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Thread: Left Justified Fantasy Map Trope

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    Community Leader Gracious Donor ravells's Avatar
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    Default Left Justified Fantasy Map Trope

    Interesting (very short) article here.

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    Guild Journeyer Daelin's Avatar
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    Interesting observation. I think there is a tendency to have the ocean to the left. Though, what the consequence this is, if any, I don't know.

    What I think is more interesting, is that many fantasy maps are maps of regions, with the whole world intentionally left out. Middle-earth, Dragon Age and even your own The Steel Remains are only part of a bigger world.
    I think this has to do with the potential of expansion within the universe of the map. LOTR has a huge elaborate universe beyond Middle-Earth, Dragon Age will definitely have its universe expanded and maybe Richard K. Morgan will branch outside the bounds of the first book (where did those scaled folk come from?).

    The point is that a lot of maps are of RPG settings and therefore leave out the "whole view", so that they can be expanded upon later. Or maybe its up to the reader himself to image it, which is all the more interesting.

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    Community Leader Gracious Donor ravells's Avatar
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    I'm sure you're right Daelin...almost by definition Fantasy worlds depend on 'the unknown' or 'here be dragons' bits of the map to echo that idea that there are new frontiers to be explored. I think it was Umberto Eco who said that at it's heart, every novel is a detective novel, in that there is a mystery which needs to be solved. In the case of Fantasy, I guess the mystery is often geographical.

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    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    Similar to this is the phenomenon, that we've discussed in the past, about how continents get laid out on a fantasy world map...how there is this tendency to have major continents in similar positions to earth. Things like this are just ingrained in us and anything too far away from that starts to become unbelievable...I guess.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daelin View Post
    What I think is more interesting, is that many fantasy maps are maps of regions, with the whole world intentionally left out.
    Well, if you are traveling around on foot or by horse, or wind-blown ships, an entire globe is (measured in travel time) incredibly huge. If it took ten years of hard travel to get to Mordor, (or from Mordor to the Shire) the story looses a lot of intensity. Practically speaking. if you try to show the whole planet, the features that are important to the story, and important to these slow-moving people would get jammed together so there's no room to properly show them.

    Especially as travel tends to have all kinds of extra dangers in fantasy worlds, it is entirely reasonable that the all of the world that matters is a fraction of the globe.

    Though i think there's some truth to the unknown/mystery angle too.

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    Community Leader Gracious Donor Jaxilon's Avatar
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    I'm not sure if I believe these maps are justified right or left based on where we live. I'm sure there are times when the writer builds it in his mind based on bits of geography he or she was impressed by and this obviously would have to be shown in the art. However, I wonder how much is based on the handedness of the artist?

    If I do a large piece of art, we are talking more than a regular page of paper (and I typically work in Pencil) I prefer to NOT put my hand on anything I have already drawn out. It smudges if I'm not careful. This would mean an ocean on the left side moves everything closer to the right and thus easier to work on. This is due to my being right handed. If I was left handed I'm sure the opposite would be true. Obviously there are ways around this and with digital art it makes little difference. I would like to see a chart that showed the Artists left/right handedness compared to where those oceans are.

    Usually, the simplest answer is correct. Thus, I give you Art skewed by handedness That's my theory, hehe.
    Last edited by Jaxilon; 04-15-2010 at 09:30 PM. Reason: clarity
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    Guild Artisan Greason Wolfe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jaxilon View Post
    I'm not sure if I believe these maps are justified right or left based on where we live. I'm sure there are times when the writer builds it in his mind based on bits of geography he or she was impressed by and this obviously would have to be shown in the art. However, I wonder how much is based on the handedness of the artist?

    If I do a large piece of art, we are talking more than a regular page of paper (and I typically work in Pencil) I prefer to NOT put my hand on anything I have already drawn out. It smudges if I'm not careful. This would mean an ocean on the left side moves everything closer to the right and thus easier to work on. This is due to my being right handed. If I was left handed I'm sure the opposite would be true. Obviously there are ways around this and with digital art it makes little difference. I would like to see a chart that showed the Artists left/right handedness compared to where those oceans are.

    Usually, the simplest answer is correct. Thus, I give you Art skewed by handedness That's my theory, hehe.
    Ironically, some years back (okay, maybe a couple decades back) I remember reading a study similar to the one you're suggesting. In this instance, it looked at both artists and authors and the results seemed to suggest that the frequency of left to right handedness among authors and artists was significantly more balanced than it is among the population in general. The purpose of the study, if I remember correctly, had something to do with the creative side versus the logical side of the brain and whether or not those who were left handed (thus having more cognitive activity on the right/creative side of their brain) were more likely to express their creativity as artists and/or authors than those who were right handed.

    In terms of the article, however, another thought occurred to me. Not only does it seem that most maps are "left" aligned and regional, but, at least to me, most seem to focus on the northern hemisphere as well.

    Just my two and a half cents.

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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    I'm not sure there's really enough there to justify calling this a trope. After all, there are a limited number of places to put your ocean if you're dealing with a single-ocean regional map.

    Lately, TVTropes has been less about identifying "tropes" and more about calling attention to tenuous similarities in a few novels/movies/video games. This is one example of a fairly useless entry, in my opinion.
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    I believe aping Tolkien (both directly, and indirectly through other authors that aped him) is the biggest reason behind this convention. Fantasy literature in general has been incredibly genre-conforming, though it would seem to be getting less so lately. Maps are just another element that's been subject to this sticking to familiar ways.

    Quote Originally Posted by ravells View Post
    I'm sure you're right Daelin...almost by definition Fantasy worlds depend on 'the unknown' or 'here be dragons' bits of the map to echo that idea that there are new frontiers to be explored. I think it was Umberto Eco who said that at it's heart, every novel is a detective novel, in that there is a mystery which needs to be solved. In the case of Fantasy, I guess the mystery is often geographical.
    I disagree with this. What lies outside the bounds of a map rarely has ANY relevance whatsoever to the plot of a story. Fantasy authors, when they bother to dabble in cartography at all, probably choose to present a less-than-global picture of their world because
    a.) they only NEED to show a small fraction of it and anything more might just confuse the readers,
    b.) they're being lazy gits that can't be arsed to draw more than what's necessary,
    c.) they actualy don't have a detailed idea about the world outside the confines of the story anyway,
    d.) representing a smaller area on a given stretch of paper (usually a single page) = more space for details,
    e.) any/all of the above.

    If there is a conscious decision to include mystery, it's more likely to be worked within the plot than on a piece of supporting art. And should the latter be the case anyway, it's more likely to be flat out marked on the map (ie. by "Terra Incognita" labels or similar ways) instead of expecting the reader to get all excited about there being an edge to the map

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    Quote Originally Posted by Midgardsormr View Post
    I'm not sure there's really enough there to justify calling this a trope. After all, there are a limited number of places to put your ocean if you're dealing with a single-ocean regional map.
    Personally, i haven't noticed an over-abundance of left-justified worlds.

    I have noticed an over-abundance of fantasy-worlds that have a continental configuration that roughly matches Europe/Asia/Africa, both in geography and culture. This is IMHO a much more notable "coincidence".

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