How far is the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle from the heart of Emerald City? Or the Shire to Mordor? Luckily, a display at Harvard’s Pusey Library takes the guesswork out of planning your next fantastical trip through Middle Earth.
“From Academieland to Zelda,” on view in the library’s first-floor corridor through Nov. 3, features fictional maps that chart everything from TV, film, and literary locales to video game worlds, and even abstract concepts.
Calling the exhibition “kind of a mishmash,” curator Bonnie Burns, head of geospatial resources at the Harvard Map Collection, said that “within the exhibit you have maps that are kind of theoretical, like nursery rhymes and Fairyland maps. And then there’s a big chunk of maps of literature — Middle Earth to Narnia.”
The nearly 30 maps on display span centuries. The oldest, the “Accurate Map of Utopia” by German cartographer Johann Baptist Homann, dates to 1720. The satirical paradise includes depictions of regions named Kingdom of Drinkers, Empire of the Fat Stomachs, and the Kingdom of Extravagance.
Two maps from 1943 and 1772 offer contrasting takes on love and marriage. “A Pictorial Map of Loveland” created by American greeting card illustrator Ernest Dudley Chase includes landmarks like Lustrous Lake, Happy as Clams Shoals, and the Serenity Sea. “A New Map of the Land of Matrimony” by Joseph Johnson and J. Ellis, however, tells a different tale with its Straits of Uncertainty, Languish Island, and ultimately, Divorce Island.
“It’s just so interesting to me to see how the written word, or even an idea like love, gets put together, and the thought process that goes into translating from an idea or a book into a map of all things,” Burns said. “And plus, they’re just really cool.”
She added that some pieces in the exhibit are inspired by her own inclinations — a soft spot for the Zelda universe, or her child’s favorite fantasy series.
“Not everybody thinks in maps, but it can help you to understand the story, help you to understand a concept,” she said. “If you have that kind of spatial brain, it can really do a lot to bring the story even more to life for you. Because I’m that person, I’m always looking for them at the beginning of a story. And if it’s not there, I’m disappointed.”