The map is the second most sought after work of art in a fantasy book (in many cases). Apart from the book cover, readers of the genre love flipping through the first couple of pages to behold the layout of the world/land that they are about to explore (via the characters). Fantasy maps are a great way of bringing visualization to the author’s world, helping to provide just a drop of imagery in the reader’s mind. They assist the reader with locale and perspective while journeying through the pages. They may even help embellish one’s imagination.
Maps in fantasy go as far back as 1908 when L. Frank Baum presented his map of the Land of Oz, projected on a large screen, at his multi-media stage shows (The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays); which were used to promote his first three Oz books. In 1914 the first printed Oz map was included in Tik-Tok of Oz, the eighth Oz book, along with another map at the back of the book titled Map of the Countries Near to the Land of Oz.
One will not find a map in all fantasy books, but any fantasy novel set in a secondary world most commonly will feature some kind of map. As stated above, this can assist in visualizing a world not like our own, and help pull the reader into a “belief” of that fantasy world.
Not every reader of fantasy likes or has respect for maps in fantasy. Some ignore them completely; others glance over it with a shrug; yet others tend to delve into them like one on a quest. There are even cases where people will select or reject a fantasy novel based on whether or not it contains a map—or based on the judgment of the quality of the map. Like the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover;” the same should apply to judging books by their map(s).
Fantasy maps are an extension from the text. The fascinating thing about reading fantasy books is being able to use one’s imagination; but wrapping that imagination around a visual relation to the story can often expand that imagination. Yet, this is not so for all readers. Personally, I tend to be the one who simply glances over the map and then move on with the story. However, if I find myself really engrossed in the story, I will look more intently at the map just to suck up as much as I can of the world that I’m experiencing.