How to Judge a Fantasy Novel Without Reading a Sentence (Part 2): The Page-To-Map Method

Missed the first installment? See Part 1.

What’s the best way to judge fantasy book in the most scientific way without reading a sentence? It’s a method called Page-To-Map (PTM). This method takes into account how long it takes for a map to appear in the book, whether 2 pages in, 10 pages in, or none at all. The sooner the map appears, the shittier the book.

We’ll go through the list of fantasy novels from when they were first released. We’ll be able to document whether the PTM has gotten better or worse as time went on. If the novels are part of a series, they will be judged based on the first installment. Now, before we begin…

Two additional notes:
1. This is all based on the versions of the books I have. These could all have been different in both the first printing and latest printing. This is not a definitive study. It’s more of an experiment.
2. In-universe fiction quotes and maps are not bad or good just by themselves. We’ll discuss this further in Part 3.

Here is the way the scoring works:

Any instance of a map is an automatic fail. For other offenses, they are scored thusly:

Map – Automatic fail. At this point, PTM (Page-To-Map) determines how much of a failure the book is. The Map counts as a single (1) offense. Each additional instance of a map (before the start of the book) is an additional (1) offense.
3 – Three Offenses: Fail. For example, a fictional quote, a prologue, and a glossary.
2 – Two Offenses: Fail. For example, a fictional quote and a prologue.
1 – One Offense: Fail. For example, a fictional quote.
0 – No Offense: Pass! (Or at least, a very negligible offense).

Onwards unto science!

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published 1954 and 1955
First Book: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
PTM (Page-To-Map): 16
Other Offenses: The map is a two-pager on pages 16-17. There is a fake quote in the beginning before the foreword. After the foreword is the table of contents, which is followed by the map at pages 16-17. A Prologue follows the map, and before the book finally begins for real, there’s a second single page map. This is probably where all these fucknut fantasy authors stole their shit ideas from. It might have seemed cute here the first time, but if you’re still ripping this shit off fifty years later, you seriously need to re-evaluate what you’re doing with your life.
Overall Score: Automatic Fail (4) – Two page map, a second single page map, fake in-universe quote, and a prologue. Thank fuck there’s no glossary.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever Trilogy by Stephen R. Donaldson
Published 1977-1979
First Book: Lord Foul’s Bane (1977)
PTM (Page-To-Map): 10
Other Offenses: The map is actually two pages, 10-11! Not only that, but it’s listed in the goddamn table of fucking contents! Additionally, there’s an embarrassingly long glossary in the back, especially considering this is the first book.
Overall Score: Automatic Fail (2) – Two-page map and a glossary.

Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Published 1984-1985
First Book: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984)
PTM (Page-To-Map): 2
Other Offenses: Incredibly, the map comes before both the title page and copyright information! Jesus Christ! This one is seriously fucked. The very first page of the entire book is a glossary of the cast of characters! The story starts off with a three page (!) fictional in-universe poem before segueing into a very short prologue, and then into the main story proper.
Overall Score: Automatic Fail (4) – Map in two pages, fictional quote, prologue, and a glossary.

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy by Tad Williams
Published 1988-1993
First Book: The Dragonbone Chair (1988)
PTM (Page-To-Map): 12
Other Offenses: The “Foreword” is just a single page fictitious in-universe quote. Shockingly enough, there’s actually a SECOND map on page 18, after the fake quote, and before the story has even started! The “Appendix” at the end is the granddaddy of all Glossaries. It includes a fucking pronunciation guide, and a pathetically long list of made-up words and phrases in a bunch of nonsense fantasy languages. It doesn’t have as many offenses as the Dragonlance Chronicles does, but of the offenses it does have, it goes way fucking overboard, to an embarrassing extent.
Overall Score: Automatic Fail (4) – Map at page 12 (another at page 18), fake in-universe quote, and “Appendix” at the end

The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind
Published 1994-2011
First Book: Wizard’s First Rule (1994)
PTM (Page-To-Map): 8
Other Offenses: Two-page map on pages 8-9. However, there are no other offenses. No fictitious quotes, glossary or prologue at all. So close, yet so very far away.
Overall Score: Automatic Fail (1) – Map at page 8. No other offenses.

The Witcher Saga: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
Published 1994
PTM (Page-To-Map): No map!
Other Offenses: This one nearly squeaked by. There is just a single half-page fictitious in-universe quote before the first chapter. Otherwise, that’s it.
Overall Score: One offense. Fail. (1) – Fictional quote.

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
Published 1995-2000
First Book: The Golden Compass (1995)
PTM (Page-To-Map): No map!
Other Offenses: The only real offense here is the John Milton quote from Paradise Lost on Page 9. It’s a penalty, but a classy one. I’m willing to waive the penalty here because it’s a quote from a real book, and there’s no other screw-ups.
Overall Score: Pass! (0)

Since I don’t have the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire in my possession, we’ll have to make due with the latest one:

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
Published 1996-Present
Latest Book: A Dance with Dragons (2011)
PTM (Page-To-Map): 0
Other Offenses: Sweet Tapdancing Christ. How is it possible to get a 0 for PTM? Well, the map is actually printed on the inside cover! The first page of the actual book is just the second page of the map! My God… this is an abomination. And I’m not even close to getting started. Pages 11, 13 and 15 all have different maps! That’s a total of four maps, one of them two pages, before we get even to the first page of the story. Might as well mention too that it starts on a prologue. Should I even bring up that the Appendix is 53 fucking pages long? I guess it also goes without saying that the same map on the inside cover and first page is also mirrored on the last page and back inside cover, bringing the total map count to five (7 pages). This is the end of days.
Overall Score: Automatic Fail (7) – Five maps, a prologue, and one bloated appendix

Based purely on the numbers and my own imagination, I’d be willing to surmise that Tolkien started off the whole nonsense. Around the seventies, there wasn’t as much adherence to the “unwritten fantasy rule” of bullshit maps, and it was a lot more “experimental.” It wasn’t about aping Tolkien. Then, in the 80s as Dungeons & Dragons came into the forefront of the fantasy genre, maps, glossaries, and fake quotes came back into full fucking force. However, as recent fantasy seems to attest to, there is less and less reliance on the old standard fantasy tropes and genre conventions to make the books look “respectable.” Except…

Well, except for that fuckturd load of a book “A Dance with Dragons.” I can’t even begin to understand how that fits into anything. The excesses of irrelevant bullshit that book contains borders on complete madness.

Stay tuned for the final installment, Part 3!

  • Chuck777

    This better be satire or else this is a pretty moronic post.

    I mean really, judging an entire book on the fact that it contains a map, a prologue and ” fake quotes” (as if all the rest of the dialogue in the book isn’t just as “fake”)? Seriously? This is hands down the dumbest blog post I have ever read.

    Maps provide context and visual aid to readers. Prologues provide context and exposition outside of the story proper. Fake Quotes are just fun and flavorful.

    If you cannot see their value, then you can freely choose to not buy these great books. Your loss.

  • I am not joking about what I posted here. I think maps, fake “in-universe” quotes and everything else are tired old cliches that are not doing fantasy books any favors. When I see stuff like that in those books, I just see MASSIVE self-indulgence on the part of the writers. Seriously, how different is fantasy than any other genre, including science fiction (which is closely intertwined with the fantasy genre), which makes it acceptable to automatically include all of this irrelevant extra guff?

    When you start reading a Stephen King book or a Michael Crichton novel, or an Isaac Asimov story, are you expecting a map? No, because that would be stupid. Are you expecting a fake “in-universe” quote? No, you’re not. Then why do fantasy books get away with this kind of infantile behavior? I very well could be in the minority in terms of taste and what I can and can’t abide, but I am immediately taken out of the book when I see this stuff and this would be before I’ve even gotten into it! How much more can the book completely fail?

    I firmly believe that if an author’s story is good enough, it does not require this obvious audience pandering. Get to the story right away. I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say I have never and will never give a shit about what the map looks like, especially before I even read the damn book! It is the job of the author to explain what the world looks like in the text, not just show some maps in the front of the book to excuse their terrible writing later. The author is obviously attempting to make his book seem more “epic” because there’s a map on the front, but the problem is ALL of the books have a map. So, is every single fantasy book a giant epic that needs a map? Please. The histrionics are so damn transparent.

    Now, I have read some of these books that I’ve listed here. I own them. I have read up to the middle of “The Two Towers” in “The Lord of the Rings,” I’ve read the first trilogy of the “Thomas Covenant” series, I’ve read I think two books in the original “Dragonlance Chronicles,” “Memory Sorrow and Thorn” is one of my favorite fantasy book series of all time (if not my favorite period), I’ve never read “The Sword of Truth” but the Legend of the Seeker TV series was incredible, I haven’t read “The Witcher” books but played both games, and I’ve read the “His Dark Materials” Trilogy, but only after writing this article. “A Song of Ice and Fire” is an amazing three books, followed by two irredeemably bad follow-ups.

    BUT, how good these books are do not effect how embarrassing this particular lazy affectation is. Kind of like how you love you Grandfather, but you hate how he always uses incredibly uncouth racial slurs around the people you invite over for dinner. I love good writing and most of these books are good, but this map and fake quote shit is just stupid. I admit, the fake quotes serve a purpose in Memory Sorrow and Thorn (the sole exception), but in every other example, the book is unchanged if all of that is completely removed. AND, if the book is actually worse because it’s removed, than that is the failure of the author for not including the proper necessary information in the text of the book itself.

    I don’t believe there would be a single fantasy fan who would not be relieved or at least impressed if they started reading a fantasy novel and it got right into the story, with nothing blocking the path from the title page to Chapter 1. If nothing else, it would be innovative, as sad as saying that actually is.

    But I don’t think we’ll be seeing that in my lifetime. Nobody has the balls.

    • I’m afraid you’re wrong there mate. When I was a youngster, the first thing I did after picking a book from the library’s fantasy shelf was look for a map. If the book didn’t have one, I’d put it right back. That’s how important I thought maps were, and I’m certain there’s many people out there feeling the same way.

      Now that I’ve grown older I’ve come to accept that some books don’t need a map for the story to work, but these are very exceptional cases indeed. Many storylines revolve around the geographical location of certain people and events, making it a crucial source of information if you want to “get ahead of the characters” (a tool often employed by writers, and not only in fantasy).

      I must admit that even now, so many years after I picked up my first fantasy book, I still love a good map, and preferrably at the very beginning of the book. Some I hate (like the one used in the Wheel of Time series, with its rediculously straight northern and eastern mountain ranges), but many are of an exquisite beauty, that helps me take up the atmosphere of the book far better than its cover. I for one consider a good map an added value, not a disadvantage.

      Reasonable as I hope this answer is, if the way you write says anything about your personality, you’re not gonna like what I said. That’s okay, I wasn’t trying to have you like it. I was trying to point out a very obvious flaw in your argumentation: you seem to believe that whatever you think, everyone else (except the victim of your rant, obviously) thinks as well. You say there’s not a single fantasy fan who wouldn’t be relieved/impressed by a book without a map at the beginning, and that’s just not the case. In fact, the opposite might be closer to the truth. I know many a fantasy fan that likes maps in books. And I don’t know a single one that would consider a book with a map a “fail”. Some people actually consider it works of art in their own right, not only helping the reader along in getting immersed in the book, but beautiful in themselves.

      There’s tons of map lovers out there. We’re more numerous than you think. We’re legion. And that, my friend, just by our existence, undermines your entire premise.

      • We’ll have to agree to disagree. I truly understand the visual appeal of a map, hell, I love them. I have a massive framed Middle Earth map on my wall. Old maps from before humanity knew anything about the way the world looked are endlessly fascinating. Subway tunnel maps are equally beautiful in their simplicity. That’s not what the article is about. It’s about why the map needs to exist in the front of the book when all of that geographical data, information and description can be described in the text.

        Would you not agree that when the authors include maps in their novels, they have less they need to do in terms of building geographical location in prose, since it’s all visually laid out for the reader before they actually get to the text?

        As an example, if the author has a city on the map called Felltown, he could simply write: “The heroes went to Felltown” and it would be perfectly acceptable, because you could look back on the map and see where Felltown was. But, without a map, that shorthand does not exist. The author would be required to explain the journey to Felltown, where Felltown existed in respect to the cities that we had already traveled to in distance and size, and if necessary, hold back information about other cities or landmasses because we, as readers, had not been there yet. Without a map, we would have no clue what was past Felltown: a lake, a forest, a small camp, a massive ten thousand foot wall of iron disappearing into the sky. But, if the map was in front of the book, we could just skip back to it and see “Oh yes, it looks like Felltown is surrounded by a forest with a lake in the center.”

        This is the literal definition of “it’s the journey, not the destination” and it’s one of the biggest aspects of fantasy fiction. I find that authors who do not include a map are making it harder on themselves, but not unnecessarily. They understand that it’s important for the text to stand by itself without requiring visual aids.

        I’d really love to hear from some of the authors about why they included maps in their novels, without a justification of “It’s always been that way” or “All of my favorite novels have it” or “It’s a tradition” or “Readers like/expect it.”

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  • NeverTooLate

    I can’t believe you really counted the LOTR here. That’s no fantasy story, that’s a history. Mother of all the other fantasies. I do not believe it. To be a bit kinder: I understand if there were books you just hated. But do not start with a book that is the actual start in this topic. JRR Tolkien was a big tale-teller and this book was meant to his children. Research does make importance! It was no cliché or else, Tolkien was a simple genious. It is a tale, my dear friend, and is written to those who can understand. Not a two-hour-length story like the others. Needs time. If there are clichés than we know where’s the sample. Crack: fictional quotes? Look. This is what writers do. Make up a new story with new thoughts. I don’t think it’d be okay, if there were quotes from Obama or else. I mean, I understand if the point is: there are too many books starting with quotes, but in general: come on! Writers copy as much as they can! It’s what they’re doing. They see something what they like, they steal it and put their own art in it. I know, I’m late for about a year, if I’m right, but hey. Still not late to state what I think. Anyway I don’t like prologues either. But just because I met boring ones at first. There are good prologues and I really think it’s good to have the map at least on the first pages. No hate, just saying what I think. Lots of love from Hungary. (your blog looks great)

    • If I had enough time and enough books, I would have included every fantasy novel, but these were just the ones I had available to me. I had to include LOTR *because* it is the mother of all the other fantasy novels.

      I do see your point. For you, the quotes and maps are a part of the experience of the book, and add to the atmosphere. I agree too that “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” But for how long will writers continue to steal from Tolkien?

      Even if it didn’t start with him, he did it in his books, and “The Lord of the Rings” came out in 1954. You’d find it very difficult to find a modern, original fantasy novel that still has “orcs” and “elves” and “dwarves”. Writers “stole” that from Tolkien, but unless you’re reading or playing Dungeons & Dragons (which still uses orcs, dwarves, and elves), nobody is stealing that anymore. So why are they still stealing this map/fakequote/prologue cliche?

      I personally feel that when the author includes those cliches, they are pandering to a fantasy audience that doesn’t know they can or should expect better, and that it’s lazy and low effort. It’s much more difficult to build a world entirely with words than rely on a cliche older than 95% of the author’s readership.

      I believe important, great fiction can be created in the fantasy genre. I just don’t understand why the author would undermine their own work by including these cliches, which instantly makes the novel dated and generic. Remember, even though the grading system I created was unnecessarily harsh, one book series passed – “His Dark Materials”! Change can happen. I’m pointing out, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that fantasy readers deserve better.

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  • Dom Powers

    Part 3 please! :D