Maps of Fantasy

The readings this week are concerned with the human imagination, and our ability to create meaning, patterns, and maps from suggestion and implication. By creating a map, the map’s subject becomes defined and explained, making something that previously was abstract into a visible form. Maps give definition to what we cannot see. This is even more evident when the map is created whole-cloth to serve or from a fictional narrative. These kinds of maps are ones that I am intimately familiar with, as I’ve been playing and reading with fictional maps since I was in preschool. I encounter them in the books I read for pleasure (Which, often enough, are formula fantasy.) as well as in my intellectual and academic reading. I encounter them in the electronic games I play (Including, until a while ago, World of Warcraft, but also many other games.) I even create them myself, for tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Maps capture the imagination and invite exploration, either of space or ideas.

With any tool, there is also the potential of misuse. This is especially true of something that grasps the imagination like a map. This is also quite well illustrated by the readings this week, especially in the maps of Dante’s Inferno. Our very ability to create maps from abstraction also leads us to see patterns and structures where none may exist. It may be because of this week’s election, but the tendency of groups on either side of the aisle to leap to conclusions, saying “This is a clear mandate!” or “This means we can achieve real change!” based on what are ultimately small changes in the percentage of votes in any given place strikes me as an example of letting imagination and maps create unsound conclusions. This isn’t to say that maps are dangerous, or shouldn’t be used. I merely mean that maps deserve our respect, both of their power and their limitations.

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2 Responses to Maps of Fantasy

  1. So what is the bigger picture that you are getting at? That with maps, much like statistics, anyone can say whatever they want? I think that the point that came across through the readings is that maps can be used without the traditional limitations that we as historians have put on them!

    Who cares if a map isn’t historical? Remember from the readings the other week about how controversial the maps that Harrison created during WWII? Just because something isn’t traditional doesn’t mean that it is dangerous. I think that we need to get even more creative with the applications that we use for maps. As for video games, I can see a lot of historical applications. I am a few years older than you, but I can still remember (trying) to play Age of Empires II, where the intent of the narrative was to play though the “historical” campaigns of Barbarossa or Genghis Khan. That game in particular was all about location, maps, etc. Maybe a good idea would to create an atlas using maps rendered through a video game, and try to explain how these games can be used to teach history? Certainly there has to be another more current game than Age of Empires that has a remote cartographic potential?

    In the end, I think that we all need to look at maps as tools that we haven’t begun to understand, more so than something to be afraid of, or wary to use.

  2. armablue says:

    Man I forgot all about WOW…that one definitely used to keep my up till 4 in the morning in college….But anways I like your comments that maps can be dangerous, especially when considering religious maps. That was something I was thinking about too this week while reading in the Harmon book.. especailly the map done by the Baptist preacher with all different religious roads leading to heaven. These personal maps can convey powerful messages for sure (although…the fly DNA from the first few pages….I am still not so sure about). I like fantasy a lot too…which is why I wish Vue was a lot cheaper. Oh well. Looks like fantasy worlds are coming up next week!

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