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So I ask the question: how do readers use the maps in fantasy novels? What's your answer?
It occurs to me that how readers use fantasy maps should be another line of inquiry for my science fiction and fantasy maps project. Take, for example, Donald Petersen's comment on the Boing Boing pos...
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Vicky Veritas's profile photoPierre Therriault's profile photoElena Gaillard's profile photoRod Dunne's profile photo
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Maps + Fantasy/Science Fiction. I love this as both a mapping specialist and as an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, and knew it was an important relationship. You connected the dots so articulately.

Foremost, since much fantasy/science fiction involves world-building, the maps help spatially-oriented folks like us construct the worlds in our minds and allow us to track the action of the story. And maps tell wonderful stories all on their own.

I think A Game of Thrones and the maps of Westeros are the perfect example of this relationship, as you have noted. However, it is also pretty jarring when a story has a poorly constructed map like the map of Alagaesia in the Inheritance Cycle. Whoever drew those maps had no concept of geomorphology! Sorry C. Paolini!
 
There is no doubt that geography injects a sense of verisimilitude in the story. Unless everyone is a wizard who can teleport willy-nilli, geography matters. A dark forest, a mountain range, a swift river, all these can be obstacles to the protagonist. Sometimes even a few miles of easy terrain can be a tremendous obstacle is time is of the essence. Looking at the map is perhaps also to see if the author is "keeping his(her) bargain" with the reader - an alternate reality has been established, disbelief suspended, are the "rules" being followed? I don't use electronic books, but if I did, it seems that little links to the maps, apendix etc should be present at the bottom of every page...
 
I kinda like knowing if the journeys undertaken seem reasonable given the geography shown. I recall reading the Stephen Donaldson Lord Foul Whatever books (many many many years ago) and perusing the maps to see what was up...and thinking over and over "This map is rubbish!!" I wish I could remember exactly what ticked me off so badly, but I think it was a lack of regard for relative distances and general meandering.
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