We were lucky. At the end of February–weeks before the UK government decided to do something about Covid19–we moved house.
I was lucky, too: the day before the UK pseudo-lockdown was announced, several boxes of books were drawn out of the storage locker known as my parent’s house and returned to me. Additionally, like I have at past addresses, I’ve had a room to read and write in. All this equated to a satisfying lockdown task: organise my “study”.
Of course, some things have been put on pause and I can’t fully complete the task. But I can–and I have–started to wonder about what is going to occupy the wallspace. Being a creator who toils with words, I decided on something non-wordy. But I didn’t want negative space. Not on the walls, anyway.
Art was the first thing that came to mind. But good art tends to be expensive. Plus, I didn’t know the sort of art I wanted. Paintings? Of what? Landscapes? Abstract things? I did think of having a portrait wall, but decided that would be a tad intimidating–for me, and for visitors. How about sculptures? Curios? Objets d’art? No, no, no. Something else.
I looked into it. Unfortunately, by nature and by nurture I am not an engineer. Which meant that the schematics and technical drawings I thought to source were not only mundane but entirely lacking in personal salience. I switched back to the idea of maps and my mind began to whir…
In my notebook, I wrote the following:
> Milky Way
>> Solar system
… and so on
Like a cinematic intro sequence, the intention was to begin at a far-removed viewpoint and zoom in, ending either on a floor plan of the house we occupy, or da Vinci’s L’Uomo Vitruviano.
I started with the Milky Way, bu after navigating to this NASA page about the solar system, I was stopped in my tracks. Do I go with cartographic/technical representations or artistic ones? I came upon the same question when looking at representations of the Earth, Europe and the UK, too.
I sighed. Several times. Then, for whatever reason, I thought of Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands–which I haven’t actually read. Why don’t I plaster my study’s walls with my own selection of “legendary lands”?
Since asking that question, I’ve put together a shortlist and archived some examples. And as we’re all looking for a bit of light-hearted digression in these strange times, I thought I’d share them with you. In no particular order.
- NASA’s annotated map of the Milky Way.
I know that, technically, this is a map of something real. But given how far away it is and the impossibility of experiencing it in all its glory, I thought it appropriate.
- NASA’s illustration of the Solar System.
The above logic applies here, too.
- The Equal Earth Physical Map.
Again, the same logic as above applies. It’s also why I elected the physical version, instead of the available political version. A world without the borders of nation states imposed upon it seems utterly fantastical to me.
- J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
What selection of maps of the imagination would be complete without Tolkien’s Middle Earth?
- The Marauder’s Map of Hogwarts.
Yes, I grew up on Rowling’s Harry Potter. Yes, this merch is going on the wall.
- A map of GRRM’s Westeros.
It’s been a few years since I read A Song of Ice and Fire, but I vividly recall my sense of enthrallment. I’d like to honour that.
- Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea.
I didn’t find The Earthsea Quartet quite as awe-inspiring as the above series, but it did have a profound, if more subtle, effect upon me.
- A map of Stephen Erikson’s Malazan Empire.
Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. A true epic. It numbs me in its ambitious scope, still.
- A map from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Less literary, now. I spent a lot of hours playing the GTA series, and the San Andreas instalment in particular.
- Maps from Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
The nostalgia is strong from this video game series, too. Many, many hours.
- A map of Critical Role’s Wildemount.
I don’t watch much TV, at all. But I have been watching Season 2 of Critical Role since it began two years ago.
- Ribbonfarm’s Greater Cultural Region.
Less storified, this sense-making map of culture reminds me that maps are not always confined to the realm of fiction.
- A human anatomy subway map.
Yes, this is just as strange and wonderful as it sounds. I’d also consider some Anatomy Trains posters.
There are a few others. I’d like a reproduction of Herodotus’ Known World. And maybe similar illustrations from Thucydides and Xenophon. A map of the world’s internet infrastructure would be cool, too. Perhaps maps from Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4–two more influential video games. I’d also like to have a well-done rendition of the Barker Alternative Institute of Learning from my own novel, but that can wait.
It’ll probably take me a while to pull all these together and get them up on the walls. In the meantime, it’s worth reminding myself (and you) of the original motive: “escaping reality” doesn’t have to mean fleeing it. It can be a means of enduring it, as well as a way of altering it.