic they represent an attempt to place characters and actions in a landscape or urban environment, all part of an attempt to live as vicariously as possible in the environments described on paper.
Above is my attempt to relate the islands of the Dream Archipelago in Christopher Priest’s The Gradual to each other in terms of distance and travel times.
In the 70s I was inspired by Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to make a sketch map for Tom’s travels in Charles Kingsley’s children’s classic The Water-Babies.
The illustration above shows the order of stations and branch lines of the Wetlands Express in Joan Aiken’s Midwinter Nightingale, expressed schematically; below, meanwhile, is a sketch plan of the Otherland Priory from the same Wolves Chronicle.
Some maps attempt a bird’s eye view of an area such as a cityscape.
No map was provided for the city state featured in The Malacian Tapestry by Brian Aldiss so in the 1980s I designed my own.
In John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk I based my rail map on part of the Welsh Marches centred on Ledbury, the town where the author was brought up and here renamed Condicote.
Returning to Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles, I did a plan of Willoughby Chase House for a twitter readalong based on clues provided by the novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and also a map of the mansion’s setting in a notional East Yorkshire, with Blastburn placed where our world’s Kingston-upon-Hull is located.
The young Brontë siblings were no mean slouches when it came to describing and mapping imaginary lands such as Gondal and Angria; Charlotte Brontë continued the habit in adulthood by basing the action of Shirley on an area of West Yorkshire she knew well, and I was encouraged to create a map to indicate the principal locations in her novel.
I believe we have a need to imagine and create landscapes which we can people with characters we want to love or hate. Indigenous Australians make their landscapes become vivid by narrating stories about key features in them, much as Europeans invest their countryside with folklore about heroes and giants and devils. For us moderns we have, as well as traditional maps, schematics such as sociograms, Venn diagrams and mind-maps which we use to envision the relationship between the individual and their surroundings.
The key word for me is vicarious, from an Indo-European root meaning a position in space (Latin vicus) and relating to a sense of substitution (as in vicar, a deputy). In fiction we may be encouraged to identify with principal characters or protagonists, and by such identification place ourselves, as it were, in their place. Naturally the next step is to follow them around in the story’s action, and for that we need maps.
All the foregoing has chimed in with my current read, Le Guin’s Malafrena, for which I’ve partly relied on the sketch map on the author’s website but which omits the copious cartographic detail which the text is constantly supplying.
While I await the arrival of The Complete Orsinia (which promises enhanced maps along with the texts and notes) I shall continue to build up my own map to follow Itale Sorde, Piera Valtorskar and Luisa Paludeskar as they traverse the length and breadth of their country through the seasons and years during a time of societal change.
“A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing.”
— from ‘Turn, turn, turn’ by Pete Seeger (1959)
Do you have a similar attraction to fictional (or even factual) maps? Do you mentally inhabit the world they purport to represent or does the absence of a map worry you not one jot? Do you construct your own maps if the lack of one does concern you?