Welcome to the blog of Ron Leighton, Fantasy Author

Join me in the Shining Lands where gods, giants, werewolves, vampires and bears are real. (Oh, and I may share my art once in awhile so it doesn't get lonely in the portfolio.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Of Maps and Tongues

Why a Map?

As some fans of fantasy may know, there is a literary snobbery that says, more or less, “Well-written books don’t need no maps.” (That’s right. I made the literary snobs speak ungrammatically!) This to me reveals two things: one, a lack of appreciation as to the reason fantasy writers create maps for their worlds in the first place; and two, a lack of appreciation for what the map provides the reader.

The first assumption is that fantasy writers rely on maps because they have failed to describe the lay of the land in their world well enough. Thus, it is believed, they include a map to save the reader from being confused, lost as it were among the fantastic settings. I would be the first to say that fantasy writers, and any other writers, should avoid insufficient description of the setting. However, it is overly simple to say a fantasy writer is motivated to make up for the lack of setting in the text by providing a map. At best, a fantasy writer creates a map as a part of the overall creation, not because he or she is worried his reader may wander aimlessly without one.

Second, for the reader, a map simply enhances the text the way an illustration would. Do illustrations deserve from the literati the same disrepute as maps? I’ve never heard a hint of such a thing. The urge to map arises from the same place as the urge to illustrate and the love of the map arises from the same place as the love of the illustration!

Short story long: I created a map because I wanted to (with as much lust conveyed in the “want” as possible), not because I had to. I believe most fantasy writers would say the same. I certainly think Tolkien would!

My Map, My World

Some time ago I posted a copy of a map of Farseiyam - aka, the Shining Lands, the world of my stories. I invited readers to peruse the map and find on it locations mentioned in the texts of my stories. However, a reader noticed and gently mentioned something was just not right about the map of Farseiyam! Some of the place names, etc., did not match exactly those in the text.

This is perfectly true and occurs for a perfectly good reason. The language in which the map of Farseiyam is labeled and the language used to convey certain terms in some of the stories are different yet related. The former is Vyasgalean and the latter, Kuetran. They are as closely related as some dialects of Germanic or Scandinavian. Or, say, Portuguese and Spanish. For instance, what is called Kuetra in ‘A Cheerful Smoke for the Dead,' is called Kuwetra on the map. What is called Artafas in ‘The Advent of Velos’ is called Erdefosas on the map. Gergenon, the name of the town in ‘A Cheerful Smoke for the Dead,’ is Artagoan for ‘oak-strong.’ It sits at the old border between Artago and the Empire. In Kuetran it would be rendered Kerekon. 

In fact, the name of the world reflects this language difference as well. On the map, the name of the world is Farseiyam, while in various other stories and documents it is called Varaeim. Again, the former is Vyasgalean and the latter, Kuetran. Both translate as “man’s time.” This is a reflection of how the peoples of Varaeim conceive of their world. Time trumps place in this conception. It is the time of mankind, rather than, say, the time of the primal chaos, or the rise of the gods, etc., etc. To view it as merely a 'place' seems somehow sacrilegious. (This conception implies a time after man, of course. :( ) I did not invent this time-as-place idea. ‘World’ is a modern rendering of the Old English term ‘were-ald,’ which meant ‘man-age.’

The two main languages of my world, Vyasgalean and Kuetran, represent a divide that shows up in terms of politics, power, geographic setting and culture. Vyasgalean is the main language spoken, the official language certainly, of the people who live in the expansive confines of the Empire of Varšambekon (pronounced var-SHAM-be-con). Kuetran is the older of the two and is the language of the people who inhabit the lands to the east of the Empire. Other languages are related to these two: Birviodish (the language of the folk in ‘Child of Chaos’) is spoken in the Wood of Birviod in the southern part of East Kuetra; Artagoan is spoken in Artago, as well as in Vodo Wood and Cernandea to the north; and, in the south central part of the Empire, Kalkaman predominates among natives.

The map of Farseiyam posted here was drawn by cartographers of the so-called Seerage -- an organization of magicians, wise men, philosophers and just plain sneaks that serve in an advisory and intelligence role to the emperors of Varšambekon -- and reflects the specific world-view of the Vyasgaleans, their Alénoševaraiem, as the Kuetrans would say. Their Weltanschauung, as the Germans would say.

Other maps displaying the world-view of other peoples may be posted in the future.

So, for all the imperfections that may yet to be found in my world-building, the inclusion of a map and/or spelling differences of fantastic place names, are not mistakes!


  1. Personally, I always enjoy a map with my fantasy reading. Not because I can't get a sense of the land from the writing, but because it enhances the experience for me. Just adds another layer to the story for me.

  2. Ditto what Bridget said--maps enhance a story for me, especially if it's fantasy. It helps me to picture the places better. I'm a big fan of maps, whether it be a fantasy tale, a historical fiction tale, or a non-fiction book.

    And on a different note, I love how you have different languages and dialects for your world. Being a lover of both maps and linguistics, I am intrigued. I'll have to check out your books!

    1. Well, hello, Grace! Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments. And I love finding someone who loves maps AND languages as much as I do. I actually have about 8 languages--in various states of development--for my world. As for the stories, they are short stories only for now, but they are highly recommended--and not just by me! I am in the process of editing a novel set in the same world.