By Amron Gravett
Martha Hopkins defines the term as “ a map that records the location and identity of geographical places and features associated with authors and their works and serves as a guide to the worlds of novelists, poets, dramatists, and other authors of imaginative literature.”*
Literary maps are a tool used for different functions. Some are used in school lessons to identify locations of a particular story. This is often called story mapping. The result becomes a visual counterpart to the story that helps a reader understand the various locations and whereabouts within a particular piece of literature. For examples of these, see E. H. Shepard’s Map of Pooh Country, McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove or a map of Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Some works of literature lend themselves nicely to a literary map.
Literary maps of a certain city or region can be used in a very different way. They can represent an author’s characters and place names across an entire region, such as Sinclair Lewis’ map of America. They can point to sites where events and people lived or experienced something in literature within a particular area, such as the address of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street, London. They can also help readers locate works of literature that are set in their own backyard. See the Denver Story Trek or our links at right column for examples of these. Some have been created by statewide initiatives, state center for the book organizations or in the past have most notably been created by state councils on education.
Creating a literary map can become a means of exploring a specific region’s literary history. It can become a visual representation of a region’s fingerprint on the literary world. They can be used to guide new readers to regional favorites, or old readers to new favorites. With the ease of online research and mapping programs, literary maps have taken on a whole new interactive element creating links to author pages, images of landmarks and other visual representations that allow the reader to imagine how they can become part of the story.
In all of these ways, the literary map is a useful tool, to be used by readers and map lovers alike. It is a great example of creative cartography.
* Hopkins, Martha E., Michael Buscher, and Library of Congress. Language of the Land: The Library of Congress Book of Literary Maps. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1999.