Lewis Carroll's Map of Nothing
A perfect and absolute blank
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
This map is an illustration in ‘The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits)’, a nonsensical and somewhat grim poem by Lewis Carroll, who is better known for ‘Alice in Wonderland’. All the illustrations in ‘Snark’, first published in 1876, are by Henry Holiday, whom I therefore suppose to also be the author of this map.
The map is an Ocean Chart owned by the Bellman, one of the main characters in the book. It helps the Bellman and his fellow adventurers, who are hunting for a legendary beast called the Snark, to cross the ocean and arrive at a strange land. The absurdity of the map is that it only shows ocean, literally illustrating nothing, and therefore cannot be a very helpful navigating tool. Here’s an extract from ‘Snark’ relating to said map:
He had bought a large map representing the sea, Without the least vestige of land: And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be A map they could all understand.
“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators, Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?” So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply “They are merely conventional signs!
“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank: (So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best— A perfect and absolute blank!”
Strange Maps #93
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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