At the end of almost every game of Settlers of Catan I’ve ever played, I find myself looking at the board and thinking “this would make a really good story.” I don’t mean the trading and the invading pirates, though. I mean the map. The roads. The places where people chose to put their villages. I’ve played Settlers with some great, though geographically unlikely, boards. I’ve also played with some AWFUL ones. You know, the ones where the ore is all on one side and the wheat is all on the other, and no one can build cities, so it goes FOREVER.
I love those boards.
When I first started test reading for Faith King and Laura Josephsen, I read straight through the draft while Faith was at work. I emailed her approximate 400 times that day, finally volunteering to drive down to where she lived to draw her a map, because it was driving me bonkers. Then Laura, who I had just met*, sent me the map the next day, and all was well.
You see, I really love maps. Most of my favourite books have maps**. Most of those maps are hanging on the wall of my bedroom right now. It bothers me IMMENSELY when people write books that take place in other places (or future places with different borders) and don’t include a map. Characters and plot are lovely, but I’m a world girl, and if you really want me to love a book on sight, a map goes a long way to getting me there.
I’m from a small town that people don’t always leave. And if they leave, they don’t always go very far. When I was a kid, my parents took us traveling. We went down East, to Florida a bunch of times and around Ontario. When I got on the airplane that was going to take me to Australia in 1997, though, the furthest west I had ever been was Goderich, 45 minutes from my house***. There have always been lines on maps, and I have always been able to read them and understand where I am. Well, at least in my memory. 🙂
There’s a world map in my parents’ kitchen with tiny red pins stuck where ever we’ve been. They give that map as a wedding present now, all mounted on cork board. There were six of us and we were always on a tight budget, but we went places. We had one gameboy and 1-3 walkmen, but we managed not to kill each other. Of course, then we all grew into giants, and travel got kind of awkward, but by then at least EJ and SJ had moved out.
The memorization of geography has always been fun for me, but as I grew up, I came to love maps because of what they tell you about the people who live “in” them. My absolute favourite map, ever, was shown to me by my OAC History teacher, and it pretty much solidified my love, not of history, but of people in history.
It was a pop quiz for extra credit. My teacher said “Okay, guys, I’m going to put a map up on the board, and I want you to see if you can tell me what it is, and who the circled person is. I’ll give you hints when you need them.” Up went the picture. Two seconds later, up went my hand. I’d never seen this map before in my life, but as soon as I saw it, I knew what it depicted, as if I could smell the horses and gun powder myself****.
“It’s the Battle of the Little Big Horn,” I said. “And that’s Custer.”
The fact that I was able to identify it so quickly and show off in class is not why it’s my favourite map of all time. What makes it awesome is that it was found in the lining of a quiver that was turned into the Smithsonian for preservation, and also that it is the ONLY PIECE OF WRITTEN EVIDENCE from that period in history that is told from the perspective of a Native American. Can you imagine finding something like that? I would probably cry.
I understand that not everyone loves that feeling*****. Trust me, having had to explain to countless people why holding a broken pot from three thousand years ago (or a child’s skull from the 11th century) is such a profound experience for me, I understand that it is not something everyone will like. Heck, you hand me a First Nation artefact, and I’m all “Great, but where’s your defensive architecture?” But I do love it. I love knowing that this shaped a person and was shaped by a person. Maps do that on TREMENDOUS scale. You can see the end of the empire, the oncoming famine, the potential for growth and exploration, all outline on the map. I’ve driven to Alberta and back, seen the map come to life, and all I know for certain is that I want to get back in the car and drive some more.
Fictional or non-fictional, past and full of holes or future and full of possibility, maps show us where we’ve been and where we’re going. And, if you’re lucky, how to get there.
*Seriously, I read her novel before we had a single conversation. I’d known Faith for about a year, and we had been reading each other’s fic for longer than that, but with Laura it was all “This is my novel, and also I like Star Wars and Avatar.” Obviously, it went well.
**True story, I once knocked an entire point off of POISON STUDY for not having a map, and then went back and retroactively put it back to 10/10 because one of the sequels had a map.
***Lies: the furthest west I’d ever been was Hoover (if you count being in a place) or Birmingham (if you count getting snowed in at and therefore sleeping in a place).
****If anyone can find that map for me, I would be eternally grateful. My google-fu is failing me.
*****I will also, incidentally, support your right to not know where stuff is, provided you don’t treat ignorance as some sort of lofty goal and remain open to the possibility of looking it up. There are a lot of things I don’t know. That’s why I ask questions.