Books with Maps

A Map of Narnia and the Surrounding Countries

In sharing my posts, my practice has been to give you some biographical information about the author, show you the imaginary map from the book, and then discuss a few pertinent ideas. However, in this post, I present you with a map first. Bear with me; I have a reason. Notice that in this fantasy space, it shows a number of interesting features, all of them having to do with stereotypes and prejudices. Thought-provoking, isn’t it? Note the mystical land with magic (Asia) in the upper right corner. I believe this stereotypical view of the world, with Europe at the centre and all other countries on the margins, mirrors C.S. Lewis’s world view when he created The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950.

Clive and his brother Warner (Jack and Warnie) grew up in an upper middle-class household in Belfast. As a child of privilege, Jack’s parents employed a housemaid, cook, and governess, but he spoke dismissively of them in his childhood diary. His mother died when he was ten—it is telling that he speaks in geographic terms of the time after her death as “sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis” (Lewis, SBJ 23). Subsequently, his father sent him to join his brother at boarding school, as was customary. His father was an important role model, and he absorbed his father’s political talk. As a young and largely solitary boy, he combined his interest in geography and his lessons in politics to create the imaginary world of Animal-Land. He then joined Animal-Land with his brother’s island of India to create the single state of Boxen.  The Boxen Manuscripts are peppered with words of conquest and imperialism, of masters and servants, of lords and little people. Educated in the United Kingdom during the early 1900’s, he learned to think of other countries in an imperialistic way; he learned bigotry and racism, too. Lewis learned to stereotype, which he repeated and expressed in his writing. (Lewis, Boxen Introduction).

Now, let’s look at Narnia. On the western side, we see the Wardrobe–portal to and from Narnia–and the Lamp-post, which the children use as a guide or connection point back to the real world. Note that in the land of eternal winter, good and evil reside next to each other in Aslan’s Camp and Witch’s Camp; the large body of water in the East is the Great Eastern Ocean. While Lewis derives some of his place names from old English and French, he also mines Greek, Latin, Persian, and Turkish languages for names. The map shows intriguing and mysterious place names, adjacent countries, islands, and wild forests. Because Mr. and Mrs. Beaver accompany the children, they do not need a map to guide them. However, Lewis provides one to help the reader follow the quest.

Although two boys and two girls enter Narnia and each performs heroically, Father Christmas, Aslan, and the Professor choose to recognize only Peter and Edmund as heroes. Lewis subscribes to the belief that “heroes are traditionally male and the hero myth inscribes male dominance and the primacy of male enterprises” (Hourihan 67). Margery Hourihan suggests that the reason for this is that “[h]eroism is gendered” (Hourihan 67). Lucy begins very bravely in her hero’s journey. She is the first to enter Narnia through the wardrobe, and she not only confronts Mr. Tumnus but also convinces him to change his plan of kidnapping her by appealing to his conscience. However, after a brave start, her role diminishes. Susan, Edmund, and Peter minimize her by describing her as “batty”, “silly”, and “a goose” (Lewis, LWW 24, 25). When she and Edmund enter Narnia together, he continues to denigrate her by saying, “‘Just like a girl…sulking somewhere, and won’t accept an apology’” (Lewis, LWW 30).  On their return through the wardrobe, Edmund discounts their adventure by calling it “playing—pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true” (Lewis, LWW 45). When all the children enter Narnia, Peter becomes the leader, and Lucy and Susan look to him for answers. The girls take on domestic duties with Mrs. Beaver and help her prepare dinner for the males. Father Christmas gives Lucy a bottle of cordial which she can use to nurse her friends hurt in battle and a small dagger to “defend herself”, but he tells her she will not be “in the battle” (Lewis, LWW 109). He gives Susan a bow and arrows, but he does “not mean [her] to fight” (Lewis, LWW 108). Then he gives her a horn to blow so that she can call for “help of some kind” (Lewis, LWW 108). In mourning Aslan’s death, Lucy and her sister represent the biblical Mary and Martha as they minister to him. Finally, Aslan rebukes Lucy for nursing Edmund first and making others wait. Once Lucy and Susan become Queens, they live peaceful but passive lives. Lucy is “gay”, “golden-haired”, and “valiant”; Susan is “tall”, “gracious”, and “[g]entle”. Both are prized for their beauty (Lewis, LWW 183-184). In contrast, the men are rewarded for their brawn and brain; King Peter becomes a “great warrior”, and King Edmund is “great in council and judgement” (Lewis, LWW 184). On their return through the wardrobe, the Professor does not speak of the girls as Queens but says, “Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia” (Lewis, LWW 188). It seems that in life, as in Narnia, girls are handmaidens, not heroes.

Edmund and The White Witch

Lewis continues to demean women through his portrayal of Jadis. He looks to the East for his source of Evil, which “exposes the complicity of Western scholarship and writing with imperial power” (Milz 2). In his study of Orientalism, Edward Said discusses the subject “as a Eurocentric style of thought based upon binary notions of Orient/Occident or West/East and as a discourse that confirms the need for colonial power, domination, and hegemony” (Milz 2). Lewis mirrors those viewpoints in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and admits that “[h]is opinions about other cultures [are] second-hand”, and he thinks that Chinese are “human (or roughly human) in form but in nothing else” (Colbert 164-165). Hence, it is not surprising that he draws the lineage of the White Witch (Jadis) from an amalgam of Adam’s first wife Lilith, “a demon who seduced men and stole children” (Colbert 27), a Jinn, which is mentioned in Arab folklore and Islamic mythology, and a race of giants. (Humphreys Lecture, June 19). Jadis is evil personified. In the dual role of Satan, she tries to rule over Narnia, she attempts to lure Edmund with Turkish delight (like the apple), and she is “defeated when Aslan gives his life to save Edmund’s soul” (Colbert 30).  While it is difficult to understand the poor treatment of females and people of other cultures in Narnia, I take heart in the eternal message of Narnia, which is, in the words of Shelley, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” (Shelley, line 70).

STORM WARNING: ROUGH SEAS AHEAD. For the next two posts, we are going into uncharted territory. We have no maps, we will not have a compass, and we will have to use all ATON (Aids to Navigation) that we can. My two cartographers are joining us on the next two voyages to lend a hand. Check back in a week to read about James’s Journey in the Giant Peach!

Categories: Books with Maps | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Wilderland and Thror’s Map

The impetus for Tolkien’s writing career lies in the incredible suffering he experienced and witnessed in the trenches in World War I. On his return from France, he began to write; in writing The Hobbit, he “created a mythology for England” (Carpenter 100). His intent was to “make a body of … connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story…which [he] would dedicate simply: to England; to [his] country” (Carpenter 101). However, his entire life up to this point helped him to create and put flesh on the bones of this body. His early interest in language and his need to give his language a history and genealogy, coupled with his love of calligraphy, drawing, and poetry, work together to imbue The Hobbit with depth and substance. We don’t need to travel to this world. Through his words and maps, he draws us in and we are there, living as inhabitants of The Hill.

Wilderland is conventionally oriented with north at the top of the map. We see rivers, roads, walking paths, access points, mountains, and directional signs. Tolkien, the cartographer, notes in detail the treacherous areas of Mirkwood (spiders, ElvenKing’s Halls) and the safe places (Rivendell, Beorn’s home). With this map, the reader can orient herself to the landscape, become aware of the dangers, and prepare for the journey.

However, Thror’s Map draws the reader in to the adventure. Now, we become part of the quest and hunch over the table along with the dwarves as Gandalf commands, “‘[L]et’s have a little light on this!’” (Tolkien 18). We join the secret circle and pore over the map as Tolkien describes the intimate and exclusive setting: “On the table in the light of a big lamp with a red shade he spread a piece of parchment rather like a map” (Tolkien 18). Thror’s Map is a mysterious treasure map and therefore must be deciphered.  East is at the top of the map “as usual in dwarf-maps” (Tolkien frontispiece 2). The finger on the left side of the map beckons us and points to the clue. We must use our knowledge of Anglo/Saxon Runes to translate the symbols into English. So begins our journey with Mr. Bilbo Baggins.

[For a complete and thorough discussion of the Hobbit maps, please go here. Mr. Tam does a monumental job of unravelling the mystery and deciphering the Hobbit maps: I stand in awe of his analysis and only wish I had the time and word count to delve into the study of maps as he does.]

Wit, language, reason, and intelligence are important, and these tools become powerful weapons in Mr. Bilbo Baggins’ arsenal (along with his invisibility cloak) as he fends off the Gollum [click on Gollum to hear Tolkien’s voice], Spiders, and Smaug.  He uses his wits to evade capture by the Trolls and learns that Gandalf is employing the ventriloquist’s trick of throwing his voice and mimicking other Trolls long enough to expose them to the light of dawn and death. He uses language in the form of riddles and the gambit of talking to himself to trick Gollum. He incenses the Spiders by using bad language, calling them names, and hurling insults at them. Being somewhat knowledgeable in dragon-lore, he uses all of the tools in his mental toolkit, including reason and intelligence, to deal with Smaug. Bilbo by turns flatters Smaug, speaks in riddles, and evades the truth for “[t]his is the way to talk to dragons, if you don’t want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don’t want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise). No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time trying to understand it” (Tolkien 206).

As a hobbit, Mr. Baggins is an unlikely fictional hero. He loves his home and his simple, uncomplicated life. In short, he is unadventurous. Tolkien admits that he himself is very hobbit-like in his manner and character: “I am in fact a hobbit…in all but size….I do not travel much” (Carpenter 197). Daphne Kutzer declares that the hobbits “are close relatives to simple English folk who love their villages, their pubs, and their gardens, and don’t really pay much mind to outside worlds unless they encroach upon their own comfortable lives” (Kutzer, 130). Tolkien further suggests that “the hobbits represent the combination of small imagination with great courage which (as Tolkien had seen in the trenches during the First World War) often led to survival against all chances” (Carpenter 197).  In describing the enemy goblins, Tolkien advises that “they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once” (Tolkien 58). This is an apt comparison to World War I, where mass death was inflicted by mass production tools—the very tools that made life modern (Humphreys Lecture, June 21).  Although Britain won the Great War, many lives were lost in the battle. At the same time, Britons were losing empire. Kutzer says, “As the empire began to shrink, the language of nationalism and patriotism became more pronounced” (Kutzer xx). The Hobbit provides a positive view of a community who fight a great battle, win, and maintain their home and country. Through Bilbo Baggins’ quest for treasure, Tolkien gives his country a sense of national pride and a feeling of nostalgia for a rural life, a simpler lifestyle, and lost empire.

Categories: Books with Maps | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

The Wild Wood

We have several reasons to thank Kenneth Grahame for giving us The Wind in the Willows. First, at the time of writing (1908), England is at its apex. The political map of the world is awash in British Imperial red. This feeling of calm and wellbeing seeps into every stream and rivulet of Wild Wood and Surrounding Country. Secondly, in his position as bank secretary at the Bank of England, a ‘socialist lunatic’ fires three shots at him. All of them miss, but this traumatic incident is the impetus for his retreat into the country and into a fictional world. Finally, Grahame works out the details of his book by telling bedtime stories to his son Alistair, also known as Mouse. (Harvey Lecture, June 19).

At the very beginning of my edition of The Wind in the Willows is a beautiful two-page map of Wild Wood and Surrounding Country. While it is an entirely separate animal world, we can venture into Wild Wood because we have a map showing the idyllic English countryside. The map maker outlines the objects in black and provides a large compass, which continues the illusion that this is a real place. The illustrator colours the map in varying depths of green. The watercolour medium allows the greens to soften and blend, rather dreamily, into a pleasant wash. Green represents nature, new beginnings, and freshness; these are all aspects Grahame wants to address in his book. Notice that there is little outside influence in this map. It is a self-contained world, sufficient unto itself. The outside world is mentioned, fleetingly, as “The Town” and is on the upper edge of the map, outside of the general perspective. We see each animal (Badger, Mole, Rat, Otter, and Toad) in his setting. Toad is motoring in his car, Otter is swimming, Mole and Badger are standing outside their homes. We see the barge—is that the Washer Woman?—hinting at adventure to come. We see Rat and Mole sculling on Ratty’s boat, but we do not see the weasels, ferrets, and stoats fighting at Toad Hall.  That would be too unpleasant to contemplate in this pastoral view of the world.

Although Wild Wood is but a small part of the world, it figures largely in the River-Bankers’ lives, so much so that the mapmaker names his map for this section of the world. Rat describes the inhabitants there as being “all right in a way—I’m very good friends with them—pass the time of day when we meet, and all that—but they break out sometimes…you can’t really trust them, and that’s the fact” (Grahame 19). No individual weasel or stoat has a name; we know them as members of a collective. Because we do not know them, it is easier to objectify and demonize them. Mary Louise Pratt describes how Linnaeus’s systematizing of nature categorizes “homo sapiens and homo monstrosus” (32). Homo sapiens are divided into six categories: Wild Man, American, European, Asiatic, African, and Monster. In the case of Wild Wood, the stoats and weasels are the Socialist Lunatics who create anarchy at Toad Hall. Rat, Mole, Otter, Toad, and Badger are the named “Europeans” against whom the “Monster” stoats and weasels are compared. This creates their feeling of superiority and ownership. They are the landowners who live in comfort as members of the aristocracy. 

“Those were golden days” – Nancy Barnhart, 1922

As creatures of comfort, Ratty, Mole, and Badger seldom venture far afield. They seem content. Yet Water Rat is restless and wants more. He wants to expand his horizons and go beyond “his Mountains of the Moon, his limit behind which lay nothing he had cared to see or to know” (Grahame 215). When Sea Rat, representing the European adventurer, arrives on the scene and meets Ratty, his talk is wide-ranging, expansive, and alluring. Sea Rat, reminiscent of the Ancient Mariner, is filled with wanderlust, “and leaning towards the Water Rat, compel[s] his gaze and [holds] him, body and soul, while he talk[s]”   (Grahame 226). Mirroring the vivid descriptions of Bartram in his travel writing and echoing Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Sea Rat romanticizes the glorious and wide world he travels. Where previously Water Rat calls such adventures to the “Wide World [as] … something that doesn’t matter” (Grahame 19-20), Sea Rat now holds him enthralled. Where William Bartram documents and lists the botany, “corypha palma, magnolia grandiflora, live oak, callicarpa, myrica cerifera, hibiscus spinifex, and the beautiful evergreen shrub called wild lime or tallow nut” (Bartram 112), Sea Rat rapturously catalogues the scenery in his grand coastal shipping adventure:

We … coasted up the Adriatic, its shores swimming in an atmosphere of amber, rose, and aquamarine; we lay in wide land-locked harbours, we roamed through ancient and noble cities, until at last one morning, as the sun rose royally behind us, we rode into Venice down a path of gold (Grahame 219).   

While the lure of the travelling life is strong and he temporarily succumbs to its call, Ratty eventually comes to his senses and plants his feet back on dry land. It is through Mole’s talk of home, land, and country that Ratty realizes the poetry of his own life:

Mole turned his talk to the harvest…the towering wagons…the reddening apples…the distilling of cordials; till by easy stages such as these he reached mid-winter, its hearty joys and its snug home life, and then he became simply lyrical. By degrees the Rat began to sit up and to join in. His dull eyes brightened, and he lost some of his listening air. (Grahame 231).

Ratty’s gentry masculinity requires that he obey the call of duty and the call of the land. He may be an armchair traveller; he may be a wayfarer in his mind and in his poetry, but he simply must stay within the bounds of Wild Wood and tend to matters of hearth, home, and country. Everything that matters lies within the borders of the map.

Nancy Barnhart’s Dreamy Rat (1922)


Categories: Books with Maps | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at