Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Place, Space & Fiction in Books

Place, Space & Fiction in Books
by Jason Allan 9706427P

GEOM 2099 Design & Electronic Publishing
Theory of Information, Communication & Visualzation

School of Mathematical & Geospatial Sciences
RMIT University 2007


1. Abstract
2. Introduction
3. The Lord of the Rings
4. The Chronicles of Narnia
5. The Da Vinci Code
6. 1421: The year China discovered the World
7. Mapping Children's Books
8. Conclusion
9. References

1. Abstract

Have you read a good book lately? Where was it set? When was it set? Was this place ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’? How did you visualize this place? Was there a map that an illustrator had drawn to provide visual clues to the locations being represented, such as in Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien), or were these visual clues provided to you as written descriptions enticing you to form your own visualizations, such as in The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)?

Authors have written novels based on both ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ locations. Sometimes a map is included to guide you of where these places mentioned in the book are, and allow you to form a better understanding of the stories events as they unfold. At other times only words are used to describe the locations visited, or the settings that form the basis of the story. The question is asked of how powerful are these clues in producing in your mind the visualization that the author has intended you to see. Not all of these visualizations will be the same for everyone; the chances are that none would be, but what can one create from these images that have been created in your head?

2. Introduction

Cartographers, Illustrators, and the like have over the years attempted to recreate these ‘worlds’ created by authors, and map them to help others to visualize the journeys being taken such as The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum), or where certain events have occurred in the real world, such as in The Da Vinci Code. Have you ever read Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie) and wondered about the location of Neverland… where it is, what it looks like, or the way it is mapped out? We know how to get there, all you need is a little pixie dust and then “second star to the right and straight on til morning’ (Barrie 1904). We also know what Neverland looks like thanks to the Walt Disney Company portrayal in the animated Peter Pan (1953), and then via the TriStar movie Hook (1991) telling the story of what would happen if Peter grew up. The location of where Neverland is, and how it is laid out spatially is left up to our own imaginations, or those of the illustrators and cartographers wanting to re-create this world.

This blog will investigate the ways in which ‘real’ and ‘imagined’ worlds have been depicted in literature, and how these ‘worlds’ have been visualised by others. This blog will explore the visualization techniques presented in the works of Tolkien and Lewis, the controversy surrounding Brown and Menzies, and the classic children’s books by Barrie, Baulm, Carroll, Milne, Stevenson, and Swift.

3. The Lord of the Rings

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) (1954-5) classic series, he creates a world known as ‘Middle-earth’ where Elves, Orcs, Hobbits, Wizards, and Men, amongst others exist. Although he created this imaginary world, the location of it, and its places are largely based on actual places in our own world. Within the covers of LOTR are maps illustrating the location of the Shire (where the journey begins), the land of Mordor (where the journey comes to its end), and of the lands surrounding as the story unfolds. But where exactly is Middle-earth? The answer lies in our own history books. Middel-erthe is a name that Europeans once gave to their land back in the middle ages. Middle-earth is today known simply as Europe. (Colbert 2002 p. 93)[1].jpg

Tolkien attempted to rewrite our history books and created an imaginary world, making us visualize that this could have once existed LOTR places a false history into our time line of evolution and the maps drawn to illustrate Middle-earth have accommodated for the way in which the world changes. In this instance I am referring to the geographic changes of continental drift, and the shaping of the lands. This is how Tolkien justifies that the maps of Middle-earth don’t fit the coastlines of Europe as we know it today, but once upon a time this may have represented his created world. ‘Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed’ (Tolkien 1954, p.2).

4. The Chronicles of Narnia

If you have only ever read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Lewis 1950) you would be fooled into believing that the world that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie found themselves in was only Narnia. C.S. Lewis wrote seven stories about the adventures of the four children and the magical land of Narnia, and the most famous in the Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis 1950-56) is actually the 2nd story. The first says how the great lion Aslan creates the world of Narnia, but more importantly shows that Narnia is a country in a much larger world.

Here the reader’s visualization is limited by what book they read to understand the true geography that Lewis is describing. Many lands are described and visited in The Chronicles of Narnia, and maps are included to help the reader to understand the layout of the lands. To link the story of Narnia back to our world, the four children begin their adventure by entering a wardrobe in a mansion located in London, and find other gateways back into Narnia in other places when they are summoned back. Lewis based the magical land itself on real locations he had visited as a child. The Narnia landscape is based on the Carlingford Mountains, an inlet along the eastern Irish coastline, the castle Cair Paravel on Irish castles, and the Professor’s house (where their journey begins) on Little Lea – his home. These ‘real’ places can all be mapped and visited to see where the inspirations have come from. In the land of Narnia, a sole lamp post is situated in Lantern Waste which is where Lucy first meets Mr Tumnus, and is what the four children find many years later in their adventure to return home. At Crawfordsburn County Park, 10 miles north east of Belfast, is a lamp post that could be the inspiration for Lewis, as he had once visited it as a boy. (Kirk 2005)

5. The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown (2004) is a recent best seller and an extremely controversial book largely due to the fact that he writes the story as if it were based on factual events. His main characters Robert Langdon, Sophie Neveu, Bezu Fache, and Silas embark on an adventure to unlock the secrets of the ‘Holy Grail’. They visit ‘real’ geographic landmarks where Brown details a false history, that unless you knew the facts, you would have believed to be the truth.

The massive popularity and controversy of the book has encouraged books to be written about it, trying to debunk the lies told within the pages of The Da Vinci Code. Visitors to London and Paris are able to follow in the footsteps of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, and visit the same locations as part of tours, self-guided tours and even audio-tours such as with Walking the Da Vinci Code in Paris: Decoding the City and the Book by Peter Caine (2006) featuring a free audio tour which can be downloaded online, or Fodor’s Guide to The Da Vinci Code: On the Trail of the Bestselling Novel by Jennifer Paull (2006). Visitors are also able to visit several of the movie sets used in the film version of the same name (2006). Here the visualization of the geography is based on real locations allowing a full immersive experience of those wanting to follow the same journey; however the history that will be discovered is quite different to that told in The Da Vinci Code.

6. 1421: The year China discovered the World

In Gavin Menzies’ 1421: The year that China Discovered the World (2002), evidence in the form of ancient maps, navigational knowledge and narratives present a non-fiction recollection of an undiscovered history that if proven to be true would rewrite our history books. Menzies claims that the Chinese Emperor Zhu Di commanded his Admiral Zheng He to lead the largest fleet ever to 'to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas’ (Menzies 2002b, [Online]). In doing so, the globe was circumnavigated, Australia, Antarctica, and America were all discovered, and the problem of longitude was solved. According to Menzies, this all occurred between the 8th of March 1421, and 8th October 1423… well before Columbus, Cook and Magellan.

By means of photographic evidence, ancient charts and maps of the discoveries, maps of today, and recounts of the discoveries made by Menzies to prove the reality of his story, 1421 has aroused immense controversy surrounding the question of whether it is ‘fact’ or ‘fiction’. In a similar way to The Da Vinci Code, a re-writing of history has been created basing the locations of such events at places in our world.

The reader is able to visualize this geography by relating the ancient maps depicted to their own knowledge of the ‘real’ geography as well as maps of today to follow the journeys undertaken by Zheng He’s fleet. The history presented is questionable, and many sceptics have set up websites attempting to debunk his theories such as The ‘1421’ myth exposed.

7. Mapping Children’s Books

Many imaginable worlds have been created by authors in many children’s stories. I’m sure as a child, or even as an adult by mentioning a few locations, an image would be formed in your head from what you created in your mind when being read to by your parents, or by reading the book yourself. If I were to say ‘Oz’, ‘Neverland’, ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Lilliput’, ‘One-Hundred Acre Wood’ or ‘Wonderland’, I’m sure many mental images would have formed in your head as to what you remember reading about in The Wizard of Oz (Frank L. Baulm), Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie), Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson), Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathon Swift), Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne), and Alice In Wonderland (Lewis Carroll). However, these books did not contain maps, perhaps illustrations to show the landscape, but the worlds were left to be created in our own minds, along with the description put forward in the story itself.

Even so, artists and cartographers have been able to create maps of these worlds to show the location of the events occurring, and the world that they are within. These maps provide an overview of the whole story in one instance, and can be pictorial or of a more cartographic nature. User’s of these maps are able to gain further insight as to the story being told and where all the events took place, but does this have an affect on our own mental image? Thinking back to those images that you conjured up above, can you say with certainty that the world you created of the Wizard of Oz was not influenced by the movie, or that your images of Neverland weren’t a direct representation of the Disney Peter Pan animation, or Hook? When new information is introduced, a different visualization forms in your head, or adapts to fit in with your own mental pictures.

8. Conclusion

The power of the visualization of depicting a ‘real’ or ‘imagined’ geography is up to the reader themselves. The author is able to provide many clues to portray the world that they have envisioned through descriptive words, illustrations, and maps, but the images formed in our heads draw from our own experiences and understanding of the geographic knowledge as the story unfolds. It can be argued that the visualization of true geographies and histories can be twisted to follow a storyline, and can influence the images that are created in our minds and make them believable. Finally to quote Kirk (2005, p.52) ‘the maps help readers visualize the land and follow the geography of the stories in ways that anchor the world … in seeming reality.’

9. References

Barrie, J.M. 1904, Peter Pan the Great, Duke of Yorks Theatre (Play)

Baum, L. Frank 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, George M. Hill & Company, Chicago.

Brown, Dan 2003, The Da Vinci Code, Bantam Press, London.

Brown, Dan 2004, The Da Vinci Code Special Illustrated Collectors Edition, Transworld Publishers, London.

Caine, Peter 2006, Walking the Da Vinci Code in Paris: Decoding the City and the Book, Avalon Travel Publishing, London.

Carroll, Lewis 1865, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Macmillan, London.

Colbert, David 2002, ‘Where in the world is Middle-earth?’ in The magical worlds of The Lord of the Rings: The amazing myths, legends, and facts behind the masterpiece , Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia pp.93-96.

Colbert, David 2002, ‘Does Frodo Fail?’ in The magical world of The Lord of the Rings: The amazing myths, legends, and facts behind the masterpiece, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia pp. 167-173.

Kirk E.J. 2005, Beyond the Wardrobe: The Official Guide to Narnia, Harper-Collins, London.

Lewis, C.S. 1950-1956 The Chronicles of Narnia, Collins, London.

Menzies, Gavin 2002a, 1421: The Year China discovered the World, Bantam Press, London.

Menzies, Gavin 2002b, 1421: The Year China discovered the World, [Online], (2007 – last update), Available: [2007, Oct 16]

Milne, A.A. 1926, Winnie-the-Pooh, Methuen, London.

Paull, Jennifer & Culwell, Christopher, Fodor’s Guide to The Da Vinci Code: On the Trail of the Best-Selling Novel, Fodor’s Travel, New York.
Stevenson, Robert Louis 1883, Treasure Island, Cassell & Company Ltd, Scotland.

Swift, Jonathan 1726, Gulliver’s Travels, Benjamin Motte, London.

Tolkien, J.R.R 1954-5, The Lord of the Rings, George Allen & Unwin, London.

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