My abstract has been accepted for the Mythgard Midatlantic Speculative Fiction Symposium 2016. What am I going to talk about? It’s not really done yet, but half-baked ideas are the soul of this blog, so here goes.
Applying geography to LotR worked pretty well. How do I extend this to other books? Since Tolkien, it’s almost required for fantasy novels to have maps in them. Fantasy novels that include maps invite geographic analysis, but it’s rare to find an author who spends the effort to build the understory of a world to the extent that JRRT did.
In a nutshell: Speculative fiction begins with world-building, so it ought to be the easiest genre to which science-based criticism could be applied. However, scientific approaches were invented for the real world, which is much larger than any one sub-creator’s imagination. How do I constrain the breadth of the analysis to a scope that is consistent with the author’s intent?
So my talk will show three examples of where geographical analysis gets you. I’ll start with re-using parts of this summer’s project for The Lord of the Rings, in which geography illuminates implicit references in the text. Then I’ll review Lyman Stone’s analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire, which runs aground because George R.R. Martin didn’t use geography for anything — Stone’s analysis exceeded the bounds of the requirements of the story. My third example will be Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay has lots of maps in that book, but doesn’t use geography for the story per se. I think he’s using it like a website theme: there are countless details about his world that don’t interest him; his maps and the references to them in the text give the reader permission to fill in any gaps with Renaissance Italy, and it will be fine. There’s a tangible virtue to that – Kay’s story is the only one of the three that fits into a single volume.