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These Tolkien-Esque Maps Turn American Cities Into Fantasy Realms

A geography professor turns places like Cleveland and Pittsburgh into magical worlds of castles and dragons.

Many a fantasy nerd has been enchanted by J.R.R. Tolkien’s elaborate, calligraphed maps of Middle Earth, illustrating the treacherous Misty Mountains and dragons flying over the Iron Hills. Though Tolkien fans may long to live in a hobbit hole in the Shire, most remain stuck in humdrum places like industrial Pittsburgh or Cleveland instead, and navigate them using similarly unmagical maps.

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Stentor Danielson, a geographer based in Pittsburgh, borrows Tolkien’s whimsical cartographic style to map out major American cities as fantasy lands of castles and dragons, all hand drawn in ye olde pen and ink. “My love of maps started when I first read The Lord of the Rings in third grade,” Danielson tells Co.Design in an email. “Throughout my childhood I made hundreds of maps of imaginary and fantastical places, in a variety of styles cribbed from different fantasy novels.”

Here, humble Philly becomes “The Realm of Philadelphia in the Kingdom of Pennsylvania;” D.C. becomes “The Domain of Washington in the District of Columbia.” “Everything on the maps is drawn freehand based on looking at other maps, but I do my best to stay accurate to the real geography,” Danielson says. Though they won’t help you find the best bus routes to take to work, they bring artistry back into cartography in a time dominated by digital maps that prioritize function over form. They’ll make you see your city the way Tolkien might have.

If Danielson has yet to render your favorite city as a magical Realm within a surrounding Kingdom, he’s taking orders for custom fantasy maps via his Etsy store, called Mapsburgh. Posters of the fantasy maps are available for $23 each, and smaller 8.5-by-11-inch versions go for $10 each.

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About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.

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