For the most popular fantasy worlds, it’s not unusual to see maps of them released as posters that fans can put up on their walls or use for projects like roleplaying. In the 1990s John Howe released a series of such maps for the works of Tolkien: The Map of Tolkien’s Middle-earth (1994), There and Back Again: The Map of The Hobbit (1995) and The Map of Tolkien’s Beleriand (1999). Terry Pratchett, aided by Stephen Briggs, released The Streets of Ankh-Morpork (1993), The Discworld Mapp (1995), A Tourist’s Guide to Lancre (1998) and Death’s Domain (1999), although the last one was perhaps the sound of the bottom of the barrel being, if not scraped, at least gently tapped on.
With A Song of Ice and Fire‘s sales accelerating upwards and the Game of Thrones TV series about to start, Bantam Spectra decided that George R.R. Martin had reached a suitable level of fame where his books could also get this treatment. Originally the plan was to simply reproduce the maps already in the books, but this felt a little unambitious. Instead they decided to produce maps of the entire “Known World”, incorporating not just the places seen in the books but also mentioned. The idea was to produce a series of canonical, definitive maps stretching all the way from the Lonely Light (the western-most of the Iron Islands, located far to the west of Westeros in the Sunset Sea) to the much-discussed, never-before-seen Asshai and the Shadow Lands in the distant east.
Martin agreed, although he also clarified this was going to be the most that he wanted mapped of his world. He didn’t want to produce a canonical map of the entire planet as such a thing did not exist in the medieval period, and no-one in Westeros or Essos would be able to produce such a map. He also made the edges of the map more mysterious and mythical, with a “City of Winged Men” to be found beyond Yi Ti, near the haunting “Land of the Shrykes”. In a wry nod to Robert Chambers and his influential 1895 book The King in Yellow (which, among others, was inspirational for H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulu Mythos), Martin also added a city called Carcosa to the far eastern edge of the map. Of course, what was supposed to be a nice little homage caused some confusion to readers when the first season of HBO’s True Detective aired in 2014 with numerous references to Carcosa, making a few confused viewers wonder if there was some bizarre connection between that show and Game of Thrones.
Initially this required Martin to simply hand over his sketch maps for Essos, the eastern continent, of which only a small portion had been previously mapped. However, it appears that Martin was unhappy with his original, rough sketch maps for Essos (which HBO had used for the maps on their website) and spent some time radically reconceptualising the continent, moving the Jade Sea from being a near-landlocked internal sea of Essos to a separate ocean running to its south, and moving around certain locations. He also added numerous ruins to the Dothraki Sea and detailed some new lands in the distant east. He also introduced a colossal, continent-girdling mountain range (the Bone Mountains) to Essos as well.
Cartographer and artist Jonathan Roberts produced a series of twelve full-colour maps for this collection. These were:
- The Known World
- The Free Cities
- Slaver’s Bay
- The Dothraki Sea
- Beyond the Wall
- The West
- Central Essos
- The East
- King’s Landing
The resulting collection, The Lands of Ice and Fire, was published in October 2012 and was reasonably well-received, especially for its additions to the canon and lore, but some fans were confused as they had been expecting an atlas with much more information and text accompaniment. For – at least a little – more information they had to wait another two years for another book, The World of Ice and Fire.