Rethinking Maps: “…Without the least vestige of land”

How do you like front cover for the new paperback edition of Rethinking Maps: New Frontiers in Cartographic Theory? (Routledge, $44.95, greatly reduced from the $150.00 hardcover edition.) It pays homage to Henry Holiday’s famous “Ocean-Chart” illustration for Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876), pictured below. (We might add a second question, Doesn’t it ruin the concept of the “perfect and absolute blank” to put something in it?) The collection of essays, edited by Martin Dodge, Rob Kitchen, and Chris Perkins, features such groundbreaking articles as “Cartographic representation and the construction of lived worlds: understanding cartographic practice as embodied knowledge” by Amy D. Propen.

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best —
A perfect and absolute blank!”

-Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark, Fit the Second

And here‘s Mahendra Singh’s illustration of the same passage, from his beautiful 2010 graphic novel edition ($14.95.) It was discussed in a previous blog post, Tingling Singh’s Bell.

Tingling Singh’s Bell

Mahendra Singh’s beautiful new graphic novel version of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark got a Christmasy plug in The New Yorker’s blog Book Bench, in a post called “Holiday Gift Guide: For the Precocious Child.” “…Illustrated with delightfully surreal (and somewhat macabre) drawings,” writes Eileen Reynolds. “The language isn’t easy, of course, so save this book for the brightest and most adventurous young word-worms on your holiday shopping list.”

Over at Melville House’s blog MobyLives, Singh wrote a short essay about his creative process when approaching the illustration of the Bellman’s blank map. The original post is here, and I’ll quote in full:

A panel from Singh's adaptation

A panel from Singh’s adaptation

The infamous Blank Map of the Bellman is proof positive that there was no Bellwoman forcing the Bellman to stop and ask for directions. It’s also a classic example of Carroll’s subversive sense of fun in the entire Snark.

The original illustrator of the poem, Henry Holiday, simply drew a blank map for this scene, a zen-like decision which really complicated my life when I set about drawing this panel.

Outsmarting Holiday would not be easy, but I had two advantages working for me in my quest to draw that celebrated blankness. First, this was going to be the world’s first, genuinely full-scale Surrealist Snark. Second, I am a shameless borrower of things which don’t belong to me.

Both the Snark and Surrealism involve a lot horsing around with the exact meanings of words and pictures, with interchanging them, combining them, sometimes even making their entire meaning softly and silently vanish away.

Henry Holiday’s Map of the Bellman

Henry Holiday’s Map of the Bellman

The Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte, was obsessed with this sort of game and his painting, “The Lover”, makes a perfect comment upon the Bellman’s Map. So, I just took it. Shameless on my part, yes, but there’s even more of that to come.

The map’s legend, “you are here” is literally true but what’s really shameless is my insistence that French is the language of the lost and confused when everyone knows that it’s really English. This is easily verified. Stand on a street corner in any big francophone city and ask a stranger: where am I? If necessary, pull at shirtsleeves and wave your arms, speak very slowly while carefully pronouncing every word at the utmost decibel level. I think you’ll quickly see what I mean.

Words, words, words! If only they had the decency to cover themselves up, like the Bellman & Company. They have no loyalty, they can’t be bothered to mean anything anymore, they’re shameless!

Rene Magritte’s “The Lovers”

Rene Magritte’s “The Lovers”

Singh’s Snark is for sale on Amazon here, and more on The Hunting of the Snark around our website here.