map of the story

“When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, when I was 10, 11 years old, the books that I loved…came with maps and glossaries and timelines—books like Lord Of The Rings, Dune, The Chronicles Of Narnia. I imagined that’s what being a writer was: You invented a world, and you did it in a very detailed way, and you told stories that were set in that world.”—Michael Chabon, Interview with the AV Club

My undergrad thesis argued that world-building wasn’t just for fantasy and sci-fi writers—every tale has a setting, every tale creates a world in the reader’s mind—and it explored ways that drawing that world (visual thinking!) can lead to better fiction.

Some of my favorite “lit’ry” books are accompanied by maps.

A recent read, Donald Ray Pollock‘s short-story collection, Knockemstiff, is set in the “real” town of Knockemstiff, right outside of Chillicothe, Ohio (30 miles from where I grew up—if you keep heading north on 23 you’ll get to Circleville). The book includes a nice hand-pencilled map by artist David Cain:

map from donald ray pollock's KOCKEMSTILL

Lynda Barry’s Cruddy contains four maps. Here’s two of them:

map from lynda barry's CRUDDY

And while it was a TV show and not a book, one of my favorite fictional worlds, Twin Peaks, was drawn by David Lynch for the pitch meeting:


Some writers use previously-made maps to help create their fiction: Melville used whaling charts, Joyce used Ordnance surveys of Dublin, and Pynchon used aerial maps.

Poking around the ‘net I found maps for Faulkner’s books, Treasure Island, and of course, Tolkien.

What other favorite books of yours include maps? Let’s get a big ol’ list going in the comments!

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  1. says

    The Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, even though we don’t see it (until the movie version), I imagined it well.

    I also feel like there should be a map or that there is an implied map in Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”, because the geography of the book is so detailed. I was living in the Midwest while reading it and was familiar enough with the places and the routes that it feel like it was mapped out in my head.

    Also, I love the blog Strange Maps
    which sometimes includes fictional maps based on real places.


  2. says

    If you haven’t already found it, check out Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi, a writer from, of all places, my high school.

  3. says

    It falls into the fantasy / children’s book realm, but the one that I really sunk into as a kid was The Phantom Tollbooth. It had the requisite Tolkien-style map, but something about the wordplay and thoughtful humor resonated with me. I can’t seem to find a copy of the map online, but it’s a reminder that I should re-read the Tollbooth. I wonder if it holds up as an adult?

    Maps of fictional worlds drawn by someone other than the author could be an interesting thing to look at, too. I used to have the “Atlas of Middle-Earth” drawn by cartographer Karen Wynn Fonstad (she also did coffee table atlases for the derivative Dragonlance and Pern series). It’s a testament to Tolkien’s level of detail (and prolific note-taking) that accurate maps could be drawn of his lands without straying far from the source material.

    I read somewhere that Tolkien didn’t have his story for the Hobbit until he drew Thror’s map. As he continued to add detail, his plot ideas became clearer. Drawing a map can definitely be a good way to generate a story, as anyone who’s ever rolled a d20 can tell you.

    thror's map

  4. Traci says

    One of my favorite books is “The Dictionary of Imaginary Places” by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. It’s a reference book that includes imaginary terrains from Homer’s Land of the Lotus Eaters to Oz to Flatland to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. There are “no heavens or hells, no places in the future, none outside the planet Earth, no pseudonymous places such as Wessex or Manawaka.” Each place is described in detail as if it physically existed outside the reader’s imagination and (the best part!) includes detailed maps.

  5. Mike H says

    I come from a map family. Roadtrips. Camping. Learning. And when D&D came out, mapping gained a whole new life, a center point for the fluid role-playing of a diverse group of teenagers. We’re talking Middle School in the 70s. When there wasn’t a map provided, we craved it. We made our own. And we ripped content from Tolkien, Zelazny, anybody.

    When I reengaged with role-playing, it was because my future wife and our college friends were into it. My wife creates detailed lush worlds… and there are always maps. Her games were epic runs over months. I have run a few games, but I am more cinematic in style and improvisational in effort… and thus those games worked for one night. But without the mapping/detail that basis… they never sustained.

    Maybe I should say most accurately, I love other people’s maps.

  6. says

    Ah, such coincidence! I just got a book in at the library I’ve been wanting to read for a while…

    Maps and Civilization by Norman J. W. Thrower

    Also: haven’t responded to Adam, yet…that’s so great that Tolkien couldn’t write it until he drew the map. How perfect.

  7. says

    Thomas the Tank Engine is set on the Island of Sodor. The author, Rev. W. Awdry, used the London Underground map as a guide.Funnily enough, the discovery of this map led to all my other interests in cartography, psychogeography and so on.

  8. says

    Wigwag Magazine was an offshoot of The New Yorker in 1989. They asked people to make maps of their lives. I put one on my blog; it links to a gallery of 10 more maps that were published in 1990 and 1991.

  9. Corey says

    Not so much a literary tool, but a theatrical storytelling tool (and applicable to my last week of re-viewing all the movies): Indiana Jones maps! The red lines traveling all across the pre-WWII era globe. AND, the basic “treasure map” style of the stories. Occasionally we see an actual map (Indy’s dad’s hand drawn maps connecting clues about the location of the Grail), but the whole time we hear about where the characters are going, which direction they travel, or where someone/something is located. Even in “Temple”, we hear about how far they are and which direction they need to travel to Delhi.


  10. says

    Excellent example, mon frere. I should point out that Dr. Jones Sr’s grail diary made me want to keep one.

    Now there’s another post: notebooks in movies. LAST CRUSADE (Grail Diary), SEVEN (creepy composition books)…

  11. Azmara says

    Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, there is even a map over “Death’s domain”. A place created from Death’s perception of humanity and human life, when he himself is portrayed as the anthropomorphic version of death.

  12. Keith says

    I immediately thought of Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead map that was included (I think) in the first Jane Marple-featured novel “A Murder at the Vicarage”…you can view the interactive map at

  13. Kevin says

    The BBC’s daily radio soap opera “The Archers”, which has been on the air since 1951, has its own map interactive map on the web — at (though, to be honest, it corresponds as little to the “real” map in listeners’ heads as do the other, often quite different, maps published in various books about the programme over the last half century!)

  14. says

    Dash Shaw‘s webcomic BodyWorld includes a map of the town:

    bodyworld map

    I like having a limited location and keeping all my scenes inside these spaces where you know what they are. I don’t like having to keep establishing where the character is. I like having the character in the background and you know where they are because you’ve read the pages before. So the map creates a limited contained space where we’re aware of where the character is at that time in relation to the other places that he or she’s been. On top of that, the distance between the places and the town becomes important later in the story. I don’t want to say why because it will spoil things. (link)

  15. Michelle says

    I immediately thought of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, which has an awesome map in the front of the book that makes it a lot easier to follow the story geographically, since the characters can’t seem to stay in one place for more than a few chapters.

  16. says

    if you desire to know the true location of atlantis and mu then go to it is a pinpoint new map with photo,coordinates of the main islands of atlantis and mu….it is a brand new discovery and matches platos description with absolute accuracy….does any one really believe that one of the greatest philosophers of all time didnt know east from west?? its not in the mediteranean!! its right where plato said it was!!!

  17. says

    Great website you have, sir!

    You might find my NEU-YORK map of interest:

    “An obsessively detailed alternate-history map, imagining how Manhattan might have looked had the Nazis conquered it in World War II.”

    PS, Lynda Barry is the best! I took her workshop “Writing the Unthinkable” (her book “What It Is” covers much of the same territory). If you ever have the opportunity to take the workshop I recommend that you seize it! I found it to be absolutely transformative and inspiring! Lynda Barry rules!!

  18. Kendall says

    Garrison Keillor, of course, and the town of Lake Wobegon: I don’t know if any of his books have included maps, but the cover of this one, Pontoon, does a pretty good job:


    And Alison Bechdel, in her graphic memoir Fun Home, creates several incredible maps of her real-life hometown of Beech Creek, PA, as well as a map from the Wind in the Willows (which, when I tried to find Bechdel’s version, I also found Ernest Sherpard’s:

    wind in the willows

    and this article in which it appears: ).

  19. says


    That link to “Map Reading” by Jerry Griswold is great. Here’s a tasty excerpt for everyone:

    For me, a map is like the hypnotist’s pocket-watch swinging before my eyes. It is an invitation to daydream. This is this way it is in Stevenson’s Treasure Island when Jim Hawkins pours over the parchment that belonged to the pirate Billy Bones: “I brooded by the hour over the map, all the details of which I well remembered. Sitting by the fire in the housekeeper’s room, I approached that island in my fancy from every possible direction; I explored every acre of its surface; I climbed a thousand times to that tall hill they call the Spy-glass, and from the top enjoyed the most wonderful and changing prospects. Sometimes the isle was thick with savages, with whom we fought, sometimes full of dangerous animals that hunted us.”

    The map also serves another important purpose in Treasure Island: it is a device Stevenson uses for storytelling. The reader can return to it again and again to point to various locales and to trace events as they unfold. Here is where the Hispaniola anchors, just off Skeleton Island. There is the stockade where the gentlemen take refuge to fight off attacks by the pirates, who have stupidly camped near the adjoining and pestilential swamp which is over there. Here is where Ben Gunn’s coracle can be found near White Rock; and when Jim takes it and travels out to the Hispaniola to cut the ship free from its moorings, he drifts this way, along the western side of the island, past the Cape of Woods while Jim struggles with Israel Hands—finally killing him and then beaching the Hispaniola at North Inlet over there at the top of the map. And here, of course, are three crosses that mark where the treasure is buried.