I’m reasonably certain we have Tolkien to thank for the importance of maps to fantasy novels. I suspect that Bilbo’s love of maps in The Hobbit is a little of the author slipping through, because all his books have one. Nowadays it’s a generally accepted fact that all fantasy novels must start with a map – preferably an ornate and beautiful one. The Discworld books now have a map, which must be bought separately (I own it, even though its existence is someone mind-bending considering the flexible nature of the Discworld). A few years back a Star Wars atlas was published.
In a sense, maps are important to fantasy. See, for instance, this map put out by the BBC to accompany Merlin, which is laughably bad: it’s improperly scaled, with landmarks from the first season dotting it almost at random. It’s the worst kind of fantasy map. And wouldn’t you know, Merlin is not good fantasy. It’s next to impossible to map Albion because no-one seems to have bothered to keep track of basic things like what kingdoms border Camelot, what they are called, and even whether Albion is Great Britain or not.
In conclusion: mapping is important. It’s one of my favourite past-times. I have maps that aren’t related to any story I’ve written. I have maps for both the novels I’m working on and I’m in the process of making more. But I have no intention of including any of them with the story. They’re not for readers. They’re for me.
They’re for making sure I know where things are in relation to each other and tracking the movements of characters. They’re for making sure I know what the world is shaped like so I don’t get lost. And not just the world, either – I spent some time this week drawing floorplans of houses. At some point I need to map out the town where book two of the Everpresent Trilogy is set and I am dreading it.
But it has to be done. And let’s be honest: environment mapping is a great way to procrastinate on actually writing.