If you want to go to the very first post on the Atlas of Ice and Fire, click here.
Some other useful links:
If you want to go to the very first post on the Atlas of Ice and Fire, click here.
Some other useful links:
Narrative Atlas 4: The Great Hunt – From Fal Dara to Falme
These maps cover the third part of our heroes’ journey in The Great Hunt (Book 2 of The Wheel of Time). For a detailed summary of The Great Hunt, please follow this link.
This part of the narrative atlas covers our heroes’ journey from Caemlyn to Tarwin’s Gap, via Fal Dara. Note that the dates are taken from Steven Cooper’s excellent Wheel of Time Chronology, with the exception of the journey between the Erinin and Cairhien, which has been adjusted to provide more plausible dates and travel times. I have removed this time from the Portal Stone jump from Cairhien to Toman Head, so the dates realign with Cooper’s after that point.
Leaving Fal Dara
As previously related, the armies of Shienar defeated the Trollocs at Tarwin’s Gap whilst Moiraine Damodred and the companions from the Two Rivers located the Eye of the World, an uncorrupted source of saidin, the male half of the True Source. Rand al’Thor, discovering he use the One Power, used the Eye of the World to destroy the Forsaken Aginor and then halt the invading Trolloc forces at Tarwin’s Gap.
The events of The Great Hunt begin around Day 77 (since Rand and his friends left the Two Rivers), when a group of Darkfriends meet and make plans to capture or kill the Dragon Reborn and neutralise his influence. The Darkfriends are given different plans and objectives, which none of the others know.
On Day 78, about thirty-one days after the battle at the Eye of the World, the Amyrlin Seat (the leader of the Aes Sedai) arrives at Fal Dara with a large retinue. Trolloc forces attack the city at night, freeing the imprisoned Padan Fain (who had somehow followed the party all the way from Emond’s Field, even through Shadar Logoth and the Waygate in Caemlyn) and stealing both the cursed dagger from Shadar Logoth and the Horn of Valere. Mat Cauthon’s life depends on proximity to the dagger (at least until he can be healed of his link to it), so its recovery becomes imperative. Before this happens, Rand is summoned before the Amyrlin Seat, Siuan Sanche, who tells him he is the Dragon Reborn. Rand refuses to believe it.
On Day 79, the travellers from the Two Rivers depart the city. Nynaeve al’Meara and Egwene al’Vere are to travel to Tar Valon to learn to become Aes Sedai. They travel with Moiraine, Lan and the Amyrlin’s party westwards towards Medo, Shienar’s major port on the River Mora. Rand, Perrin, Mat and Loial join a Shienaran hunting party led by Ingtar, one of Lord Agelmar’s best soldiers. Also in the party is Masema, a soldier from the Aiel border who seems to dislike Rand for his Aiel-like looks, and Hurin, a “sniffer” with the talent to sense and follow trails of darkness (an innate ability not linked to the One Power, like Perrin’s ability to speak to wolves and Min’s viewings). Hurin discerns that Fain and the Trollocs are headed south.
On the 83rd day, Moiraine and Lan leave the Amyrlin’s party, increasing their speed and making south for the main bridge over the Mora (which carries the main highway from Fal Moran to Shol Arbela, and marks the border between Shienar and Arafel). Another Aes Sedai in the group, Verin Mathwin of the Brown Ajah, also leaves clandestinely. Two days later the rest of the group arrive at Medo and board the ships that will take them to Tar Valon. With speed of the essence, the Amyrlin orders that the Aes Sedai sisters take turns to use the One Power to speed their passage.
On the same day, Ingtar’s group reaches the Erinin, having travelled approximately 250 miles (almost the clear north-south distance of the kingdom) in six days, or approximately 41.5 miles per day. Mounted and on good roads, with clear weather, this is (just about) possible. Rand and his friends cross the river and find a village ransacked by Fain’s forces. Rand gets caught in a “bubble of evil” but manages to break out of it using the One Power. At night he finds the Dragon Banner in his belongings.
The next morning (Day 86), Rand, Hurin and Loial awaken to find themselves in a “different” version of reality, one of the shadow weavings of the Wheel accessed by Portal Stone. Discomforted, they decide to head south to find a way back to the real world and try to link up with Ingtar’s party.
The same day, Verin catches up with Ingtar’s party, having made even better time, approximately 230 miles in 3 days! At 76 days per day, we must assume that Verin used the One Power to significantly speed the exertions of her horse.
From Shienar to Cairhien
It should be noted that the distances and travel time for this part of the journey is highly debatable. From the spot where Rand and Ingtar cross the Erinin, it is a mighty 865 miles (give or take) to the city of Cairhien. Both parties are mounted and the weather holds well for most of the trip which is across open countryside, perhaps speeded in places by paths and roads left over from the fallen kingdom of Hardan and perhaps some trader tracks still in use. However, the latter part of the journey is through the forbidding mountains of Kinslayer’s Dagger.
Despite these obstacles, which means that the parties cannot travel in a straight line, Ingtar, Verin, Perrin, Mat, Masema, Hurin and the rest of their party reach Cairhien a mere 14 days after crossing the Erinin by Cooper’s timeline. This requires them to travel about 62 miles per day. Even with Verin using the One Power to increase the stamina of their horses (which is not noted in the text), this pushes credulity. As a result I have adjusted the timeline by doubling the travel time for Ingtar and his party to 28 days (just under 31 miles per day)
By river it is approximately 900 miles from Medo to Tar Valon, which the Aes Sedai accomplish in four days by Cooper’s timeline (224 miles per day!). I have doubled this to eight days to be more realistic (112 miles per day), even with Aes Sedai intervention.
Rand, Hurin and Loial awaken in the Portal Stone world on Day 86. They travel south and cover enormous distances (a result of the differing laws of reality) and the following day reach the Field of Talidar, where they meet Selene and rescue her from a pack of grolm. They head south and reach Kinsayer’s Dagger before returning to the real world via another Portal Stone in the evening of Day 87. Realising they’ve massively jumped ahead of Fain, the head west along the mountains and set a trap.
Deviating from the Cooper timeline, I have adjusted it so that Team Rand spend 16 days in Kinslayer’s Dagger waiting for Padan Fain to turn up rather than four. This feels a little long, but it is necessary for Fain and Ingtar to cover the vast distance by normal means that Rand’s group covered in a couple of days thanks to the Portal Stone (Cooper’s timeline has Fain reaching Kinslayer’s Dagger five days after crossing the Erinin, which is not physically possible). So Rand recovers the Horn of Valere and Mat’s dagger on Day 103. After a frenzied flight through the mountains, they reach Tremonsien two days later and find the Choedan Kal statue from the Age of Legends (Rand won’t learn this name for some time, of course) and make the acquaintance of a Cairhienin patrol, who escort them to Cairhien city. Cooper has the patrol reach Cairhien just a day after leaving Tremonsien, but given the 100-odd mile distance, I’ve adjusted that to three days. Thus Rand and his group reach the city of Cairhien on Day 108.
On Day 104, Ingtar’s group crosses the border of Cairhien and meets Urien of the Aiel, who tells them the Aiel are searching for He Who Comes With the Dawn. Ingtar’s group has to hide their weapons and armour and proceed much more slowly to Cairhien city, explaining why they arrive several days after Rand’s party, despite only being about one to two days behind them at this point.
Around Day 97, Nynaeve passes the Testing to become an Accepted in Tar Valon, whilst Egwene is reunited with Min and meets Elayne, Galad and Gawyn for the first time. Also around this day, Moiraine and Lan visit with Adeleas and Vandene in Tifan’s Well. They are attacked by a Draghkar and Moiraine determines that she and Lan should ride for Toman Head immediately.
Arriving in the capital on Day 108, Rand, Hurin and Loial take rooms at the Defender of the Dragonwall. Rand then finds Thom Merrilin in the Bunch of Grapes Inn in Foregate. Rand, Hurin and Loial attempt to return to the Defender, but are trapped by celebrations and realise that Fain’s Trollocs are closing in. They take refuge near the Illuminators’ chapter house outside the city (which is damaged in the affray) and then manage to flee into the city.
Rand and his party spend several days at the inn, with Rand being courted by different noble houses. He burns each letter, until invitations arrive from Lord Barthanes Damodred and King Galldrian Riatin. On Day 114 the Horn and the dagger are stolen back by Fain, who then uses the Waygate in the Damodred palace grounds to escape. Ingtar’s party reaches Cairhien and everyone is reunited.
On Day 115, the group attends Lord Barthanes’ party and discover that the Waygate has been effectively sealed, with Machin Shin, the Black Wind, standing guard on the other side. Barthanes confirms that Fain will be waiting for Rand on Toman Head. On the morning of Day 116 the party leaves Cairhien and heads for nearby Stedding Tsofu to use the Waygate there. This same morning, Lord Barthanes is found dead in his manor. King Galldrian sends agents to interrogate Thom Merrilin, but make the mistake of killing his lover Denna. Thom kills the agents and then the King himself. This plunges Cairhien into civil war.
Rand’s party reaches Stedding Tsofu on Day 117. Unable to use the Waygate there, Rand is forced to use a nearby Portal Stone. Unfortunately, his inexperience causes a temporal slip and the party do not return to the real world for about 119 days, or four months.
The Seanchan Occupation
On Day 78, Lord Captain Geofram Bornhald’s legion reaches the village of Alcruna near the border between Tarabon and Almoth Plain. He is ordered to take the legion onto the plain to root out Darkfriends and start the process of bringing the Plain under the Whitecloaks’ influence. This requires him to scatter the legion across a wide swathe of Almoth Plain. By around Day 199, Bornhald realises that the Questioners are trying to manipulate him into staying away from Toman Head, where there are rumours of invaders called Seanchan. Bornhald resolves to start gathering the full strength of the legion and then march on Falme.
Around Day 99, Bayle Domon’s Spray reaches Toman Head and is captured by Seanchan forces commanded by Egeanin. Domon is taken to Falme and the High Lord Turak, who takes one of the Seven Seals on the Dark One’s prison from Domon (neither knows what it is). Domon swears the Oaths and begins (reluctantly) working for the Seanchan.
On Day 116 or so, Padan Fain reaches Falme and gives the Horn of Valere to High Lord Turak, who also takes the cursed dagger from Shadar Logoth (to Fain’s anger).
On Day 184, Liandrin of the Red Ajah (but really of the Black) tells Egwene that Rand is in great danger and she should accompany Liandrin immediately. Elayne, Nynaeve and Min tag along, to Liandrin’s irritation. They use the Waygate in Tar Valon to travel to Toman Head, arriving on Day 185. A party of Seanchan Darkfriends led by Suroth arrives and Egwene and Min are captured, with Egwene imprisoned with an a’dam. Nynaeve and Elayne escape and regroup.
Egwene spends the better part of two months as a prisoner of the Seanchan, with Nynaeve and Elayne spending the same time period trying to find a viable way of rescuing her. On Day 240 they finally find Min, who in turns introduces them to Bayle Domon. In return for Aes Sedai protection and aid, he agrees to help them flee the city.
On Day 236, Rand’s party arrives on Toman Head and they discover the huge mistake they’ve made. They head along the peninsular to Falme. The “party of five” (Rand, Mat, Perrin, Loial, Hurin and Ingtar) enter the city on Day 243. Ingtar’s betrayal is revealed, but he converts back to the Light to save the rest and dies in the process. Rand kills Turak and retakes the Horn of Valere and the cursed dagger. Nynaeve and Elayne rescue Egwene.
The Whitecloaks attack the city and meet the Seanchan in battle. Both are in turn attacked by the Heroes of the Horn, summoned when Mat blows the Horn of Valere. In the confusion the Whitecloaks are almost entirely wiped out, along with many of the Seanchan. The survivors, regrouping under Suroth, escape by ship. During the battle, Rand does battle with Ba’alzamon once more, this time the fight emblazoned across the skies above Falme.
The next morning, Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, Mat, Verin and Hurin depart for Tar Valon with great urgency, as Mat needs to have his bond with the dagger severed, something that can only be done by a circle of bonded Aes Sedai. Around Day 248, Moiraine and Lan arrive after their epic cross-continental trip from Tifan’s Well. Along with Rand, Mat, Perrin, Loial and the remaining Shienaran soldiers (now led by Uno, Ragan and Masema), they head east to winter in the Mountains of Mist, as Tarabon, Arad Doman and Almoth Plain fall into war and civil war.
Note on the Maps
The map of Falme is based on the one provided in the RPG companion book Prophecies of the Dragon. It has been expanded to show the whole city (the book map only shows the central part), based on the descriptions given in The Great Hunt.
The map of Cairhien is based on Ellisa Mitchell’s map from The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game, which supersedes the map in Lord of Chaos. The biggest difference between the two maps, aside from the latter one showing the Topless Towers, is that the huge sea walls which partially protect the harbour in the original map have been removed. Presumably this is because there is no such mention of the sea walls in the text of the novels themselves.
Thank you for reading The Atlas of Ice and Fire. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs.
Narrative Atlas 3: The Eye of the World – From to Caemlyn to Tarwin’s Gap
These maps cover the third part of our heroes’ journey in The Eye of the World (Book 1 of The Wheel of Time). For a detailed summary of The Eye of the World, please follow this link.
This part of the narrative atlas covers our heroes’ journey from Caemlyn to Tarwin’s Gap, via Fal Dara. Note that the dates are taken from Steven Cooper’s excellent Wheel of Time Chronology.
As recounted previously, Mat and Rand reach Caemlyn on Day 40, passing through the Whitebridge Gate. After gawping at the city for several hours, they find their way to the Queen’s Blessing Inn and meet the innkeeper, Basel Gill, and the Ogier, Loial, for the first time. Rand takes Loial into his confidence. They stay in the inn for three days.
On Day 43, the false Dragon Logain is due to be paraded through the city. Mat is feeling unwell, so Rand heads into the city by himself to observe the event. Unable to find a place in the plaza in front of the Royal Palace, he heads down streets behind the structure. At one point he spots Padan Fain, now resembling a crazed beggar, and hides from him. Eventually, Rand finds a desolate spot near the palace wall, and can even climb the wall to observe from the top. He watches Logain parade through the streets, but at one point he seems to make eye contact with Rand, startling him. A woman’s voice further discombobulates Rand and he falls into the palace grounds, where he meets Elayne Trakand, Daughter-Heir of Andor, and her brother Gawyn and half-brother Galad. Galad is unimpressed by this event and has Rand taken into custody by Tallanvor, one of the Queen’s Guard. He is taken before Queen Morgase, her Aes Sedai advisor Elaida do’Avriny a’Roihan and Gareth Bryne, Captain-General of Andor’s armies, who are waiting to receive Logain’s escort. Elaida has the Foretelling that Rand will play a role in major events to come and urges Morgase to take Rand into custody and put him to the question, but Morgase rules that Rand has committed no crime and as a citizen of Andor has a right to his liberty.
Rand is released and he makes his way back to the Queen’s Blessing, where he is reunited with Moiraine, Lan, Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve. Moiraine realises that Mat is poisoned due to the dagger he stole from Shadar Logoth, which is cursed. Moiraine uses the Power to stabilise Mat’s condition but advises he can only be cured in Tar Valon. Aware that Elaida’s agents will be looking for Rand, Moiraine decides they must leave. Much to her surprise, in discussions with Rand, Perrin, Egwene and Loial she hears the phrase “Eye of the World” come up several times. Rand and Perrin (and Mat) have had dreams of a figure mentioning it and the name also made its way to the Ogier via a dying Aiel. Feeling this is a weaving of the Pattern, Moiraine decides they should use the ancient Waygate in Caemlyn to travel to the corresponding Waygate in Shienar, in the Borderlands. Although the Ways have become dark and foreboding recently, Loial agrees to guide them. They set out in the evening of Day 43 and early in the morning of Day 44, locate the Waygate under a building in the Inner City. They enter the Ways and, after a close encounter with Machin Shin, the Black Wind, they reach Shienar a day later.
The party emerge from the Waygate a few miles to the south-west of Fal Dara on Day 45. They make their way to the city and are received by Lord Agelmar Jagad. They discover that a large Trolloc army is marching into Tarwin’s Gap and Agelmar is leading the army of Shienar forth to confront them in battle. Agelmar asks Moiraine and Lan to join them, knowing the worth of even one Aes Sedai on the field of battle, whilst the presence of the Uncrowned King of fallen Malkier will bolster his troops morale. Moiraine refuses, believing the threat to the Eye of the World is more pressing. The party departs Fal Dara shortly after dawn on Day 46.
Fal Dara is described as a small but extremely well-defended city, with thick outer walls and a strong central keep, also protected by thick walls (with four gatehouses) and a dry moat. The city, like many in the Borderlands, is made up of wide avenues and long roads affording excellent visibility and fields of fire in the event of a Trolloc incursion. The streets are also lit by lamps at all times, minimising the dark spaces where a Myrddraal can travel. Fal Dara is built on the ruins of Mafal Dadaranelle, the ancient capital of Aramaelle that was destroyed in the Trolloc Wars, but that city was considerably larger, extending many miles to the south and west (as the Waygate used to be within the city).
Fal Dara to the Eye of the World
The party travel north and east from Fal Dara, crossing the Blightborder not long after leaving the city. They see the ruined Seven Towers, the capital of fallen Malkier, in the distance and learn more of the ruin of that kingdom and of Lan’s history.
On Day 47 they locate the Eye of the World in the foothills of the Mountains of Dhoom, and meet the Green Man (later revealed to be Someshta, last of the Nym). The Green Man is the guardian of the Eye of the World, an untainted gathering of saidin, the male half of the One Power. They also find the banner of the Dragon, from the Age of Legends, and a golden horn that can only by the Horn of Valere of legend. The party are attacked by two of the Forsaken, Aginor and Balthamel, who have escaped from their prison at Shayol Ghul. The Green Man kills Balthamel but sacrifices his own life to do so. Rand, to his horror, finds himself drawing on the One Power and is able to kill Aginor. Drawing on the Eye of the World, he is able to travel instantaneously to Tarwin’s Gap and collapse part of the surrounding mountains on the Trolloc horde, allowing the army of Shienar to win a great victory.
The party return to Fal Dara on Day 49 and Moiraine advises Lord Agelmar that a party will have to take the Horn back to Illian. Some days later, whilst eavesdropping on Rand’s conversation with Egwene and Nynaeve where he admits he can channel, Moiraine whispers that the Dragon is Reborn.
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One of the most popular fantasy novels ever published is Raymond E. Feist’s Magician. Originally published in 1982, the novel has sold over 10 million copies by itself to become individually one of the biggest-selling fantasy novels of all time. Between 1985 and 2013, Feist published no less than twenty-eight sequel novels (six of them in collaboration) in nine distinct sub-series. Altogether, The Riftwar Cycle has sold over 30 million copies to date.
The origins of the Riftwar Cycle go back to the mid-1970s, when Stephan Abrams founded a roleplaying group at the University of San Diego. Meeting on Thursday and Friday nights, the group started playing Dungeons and Dragons but very quickly found the rules not to their taste and developed a new set of house rules to game with. Rather than just the Dungeon Master of the moment, the entire group was involved in the creation of a collaborative world, which came to be known as Midkemia. In 1977 one of the group, Raymond Elias Feist, requested and received permission to adapt the history of the world as a series of novels. This resulted in the novel Magician, published in 1982.
Feist went on to detail the history of the world through five Riftwars, battles fought via sorcerous portals in the fabric of time and space. Wars were fought on Midkemia and in other worlds, and between worlds. The First Riftwar, as depicted in Magician, pits the Kingdom of the Isles on Midkemia against the Empire of Tsuranuanni on the planet Kelewan.
At the same time, Abrams and his collaborators worked on expanding the setting through roleplaying products put out by Midkemia Press: Cities, The City of Carse, Jonril: Gateway to the Sunken Lands, Tulan of the Isles, Heart of the Sunken Lands, The Black Tower and Towns of the Outlands. However, several plans to convert the entire world of Midkemia into a roleplaying setting fell through. It wasn’t until 2013 that the companion book Midkemia: The Chronicles of Pug was published, featuring extensive maps depicting the world of Midkemia. However, the Elvandar website had carried maps and background material during the preceding years.
Note on the Map
Maps for the Riftwar Cycle novels were generally simplified from those originally created for the roleplaying game, which were extremely detailed. This resulted in some continuity errors (such as the misplacement of Highcastle far too far to the east, which made following the action in A Darkness at Sethanon somewhat complicated). In later years the Elvandar website carried better and more detailed maps, and finally, more complete maps were finally published in the companion volume Midkemia: The Chronicles of Pug.
To create the map for this page, I consulted Elvandar, The Chronicles of Pug and the maps in the novels to try to put together the most complete map to date of the continent of Triagia on the planet Midkemia, the location of the Kingdom of the Isles and Empire of Great Kesh. However, complexities still set in as the shape of Triagia changes significantly as a result of the events of the final Riftwar novel, Magician’s End. It appears that some of the maps provided for the books and various websitse may have come from after this period, resulting in some minor discontinuities around coastlines. For the most part, these are negligible issues.
The map broadly shows the Kingdom after the events of the Serpentwar Saga, with the founding of Port Vykor, the establishment of the Duchy of the Southern Marches and the annexing of Shamata by the Kingdom of the Isles, to the dismay of the Empire of Great Kesh.
This map is also the first (I believe) to also depict the Sunset Islands, located to the west of Triagia. The map of the Sunset archipelago was adapted from the rough map provided in The Chronicles of Pug.
Books of the Riftwar Cycle
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One of the very finest epic fantasy series of the last twenty years – although it tends to be underrated as it is as yet incomplete – is the Sword of Shadows series by J.V. Jones, itself a sequel to the earlier Book of Words trilogy. Six years ago I created a very rough map which combined the maps of the two series, the Known Lands of the Book of Words and the Northern Territories of Sword of Shadows (which lie immediately to the north; the city of Bren and the huge Northern/Southern Ranges are present on both maps). With the experience gained since then, I thought it’d be fun to revisit the project.
There haven’t been any new books published since then (the fourth book, Speaker for the Dead, was released in 2010), so this was just a question of redrawing the map at a larger scale, putting in the mountains and cleaning up the Clanholds detail box.
As people are hopefully now aware, J.V. Jones had to put the fifth Sword of Shadows book, Endlords, on hold for several years due to a series of unfortunate events in her personal life. However, in 2017 she restarted work on the novel and it is now in the “six figures” of word count, with the author hoping to complete the book this year for publication in 2020. Jones continues to provide updates via her Patreon page and Twitter.
Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series has become one of the most popular fantasy series of modern times, thanks to the immense success of the video game trilogy from CD Projekt Red. The arrival of a Netflix series based on the books later this year will no doubt increase the success of the books even further.
The cartography of the Witcher series is interesting. Sapkowski did not originally include maps in the books, despite the action unfolding over detailed descriptions of terrain. The first map did not appear until the Czech translation of the series was published, when translator Stanislav Komárek created a map based on Sapkowski’s work. It is unclear to what degree that Sapkowski considered the map accurate or canonical (given that the Komárek map has some notable features missing, such as the Kestrel Mountains).
In 2007, for the release of the video game The Witcher, CD Projekt Red created their own map. They consulted with Sapkowski on the map, which clearly has taken the Komárek map as a starting point, but made the map clearer and more concise, and addressed some missing features from the former map. This map was re-used for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in 2011 and seems to have formed the basis for almost all Witcher maps published since then. However, this map also has significant errors, such as placing the Nilfgaardian province of Gemmera, noted for its long sea coast, inland.
In 2018, whilst working on the Witcher TV series for Netflix, executive producer and showrunner Lauren Hissrich tweeted an intriguing picture, suggesting that Netflix had commissioned a new map for the series. This map is only partially visible, but seems to have returned to the Komárek map and started again, ignoring the CD Projekt material (probably a necessity of them not having the licence or rights to use video game material in the TV series). It does seem to have repeated some of the omissions of the Komárek map, but also extends the map considerably far to the south and incorporated fresh mistakes by ignoring details from the books (such as Bremervoord being the western point of the continental mainland and the continent curving south-westwards rather than south-east). It does at least put Gemmera in the right place, however.
In 2015 DeviantArt user MartynasB published an excellent map of The Witcher continent, easily the most detailed and attractive made to date. I used this map as the basis for my own; however, there are some issues with the map, particularly the placement of Sodden, Toussaint and the Amell Mountains, that I was unable to fully fix. Other issues from his map, such as the incorrect location of Gemmera, I fixed on my version.
I am planning a full read-through of the books later this year, so may revise the map based on a closer reading of the books at that time.
One of the most celebrated feats in SF worldbuilding is Helliconia. The creation of Brian W. Aldiss, helped by numerous experts from Oxford University in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Helliconia is the star of the Helliconia Trilogy: Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983) and Helliconia Winter (1985).
Helliconia is located in the Freyr system. The Freyr system is located approximately 1,000 light-years from Sol, in the direction of the constellation of Ophiuchus. Freyr is not visible from Earth, due to intervening dust clouds located about 700 light-years from Earth and 300 from Freyr.
The system contains two stars: Freyr, a blue supergiant, and Batalix, an orange dwarf slightly smaller and cooler than Sol. Freyr is between 10 and 11 million years old; Batalix is more than 5 billion years old. Batalix was caught by the larger star’s gravity during a close encounter approximately 8 million years ago and has been in an elliptical orbit around Freyr ever since. The system also contains four planets, all in orbit around Batalix.
Batalix is a G4 orange dwarf with a radius 0.94 that of Sol and a luminosity approximately 0.8 that of Sol.
Freyr is an A-class blue supergiant with a radius of 65 Sols and a luminosity 60,000 times that of Sol.
Batalix orbits Freyr once every 2,592 Earth years. One of these orbits is known as a “Great Year”. Batalix’s orbit is highly elliptical, ranging from 710 AU at apastron to 236 AU at periastron.
Batalix is circled by four planets, including Helliconia and Aganip, which is the innermost planet closest to Helliconia. Helliconia takes 480 local days (which are 13.6% longer than Earth’s) to orbit Batalix once, at a distance of approximately 0.9 AU. This is the so-called “small year”, with small seasonal variations. However, it is the “Great Year” which has a far greater impact on the planet.
Helliconia formed in orbit around the star Batalix and spent almost all of its existence as a relatively cool world circling a cool star. Helliconia’s pronounced axial tilt (35°, compared to Earth’s 23.5°) makes the world even colder, with large ice caps at the poles.
These conditions resulted in the evolution of a species equipped to deal with permanent cold weather: the ancipitals (colloquially, “phagors”). A biped species covered in thick fur, the ancipitals developed rudimentary language and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle by the time of the event known as the Catastrophe.
Approximately eight million years ago, Batalix’s galactic orbit took it too close to the supergiant star Freyr and it was captured by the larger, younger star. During this event, Helliconia lost its moon (T’Senh-Hrr in the ancipital language) and at least one other planet in the Batalix system (possibly a gas giant which had helped clear the inner system of comets and asteroids) was ejected. Freyr also lost a binary star companion in the encounter.
Once the encounter was complete Batalix was locked into its current orbit. The ancipitals found their existence varying from their preferred freezing conditions at apastron to unbearably hot conditions at periastron. However, other species on the planet found the new arrangements more pleasing. One race of hominids, formerly trapped in the narrow equatorial band which remained ice-free all year round, was able to spread itself across the planet and thrived in the Great Summers, only to retreat during the Great Winters. Over the next eight million years, this species evolved into a race almost completely indistinguishable from humans.
The Freyr system was first detected by Earth in the year 3145 AD, when a joint US-Chinese fleet entered the intervening dust cloud region and saw Freyr for the first time, 300 light-years beyond. They detected the presence of Batalix and possible planets in orbit, which was unusual given Freyr’s young age. One planet, located in Batalix’s life zone, was highly promising and given the designation G4PBX/4582-4-3.
They dispatched a robotic exploration craft to the system, equipped with self-replicating systems and over 500 human zygotes in storage. This craft entered the Freyr system in 3600 AD and landed on Aganip, the next planet from Helliconia towards Batalix. This craft then constructed a space habitat, the Avernus, and populated it with 512 humans birthed from artificial wombs. The crew of the Avernus was directed to study Helliconia from an orbit 1,500 miles above the planet and beam relevant information back to Earth, even though it would take a millennia to arrive.
At 1.28 Earth masses, Helliconia is somewhat larger than Earth. The planet possesses three continents: the northern polar landmass of Sibornal, the southern polar landmass of Hespagorat and the tropical central continent of Campannlat. Campannlat is joined to Sibornal via the isthmus of Chalce; it was also once joined the Hespagorat via the Straits of Cadmer, but the land-bridge in that region collapsed some aeons ago.
The planet’s northern icecap is enormous, extending south to the northern tropic. Sibornal is mostly uninhabitable due to the icecap, aside from several coastal regions where favourable local geography allows warmer regions to flourish. The Helliconian nations of Carcampan, Bribahr, Shivenink, Loraj, Uskutoshk, Upper Hazziz and Kuj-Juvec lie on Sibornal. The massive Shivenink Mountains are the most notable geographical feature of the northern continent.
Campannlat is the most populous continent of Helliconia. Its nations include the mighty theocratic power of Pannoval, trade-focused Oldorando and coastal Borlien. Other powers include Kace, Randonan, Ponipot, Vallgos, Brasterl and Findowel. Major geographic features include the central Quzint Mountains, the Western Barrier peaks, the Madura Desert (the largest desert on the planet) and the tongue-twisting landmass of Nyktryhk: a colossal region of shield volcanoes, mountains and plateaus rising 49,200 feet. This region is uninhabitable by humans, who mostly avoid the high places where free ancipitals still dwell. During the winters, the ancipitals descend from Nyktryhk in great numbers and try to reassert control of Helliconia from their humanoid rivals, with mixed results.
The southern polar continent is Hespagorat, although it is less dominated by ice than Sibornal. Nations of Hespagorat include Pegovin, Hespateh, Throssa, Iskahandt and Dimariam. There are huge mountain ranges in Pegovin and Throssa, but otherwise little of geographic interest in this region.
The planet’s largest ocean is the Climent, which lies west of Campannlat. Marginal seas of this ocean include the Pannoval Sea, Kowass Sea and Sibornal Sea. East of Campannlat lies the Ardent Sea, which meets the Climent Ocean north of Pegovin. Marginal seas of the Ardent include the Gulf of Chace and Scimitar Sea. The Sea of Eagles and Narmosset Sea divide Campannlat from Hespagorat; the Cadmer Straits link the Climent Ocean to the Narmosset Sea.
The seasons on Helliconia last for centuries, as Batalix takes 2,592 (Earth) years to complete one revolution around Freyr. At the time of closest approach, Freyr becomes 30% brighter than Batalix in the sky and bombards the planet with greater heat, until the equatorial band becomes uncomfortably hot. At the time of greatest separation, Freyr becomes merely the brightest star in the sky and the icecaps advance south and north into the central continental region.
During summers, the Helliconian humanoids are the dominant species on the planet, but during the winters the ancipitals or phagors become dominant once again.
One question that invariably arises when new maps of the Malazan world appear is how the climate works, since it clearly isn’t like our world. Deserts are present at unlikely latitudes and vast ice fields at even more unlikely latitudes.
In the deep prehistory of the Malazan world, a mighty war was fought between a race of proto-humans known as the Imass and an Elder race known as the Jaghut. The Jaghut were masters of ice and cold magic, drawn from the Elder Warren of Omtose Phellack. During the war, which lasted hundreds of thousands of years, the Jaghut repeatedly created vast ice fields to throw the Imass off their hunt, creating huge icy redoubts where they could survive for millennia. However, the Imass chose to simply wait them out, undergoing the Ritual of Tellann to become the undead warriors known as the T’lan Imass.
Eventually most of the Jaghut were killed and the Imass disappeared, either destroyed or becoming dormant until summoned back to life by the rediscovery of the First Throne. But the immense ice fields left behind by the Jaghut remained, and these fields seem to have contributed to the strange climate of the Malazan world.
The largest ice fields are located in equatorial regions, on either side of the island-continent of Jacuruku, making travel to that landmass difficult and dangerous, and also sprawling across the north-western end of the Letherii continent. This last ice field is the most powerful, created by the Jaghut arch-sorcerer Gothos in the aftermath of a magical conflagration between the Tiste Edur and Tiste Andii, and seems to have had dramatic side-effects across the entire continent, disrupting at least the perception of time (so the records of the Kingdom of Lether show that 7,000 years have passed since the continent’s colonisation, rather than over 70,000 years) and freezing in place the use of the Holds as the primary form of human sorcery rather than the Paths (the younger Warrens).
A significant ice field is also located on Quon Tali, separating the main body of the continental landmass from the subcontinent of Falar to the north. A further field sprawls across the southern frontier of Korelri, just north of the Aurgatt Range, separating the subcontinents of Korelri and Stratem from one another. Further ice fields are located south of Seven Cities and west of Quon Tali (discouraging explorations of south-western Seven Cities from Quon Tali, which is probably a good thing due to the presence of the fiercely isolationist Shal-Morzinn Empire). These are, of course, only the major ice fields left behind by the Jaghut. Much smaller ice fields, often indistinguishable from mundane glaciers, are located right across the globe, from Assail to northern Genabackis.
The ice fields are one part of the equation. The other oddity is the presence of large deserts – the Bandiko and Otataral – at a very northern latitude on Otataral Island, and the presence of numerous areas of scrubland, border-desert and wastelands, collectively known as odhans, sprawling across eastern Seven Cities, also much further north than you’d expect (especially given Seven Cities’ numerous inland seas, lakes and lengthy rivers). The answer seems to lie in a number of mysterious, gigantic statues built of an unknown jade-coloured material. These Jade Statues arrived on Otataral Island tens of thousands of years ago and seem to have turned the island dead, destroying the natural wildlife and creating the magic-deadening ore also called otataral. The disruptions to the climate seem to have spread across neighbouring Seven Cities, which in the days of the First Empire seemed to be much greener and more verdant, the home to vast, sprawling cities and a tranquil inland sea. After the climate disruptions the land became blasted and sere, and the inland sea dried up to become Raraku, the so-called Holy Desert.
The Malazan world is thus still afflicted by the ruins of conflicts that raged three hundred thousand and more years ago. To the people of the world, these oddities are the norm and not worthy of much investigation. The question does arise, however, should the Jaghut rituals fail and the ice start melting, what will happen to the low-lying areas of the planet?
One of the most constant projects I’ve been working on for the past decade is the refining and improvement of a world map for Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont’s Malazan series of epic fantasy novels. This led to the Malazan Maps of the Fallen series I ran in early 2018.
I wasn’t expecting to revisit the Malazan setting so soon, but a few months ago Steven Erikson released his original Malazan world map from the 1980s on his Facebook page. Although many of the details of the map have changed since Erikson created the original (as seen in the maps in the books), the general shape of the world and landmasses remains the same. As such as, I was able to revisit the prior world map (created by D’Rek on the Malazanempire forum, although I moved and resized some of the landmasses and added new labels) and revise it. I also took this opportunity to redraw the entire map, as the previous one was not at high enough a level of resolution to mark in all the details required.
Steven Erikson’s original, hand-drawn map follows:
I made a fresh copy of this map for clarity. Again, it should be emphasised that Erikson drew this map in the 1980s, a clear decade and more before he published Gardens of the Moon, and it represents the world of Malaz at an earlier stage in its conception, hence “Leathers” instead of “Lether” and so forth.
I then combined this map with the prior world map. Several judgement calls had to be made here, most notably because Erikson was using a rough, square base for his world map whilst I have been using a rectangle meant to reflect the dimensions of a spherical world. This mean some re-placement of landmasses to make more sense in a more realistic context.
Korelri/Stratem I left unchanged from the previous map. Erikson himself notes that the original conception of Korelri/Stratem had changed anyway (presumably as he’d passed it over to Esslemont to develop further) so it was in error on his original map. This means that we still don’t have a canonical map for Stratem (which remains the biggest anomaly in Malazan cartography), but a whole host of other problems were resolved, including canonical information on the shape of Bael, the western extent of Seven Cities and the location of Genostel and Umryg.
Some additional finessing was required: Lether is clearly larger and more stretched on an east-west axis in the book than on the original map, so I mostly retained the prior world map appearance. I did adjust the entire east coast of Lether (in the area of Estonbase and Kolanse) because the original was clearly incorrect. I also increased the size of Jacuruku. It is possible that Korelri/Stratem remains too large on the new map and should be taken down in size, but I await further information to see if that is warranted. One of the most interesting bits of new information was the existence of a southern polar continent, with a northwards extension between Assail and Lether.
For now, this is the most up-to-date and semi-canonical Malazan world map that exists. I await more information emerging from future books to see if it can be updated any further.
Overview of the Imperium
The Imperium is the name given to the cluster of worlds inhabited by humanity at the time of the Dune novels. The six novels of the Dune Chronicles cover a period of approximately five thousand years, during which time the definition of the Imperium changes dramatically. These maps show the Imperium as it is at the start of the Dune Chronicles, in the Year of the Guild 10,191, almost 22,000 years into the future.
A Brief History of the Imperium
The Imperium can trace its ancestry back to when humans first managed to successfully leave their homeworld and start exploring the Sol system. This took place approximately 11,000 years (one hundred and ten centuries) before the founding of the Spacing Guild (BG, Before Guild). Humanity initially left their home system in slower-than-light sleeper ships, and later developed a primitive FTL system that allowed them to traverse the stars in a reasonable timeframe, but still achingly slow. It was during this period that the stars within 50 light-years or so of Old Earth were explored and settled. Giedi Prime, Ecaz, Caladan, Harmonthep, Richese, Ix and Atar were likely colonised in this initial period of exploration and settlement.
Exploration beyond this initial cluster of worlds was difficult and slow, due to the crippling low speed of FTL travel. Scientists bent all their efforts to discovering ways of travelling faster, or of even “folding space” through artificial wormholes to travel instantaneously from one point in the universe to another. The latter was theoretically doable, but science alone could not find a way of achieving this.
Despite the slow pace of colonisation and expansion, it nevertheless continued until thousands of worlds had been settled. By 2000 BG the Landsraad League had been founded, an alliance of the thousands of worlds useful for trade and diplomacy.
Over the next two thousand years, a schism appeared in humanity, one that gradually grew more pronounced. Many humans believed in the primacy of human spirituality and the soul (such as the Zensunni sect, founded in 1381 BG), but others had gradually supplanted themselves with technology and the pursuit of artificial intelligence, AI, the “thinking machines” of legend. Gradually the two sides grew further apart and more fearful of the other, until the only result could be war. The Great Revolt, the Butlerian Jihad, erupted in 201 BG and concluded in 108 BG with the epic Battle of the Bridge of Hrethgir (where a general of House Atreides had a Harkonnen banished for cowardice, beginning ten thousand years of enmity). Billions died, entire worlds were put to the flame, but at the end of it the spiritualists and humanists stood triumphant. The machine cults were overthrown and the development of AI was halted everywhere. Only on Ix and Richese was technological development permitted to continue, and this under strict restrictions. In the wake of the victory, the 13,333 worlds then in the Landsraad League agreed to come together to create a new spiritual imperative for mankind, resulting in the writing of the controversial Orange Catholic Bible.
What happened in the succeeding century is a matter of conjecture. It is known that the Battle of Corrin, fought in 88 BG near Sigma Draconis, established a new primacy, with the noble House Corrino rising to rule over the entire Landsraad League from Salusa Secundus. It is also known that several of the companies and corporations engaged in interstellar travel suddenly and abruptly discovered a new form of space travel, the much-vaunted method of “folding space” instantly. How this was accomplished was, at the time, unknown, save that it heralded an explosion of exploration and colonisation. 88 years after the Battle of Corrin, the corporations who knew this secret amalgamated into the Spacing Guild. The coalescence of the Guild and the rise of House Corrino and the beginning of the reign of the Padishah Emperors happened near enough simultaneously for them to both be credited with establishing the founding of the Imperium.
For ten thousand years, the Imperium swept through the galaxy, colonising thousands upon thousands of worlds. Dozens and then hundreds of Houses Minor arose to join the Landsraad, but the real power remained concentrated in the Major Houses, the old houses which had survived the Great Revolt: Corrino, Atreides, Harkonnen and maybe a few dozen others. Supreme was House Corrino, from where the line of Emperors was derived. Several times, attempts were launched to unseat House Corrino, but all came to nothing. One incident reportedly rendered Salusa Secundus too hostile to comfortably inhabit (the records are vague), but the Imperial Court simply removed itself to another holding, Kaitain, and had Salusa Secundus redesignated as the Imperial Prison Planet.
At some point, it became known that the Spacing Guild had achieved its ability to fold space through the use of a drug, melange, a spice. Its origins were unclear, and jealously guarded, until the truth was revealed: the drug was native to Arrakis, a small desert planet circling Canopus. Emperor Shakkad Corrino assigned the Imperial Chemist to investigate the drug in full. Yanshup Ashkoko’s report confirmed the geriatric properties of spice, allowing those who ingested it to extend their lifespan by decades and improve their health during that longer lifespan. The mysterious sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit, who had used various poisons and chemicals to improve their bodies and gain prescient powers, also found that the spice worked far better than any of their normal chemicals, giving them tremendous powers. Thus, humanity entered a new golden age of living longer, travelling further and seeing more than it ever had before…but also faced decadence, a crushing apathy brought about by the oppressive power of the factions of the Imperium: the Emperor, the Landsraad, the Guild and the Bene Gesserit.
For thousands of years the wheel turned and humanity went about its business. House Atreides took possession of the verdant garden world Caladan and prospered for twenty-six generations, its riches and fortunes improving until it could even rival that of House Corrino. But elsewhere, there was great oppression. Old Earth became uninhabitable and was abandoned. The Zensunni people were persecuted, forced to flee from world to world. They were enslaved on Poritrin and forced to colonise and work on Bela Tegeuse and Salusa Secundus, and from there to Thurgrod, Rossak and Harmonthep. Harmonthep was destroyed for reasons still unknown, and the Zensunni thence fled to Arrakis. There they disappeared into the desert, becoming the rumoured and rare “Free Men”; the Fremen of Dune.
In 10,111 the Emperor ordered the Harkonnens to take possession of Arrakis to mine the spice. The Harkonnen way was brutal, sadistic and cruel. Under their stewardship, spice production first rose but then fell. The Fremen declared the Harkonnens their enemies and scarcely could any Harkonnen soldier leave his barracks alone without being killed. The Landsraad grew unhappy with the situation, and eighty years later, in 10,191 the Emperor, Shaddam IV, was forced to remove the Harkonnens and replace them with the Atreides. This was a dangerous move, for Duke Leto Atreides had become a great leader, a wise humanitarian, canny politician and formidable general, the darling of the Landsraad. Shaddam saw in Duke Leto an enemy that he had to crush. Thus was set in motion a chain of events that would change the fate of the galaxy.
Map 1: The Old Earth Cluster
This map shows the old core of the Imperium. Sol, location of Old Earth, is shown near the centre, although the abandonment of Old Earth has rendered it more or less irrelevant to modern galactic affairs. The Spacing Guild’s ability to fold space and travel from any point in the universe to any other instantly has rendered the physical distances between stars moot (although some believe the difficulty of such jumps increases with range; the Guild Navigators are silent on this), but this map reflects the pre-Guild expansion of humanity through near space, using ancient sleeper ships and then a more primitive form of FTL travel which still required physical movement through space.
Shown are the ancient names for the stars, some of which were later changed. 40 Eridani A, the star of Richese (the fourth planet) and Ix (the ninth), is more colloquially known just as “Eridani A,” for example.
Map 2: Core Worlds of the Imperium
This map shows many of the more familiar worlds of humanity. They represent something of the extent of known travel using pre-Guild space travel methods (although with almost thirteen and a half thousand settled planets by the time of the Guild’s founding, the majority are not shown on this map). Settled later than the Old Earth Cluster, these stars have moved even further from their original names. Gamma Waiping, the star of storied Salusa Secundus, is a corruption of Gamma Wae Ping, itself a fusion of Greek and Chinese nomenclature for the constellation of Pisces. Thus Gamma Waiping would be known to the ancients as Gamma Piscium.
Map 3: A Large-Scale View of the Imperium
This map shows a large-scale view of the Imperium, including its most far-flung stars (at least during the early years of the Imperium), Alpha Leporis (the star of Bela Tegeuse) and Deneb (Al Dhanab). On this scale the longest axis of the Imperium is 3,336.58 light-years. Many, many thousands of other settled stars and planets exist in this volume as well.
During more recent millennia, Spacing Guild Navigators have carried the flag of the Imperium clears across the galaxy, and in some cases to neighbouring satellite galaxies. With absolutely no sign of intelligent life arising elsewhere in the universe, the limits of human expansion appear boundless.
Notes on the Maps
These maps show stars and planets directly mentioned by Frank Herbert in the six canonical volumes of the Dune Chronicles: Dune (1965), Dune Messiah (1969), Children of Dune (1976), God-Emperor of Dune (1981), Heretics of Dune (1984) and Chapterhouse: Dune (1986). Neither The Dune Encyclopedia by Willis E. McNelly nor the authorised tie-in work by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert (both of dubious canonicity) have been used in the preparation of these maps.
The Stars and Planets of Frank Herbert’s Dune: A Gazetteer (1999) by Joseph M. Daniels proved a supreme reference whilst researching these maps. However, the gazetteer does draw a lot on The Dune Encyclopedia for its information. Given Frank Herbert’s declaration that the Encyclopedia was non-canon (if fun), I had to drop several star locations that relied solely on the Encyclopedia as a primary source. However, his arguments for many other star locations and designations were often highly convincing.
Old Earth Star Cluster
All of the stars and planets on this map are drawn from Dune’s appendix. The exception is Atar, a world mentioned in Dune Messiah as being a low-gravity world visited by the Fremen jihad. The name, to me, is a clear corruption of Altair. Given Altair’s proximity to Earth and its brightness, it is a logical candidate for settlement.
Joseph Daniels’ Stars and Planets of Dune article makes a persuasive argument for “Eridani A” being actually 40 Eridani A. Ix and Richese being in the same system is an assumption based on the fact that, throughout the Chronicles, it is rare to hear one planet being mentioned without the other and the two worlds seem linked at almost all times, which would be odd without physical proximity. Epsilon Eridani may have been a preferred candidate due to being much better-known and a common star used in science fiction (as the location of the titular space station in Babylon 5, for example), but it is not part of a multi-star system (thus the “A” is meaningless). Recent observations have also shown that the star is in the early stages of planetary formation and doesn’t yet have any planets circling it, which also makes it a less appealing candidate (for the most part I have ignored post-1965 astronomical discoveries since Frank Herbert would of course have been unaware of these).
Core Worlds of the Imperium
All of the stars and planets on this map are drawn from Dune’s appendix. The naming conventions are argued for strongly by Daniels and I have in most cases agreed, although several conclusions of his were drawn from The Dune Encyclopedia alone and these stars (including Rossak and Wallach IX) have thus been omitted for a lack of hard information.
A Large-Scale View of the Imperium
This incorporates the previous map and expands outwards to include Alpha Leporis, the star of Bela Tegeuse. Daniels’ argument for placing Bela Tegeuse’s star (named “Kuentsing” in the appendix) in Lepus is strong and Arneb/Alpha Leporis is one of the more notable choices. However, at the time that Daniels wrote his article, no proper distance measurement to Alpha Leporis had been made. More recent observations have confirmed that Alpha Leporis is more than twice the distance first thought.
Some observers have suggested that Bela Tegeuse may be a corruption of “Betelgeuse” and that star might serve as a superior choice for Kuentsing. However, Betelgeuse is on the verge of going supernova (which might have in fact already happened and we have not observed the light of the event yet), and certainly should have taken place by 22,000 years in the future, making it a highly improbable candidate for colonisation (the equivalent of building a house inside the caldera of an active and unstable volcano).
All of the stars are mentioned in Dune and its appendix, apart from Al Dhanab, a clear corruption of “Deneb”, which is mentioned in Heretics of Dune as the site of a Bene Gesserit stronghold.
10,191-10,193 – Dune
10,205 – Dune Messiah (twelve years after Dune)
10,214 – Children of Dunes (nine years after Messiah)
13,723 – God-Emperor of Dune (3,509 years after Children)
c. 15,223 – Heretics of Dune & Chapterhouse: Dune (c. 1,500 years after God-Emperor)
Assessment of the planet Arrakis (Canopus III; “Dune”) in 10,191 AG
The planet Arrakis is the source of the most important resource in the entire galaxy: the spice melange. The spice extends life and expands consciousness, permitting the folding of space by Guild Navigators and grating prescient powers to the Sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit. The spice binds the Imperium together. This makes Arrakis (colloquially “Dune”) the most vital and strategically important planet in the Imperium.
Arrakis is the third planet of the star Canopus, located 313.74 ly from the Imperial Capital on Kaitain (310 ly from Old Earth). Canopus is an ancient star, a white giant, having already completed its hydrogen burning phase. It is possible to likely that Canopus once had more than the planets currently visible, but the rest were swallowed up by the star’s previous expansion phases and effectively destroyed. Arrakis may have been a satellite of a larger body before being catapulted into its current orbit by the same expansion event.
Arrakis is an unusually small planet, matching almost exactly in size the dimensions of Old Earth’s moon, Luna (diameter: 3,474.2 km, circumference: 10,921 km). The planet’s density is considerable, however, meaning that its mass is greater than is normal for a body of its size, giving it a gravitational field only slightly weaker than Galactic Standard at 0.9g.
Arrakis is mostly covered in desert terrain similar to the Sahara of Old Earth. The open, flat desert, known as the Great Flat, runs from approx. 60°N to 70°S and consists almost entirely of sand dunes, with very rare rock outcroppings. The sand dunes are about 100m thick, sitting on the bedrock beneath (known as the Great Bled, which forms “sea level” on Arrakis). The Great Flat is scoured by the massive coriolis storms which rage across the open desert. These storms can engulf huge parts of the planet for days or weeks at a time, making any suborbital travel impossible.
The planet’s polar regions are considered habitable. A vast rock formation (varying from 4,500m to 4,600m in height, apart from the Rimwall region which rises to 6,240m) known as the “Shield Wall” wraps itself around the northern polar region. The rock itself and the basins in its surface are densely populated with towns and villages, including the only two cities on Arrakis: Carthag (seat of the Harkonnen government for the past eighty years) and Arrakeen (the more traditional, long-term seat of planetary government).
The highest point on Arrakis is Observatory Mount, located in the Broken Land of the Shield Wall. Observatory Mount is 8,110m (26,607.61 feet tall). The Prime Meridian of Arrakis (0° longitude) passes through Observatory Mount, as per ancient tradition. The lowest region is the northern polar sink, which drops to 500m below the Bled level.
Other regions of interest include the rock formations known as the False Walls, which are located close to the Shield Wall and have been known to confuse travellers; the Sihaya and Habbanaya ridges, the Cielago Depression (200m below Bled level), and the Minor Erg, a small region of open desert locked between the Shield Wall and eastern and southern False Walls. Also of note are the Hagga and Imperial basins, the most heavily-populated parts of the planet.
The southern polar region is less well-charted than the northern. There are few corresponding rock regions which are open to habitation. Some believe smugglers may use what rock formations there are in the south to land goods away from imperial sensors before sneaking them in under the orbital trackers.
The sand temperature on Arrakis is 345° to 350°K (72-77°C), dropping by 25° above the sand ground level and by 55° underground. Shade reduces the temperature by approximately 18°. Survival on the surface of Arrakis is borderline impossible on the open desert without the use of a stillsuit, a special survival mechanism which reduces body temperature to survivable levels and includes a near-perfect water recycling system.
Finding food in the open desert is highly improbable, but there is some extremely isolated tuber growth in cooler crevasses and canyons outside of the direct sunlight. There are also some native lifeforms, such as the kangaroo mouse, desert bat and other animals which are edible if they can be hunted, which is not an easy task.
Even for a human well-supplied with food and a well-maintained stillsuit, travelling between the 60°N and 70°S line is ill-advised for the violence of the coriolis storms, vast storm systems which build up across thousands of kilometres of open desert and can cover entire hemispheres for weeks at a time. The Shield Wall and other features of the northern desert help break up the storms in inhabited regions, but on the open desert they are lethal, with winds so fast throwing up sand particles to such velocity they can shed skin from bone.
The most famous feature of Arrakis, apart from the spice, is the native lifeform known as the sandworms, also Shai-hulud or “Maker”. Sandworms are immense worm-like creatures with no eyes but keen movement-sensing organs. They travel under the sand, between the surface and the Great Bled, but can be drawn to the surface by rhythmic movements, such as footsteps, explosions, mining equipment or the use of special devices such as “thumpers”. The Holtzmann field generated by shields sends them into a special frenzy, and they will attack any site protected by a Holtzmann field immediately.
Sandworms are immense in size; the specimens observed in the northern mining fields range from 50m to 200m in length, but even larger monsters exceeding 400m in length have been seen in the deep desert. Destroying or even injuring a sandworm is regarded as impossible with anything less than field atomics, so instead people are directed to avoid them at all costs.
The long-term history of Arrakis is unclear; Canopus is an ancient star which has already undergone its yellow dwarf and red giant stages and is now burning helium in a white giant phase, as well as being an active source of x-rays. It is currently radiating at 10,000 standard solar luminii and is expected to dissipate over the next several tens of millions of years into a planetary nebula, leaving behind a smaller white dwarf (Canopus has insufficient mass to ever go supernova). At present, Canopus is the brightest star in the core of Imperial space.
Because of the challenging nature of the Canopus system, Arrakis is extremely fortunate to remain habitable. Theories have ranged from Arrakis being a satellite ejected from further in towards the star before its expansion stages, to it being captured from the so-called “Canopus B”, a star estimated to have made a close pass of the Canopus system several tens of millions of years ago and may now be gravitationally trapped by the core star at a distance of 6.2 light-years. Either way, the planet is fortunate to have found itself in Canopus’s new “life zone” and flourished…relatively. It is known that Arrakis was once much wetter than it is now, with samples taken from the Great Bled (underneath the sand) suggesting that Arrakis’ surface temperature was, for a very long time, in the absolute range of 254-332°K (-19° to 59°C) with a growing season of around 284-302°K (11-29°C), and the desertification of Arrakis is a relatively recent phenomenon, perhaps only on the order of twenty to fifty thousand years. The reasons for the desertification remain unclear, although some ecologists have tied the phenomenon to the presence of the sandworms.
It is also unknown when Arrakis was discovered. Eleven thousand years – one hundred and ten centuries – passed between the first fumbling attempts towards the stars by humanity and the chaotic insanity of the Great Revolt (the Butlerian Jihad), the inter-religious war raged between disparate branches of humanity over the use of AI, “thinking machines”. At the end of the war, which lasted ninety-three years, the machine-worshipping cults of humanity had been purged and the old religions of faith and spiritualism (in some cases allied with the always-resilient forces of secularism) had prevailed. These forces came together in the Commission of Ecumenical Translators to create the Orange Catholic Bible, which became the new religious textbook for the spiritual enlightenment of humankind. The work permeated through the 13,333 worlds of the Landsraad League, the body which for two thousand years had united the disparate worlds of humanity in a very loose confederation of trade and diplomacy. Several decades later, the Spacing Guild was founded as we know it, bridging the worlds by folding space, allowing ships to travel from one world to another instantly rather than taking the weeks or months required by standard FTL drive. This was done through the use of the spice melange, which is native only to Arrakis.
Thus the discovery of melange must predate the founding of the Guild, 10,191 years ago. As the brightest star in that original cluster of worlds within 500 light-years of Old Earth, Canopus must have been a target for interstellar exploration, but perhaps a low-priority one, for its hostile environment would have made it a poor candidate to harbour inhabitable worlds. Nevertheless, Arrakis was discovered and explored early enough for the melange to be discovered and then exploited by the nascent pre-Guild organisation in the century or so leading up to their official founding.
The initial exploration and settling of Arrakis was likely done by hardy explorers and hardy miners, working the wastes to find enough of the spice to satisfy the needs of the Guild Navigators. The Navigators are known to have discovered the ability of the spice to fold space and extend prescience, but how far they let this knowledge develop is unclear; the Bene Gesserit instead used various elixirs and poisons to achieve much the same effects until the more potent properties of melange were discovered; it is also known that the ability of the spice to retard the ageing process in normal humans was not discovered until the reign of Shakkad Corrino, “the Wise”, through the research of the Imperial Chemist, Yanshup Ashkoko. Both of these events may have been some time after the formation of the Guild. As such, the importance of the spice on Arrakis may have been relatively unknown for several millennia.
What is known is that the large-scale settlement of Arrakis did not begin until the Zensunni settled there. Religious exiles and wanderers from Old Earth, the Zensunni were forced to make six migrations to other worlds. Their first stop was Poritrin, followed by Salusa Secundus (where tradition holds that they were slaves for nine generations), Bela Tegeuse, Rossak, Thurgrod and Harmonthep, in the Delta Pavonis system. The destruction of Harmonthep (by means unknown, save it had no effect on neighbouring Caladan, already then the primary Atreides stronghold) saw the Zensunni flee en masse to Arrakis. Here, on a small, dry and arid world with a valuable resource but little appetite among the Great Houses for its conquest, they found a ready home. Some of their descendants went into the basins and founded villages and towns, becoming the ancestors of the pyons class, but others went into the deep deserts, to the remote ridges and rock formations and there founded secret strongholds, sietches, and from there they took a new name, the Free Men of Arrakis, or Fremen. Over millennia, the Fremen have become legends, their numbers and strongholds unknown.
In 10,111 the rule of Arrakis was given as a fief to House Harkonnen by the Emperor. House Harkonnen’s rule of Arrakis was efficient but brutal, seeing the planet’s workforce worked almost to death in the production of spice. Due to the political manoeuvrings of the Landsraad, the Harkonnens have been stripped of their claim to Arrakis. Instead, their fiercest enemies, the Atreides of Caladan, have been given ownership of the planet on a new contract to mine spice more efficiently.
Notes on the map
The size of Arrakis is not given in any of the six canonical Dune novels written by Frank Herbert. The Dune Encyclopedia suggests that Arrakis is slightly smaller than Earth, but no evidence is presented to support this and Frank Herbert himself regarded The Dune Encyclopedia as a fun book but effectively non-canon. In lieu of other data, Dune fans in the 1990s seemed to settle on the idea of Arrakis being about the size of Mars, perhaps based on the superficial visual similarity of the two planets.
However, it is possible to work out the size of Arrakis from information provided in the original Dune novel by itself. This is because we are given one key distance in the book – the distance between the cities of Carthag and Arrakeen, which is fixed at 200 kilometres – and the provided map gives us longitude and latitude information, most importantly establishing the 60°N line on Arrakis. Using the established scale, we can measure the diameter of the 60°N line (through the north pole) at 1,800 km.
We can compare this diameter to the similar dimensions of the same latitude line on Earth, Mars and the Moon, which give us respective figures of 6,693 km, 3,551 km and 1,820 km respectively. Thus we can establish that Arrakis is the same size – perhaps even a tad smaller – than Earth’s moon.
Although helpful from some perspectives, such as the speed with which large land armies such as those of the Fremen seem to zip around on Arrakis, this does seem a tad implausible, as small, low-mass planets will have considerably weaker gravity than on Earth and this makes it less likely that the planet will have retained its atmosphere. However, it is possible that Arrakis is rich in dense metals, which in turn have made the planet considerably heavier than is normal for its size and given it a gravitational field of 0.9G, as noted in the novel.
The small size of Arrakis is supported by a discussion between Thufir Hawat and Paul Atreides early in the novel, when Thufir says the coriolis storms build up over “six or seven thousand kilometres” of the equatorial circumference band, which is actually smaller than our Moon (where the equatorial circumference extends for just over 10,000 km) but vastly smaller than Mars (20,000 km) or Earth (40,000 km).