Friday, September 26, 2008

Here There Be Dragons

Maps are magic. Everything about cartography is simply fascinating. The idea of representing the world on a two dimensional surface was genius. It probably started the first time one caveman asked another, “How do you get to the bonfire in these parts?” However, directions are the most mundane of uses for a map, hardly worth acknowledging.

Maps are all about symbols. How do you represent mountains and rivers and forests on paper? There is almost nothing a map cannot do once the symbolism is figured out. There are maps that show language distribution, maps showing topography, maps showing the distribution of animals and plants. Not all maps are just about land and geography. There are maps of buildings, of anatomy and of the way the mind thinks.

Maps can be works of art. Especially some of the old maps made centuries ago. There are frequently used for decoration, and yet it is a beauty that speaks. It tells us about the world and at the same time about history and what people used to think about their world. Of course, today we have computers and maps have gone interactive. We can literally see the world from miles above and zoom in to mere feet from the ground. We can even see photos of what the view at any given point looks like.

But the old maps you can hold in your hand are better. They are exciting.

“X marks the spot.” “Here there be dragons.” From buried treasure to unknown and unexplored places, maps are a promise for adventure. It doesn’t really matter if someone has been there before and drawn the map in the first place; the fact that you have not been there—but you know of the “there” thanks to the map—just begs for a trip.

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