A Map to Get Lost In: Cartography Helps the New Yorker Tell a Short Story

Most maps are directional tools, but some are their own destination, like this fun narrative-driven map from the New Yorker.

A map drawn by Tom Gauld for the short story "Fable," by Charles Yu, in the New Yorker.

Most maps are directional tools, means rendered meaningless beyond their end. But some maps are their own destination. Like this one, by Tom Gauld – a map one would like to get lost in.

Gauld's map is not a standalone, though. It illustrates 'Fable', a short story by Charles Yu in The New Yorker. Like the story – and like much of Gauld's cartoon work – the map is both minimalist and highly detailed, mixes the mythical past with the pedestrianism of the present, and manages to be genuinely ominous while also knowingly self-ironical. 

Two vignettes illustrate key aspects of the map, and the story: the one at the top shows the sword- and briefcase-wielding hero, out on a quest. The bottom one shows the hero, reflecting – literally as well as in the other sense.  

Fitted with a compass rose at bottom right, the map is dotted with hills both pointy and round, with trees both singular and in a forest-like huddle, and with the pennanted turrets and castles where the 1% dwell, as well as the various cramped cottages housing the rest of us. The landscape is criss-crossed by roads, rivers and bridges across rivers, suggestive of the voyage implicit in a quest. 

Rearing an adorable head above the waves, a sea monster pokes up from the southern ocean. Its land-based cousin stalks the map's northwest. The hero in the top vignette is taking his sword to that dragon, but what happens is not the slaying you could have expected from your standard-issue fairy tale, once upon a time.

To find out what happens, read the story, or hear the author read it, here at The New Yorker. Or make up your own story, based solely on this map. Get lost!Image reproduced with kind permission. For more by Tom Gauld, visit his websiteTumblr, Instagram and/or Twitter.

Strange Map #787

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists find unique "hot Jupiter" planet without clouds

A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.

Illustration of WASP-62b, the Jupiter-like planet without clouds or haze in its atmosphere.

Credit: M. Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Surprising Science
  • Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
  • Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
  • Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Keep reading Show less

Lair of giant predator worms from 20 million years ago found

Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.

Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois)

Credit: Rickard Zerpe / Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
  • The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
  • The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

FOSTA-SESTA: Have controversial sex trafficking acts done more harm than good?

The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.

Scroll down to load more…