Drawing the Map

For the poster map of the Dreamlands, I wanted to get away from the standard design of the “Dreamlands map” printed in various Call of Cthulhu Dreamlands supplements (beautiful though it is). My B&W map included in the book, for all my efforts to make it different, is inevitably influenced by the Call of Cthulhu design that I pored over so many times from the time in high school when I bought H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.

My first thought in drawing the new map was, I wanted to show EVERYTHING, including the southern edge of the world which no one ever draws because all the action in “Dream-Quest” is in the northern half. (Kadath seems to be at the north pole, although there are “rumoured abnormalities of proportion in those trackless leagues” of the north, presumably meaning that extremely long distances of space are compressed into the area around it, as shown in the scene when the night-gaunts are drawn towards Kadath at the speed “of a planet in its orbit” and it still takes them awhile to get there. This image may have been inspired by a scene in Lord Dunsany’s “The Queen of Elfland’s Daughter” where the King of Elfland magically pulls Elfland away from the real world to thwart a questing knight, so that the knight would have to walk millions of miles. It also makes me think of Son Goku walking 1,000,000 km on the Serpent Road in “Dragon Ball,” but anyway.) As this sketch shows, I had the idea of drawing the whole world as a globe floating in space, surrounded by other spheres/planets, the celestial gardens watered by the Arinurian Streams, and the oceans of the world spilling out into space in certain places, like a fountain.

In my first draft of the map, I tried to draw all the mountains and cities radiating out from the middle. I had the idea that, if Kadath was the north pole, the Sunset City/Hesperia should be on the south pole, since it fulfills the role of a mirror/shadow of Kadath in “Dream-Quest.” (And after all, Nyarlathotep does tell Carter that the City is somewhere in Earth’s Dreamlands.) Since it’s on the south pole, I placed it behind the Mountains of Madness, which I assume are in the Dreamlands, since the name was invented by Lord Dunsany in his dream story The Hashish Man. However, although I think the radial map was a good idea, in practice it proved to be difficult to draw recognizable landscape features and make it look good from every angle. (Plus it was pointless, if people were going to be keeping the map on their wall and not turning it constantly.) Also, I knew I was designing the map for a 2’x3′ poster, and it looked weird having the world shaped like an oval. Then there was the everpresent problem of drawing the ‘whole world’ in Mollweide projection even though the Dreamlands are clearly supposed to be flat or flat-ish — since you call fall off the edge of the world past the Basalt Pillars of the West, and in the East, if Gary Myers is canon, the world is bounded by Mhor, and the Vale of Night beyond.

After such thoughts, I eventually decided to redraw the whole world in the style of a bi-hemispherical world map, of the type which was popular in the early 18th century. I placed Azathoth on the top of the map, ruling over the world, in the position that Christ sometimes occupied in Medieval mappa mundi. Drawing the world as a bi-hemispherical map, of course, is a bit of an illusion, since this map is obviously flat and continues off the edges, instead of being a true bi-hemispherical map where the top and bottom edge represent the North and South Pole. So the bi-hemispherical effect is just for style. (Unless, perhaps, the Dreamlands are actually flat and shaped like two joined circles?) But I have to agree with the writers at Chaosium that the Dreamlands look better when the edges are indistinct — certainly the world of dreams is as infinite as the human mind, and potentially continues out in all directions. At first I wanted to show everything, but actually it was better not to.

The scale of the map, roughly, is that 1 inch of the printed edition equals 5.5 days of travel by horse or sailing ship. However, this is also clearly modified by the weird geometry and local spatial irregularities of the Dreamlands. Like Kadath in the north (offscreen in the final map), Mhor in the east is clearly waaaaaaay far away from everything else, years away: in “Xiurhn” Gary Myers writes “That even the East must end if one only travels far enough, all sane men know… but Thish on his journey watched the four seasons of the Earth come in file down through the fields of man and the fields that know him not, come each and pass and come again.” But I wanted to draw it, so I included it on the map anyway. Who knows what is the boundary of the western and southern edges of the Dreamlands?

I tried to resist inventing my own place-names (though there are some) and to instead go for Alan Moore style info-otaku mania. If you dig around you should be able to find 98% of the place-names on this map in the works of Lovecraft, Dunsany or other authors. Lastly, I handled the “Does ‘The Doom That Came to Sarnath’ take place in the Dreamlands, or the distant past?” debate by deciding that the answer is: both. Perhaps ancient places live on in the Dreamlands, and the boundaries of the Past and the Imaginary become blurred. Thus, real places like Khem (Egypt), Meroe, Chaldaea and Ophir, which Lovecraft thought were exotic, are part of the Dreamlands. This explains how the Wanderers in The Cats of Ulthar are clearly supposed to be Ancient Egyptians, even though it’s a Dreamlands story. (Although in “The Loot of Golthoth” Gary Myers came up with the idea that they’re actually from the city of Golthoth, the Dreamlands analogue of Egypt… but maybe Egypt was founded by people who fled Golthoth? Or vice versa?) Returning to the roleplaying game, the Chaosium explanation for the Dreamlands’ ancient technology (why you can’t bring guns there, basically) is that only things that are 500+ years old can exist in the Dreamlands, because it takes that long for things to “set” in the mold of the human collective memory. Perhaps another answer is that these ancient cities and civilizations, like Mesopotamia and Egypt, exist in the Dreamlands because it was here that humans developed consciousness, and these First Cities are and will always be permanently burned into the human brain, but in the year 2500 the Dreamlands won’t be full of Starbuckses. I’m not designing a RPG here, so I don’t really care if some rules lawyer runs around the Dreamlands with a tommygun. It could be entertainingly absurd, really, kind of like later-period ironic Lord Dunsany as opposed to early-period serious Lord Dunsany. Oh, that’s right! Lord Dunsany! I’m going to write about him in my next post.


Discussion (7)¬

  1. FormCritic says:

    Thank you for the description, and the map. It has an honored place in my office lair.

  2. […] poszter verziót. Az egész folyamatról készített egy beszámolót, amit érdemes elolvasni, mert kiderül belőle, miből inspirálódott, […]

  3. Erich Zann says:

    33 shares and 129 likes on my Facebook : I think your poster is going viral :)

  4. Jason says:

    @Erich – Thanks for spreading the word! :) I hope you like my (drum roll) upcoming new Dreamlands project!

  5. Jerrad Adams says:

    I there an online store where i might be able to purchase this map

  6. Ricardo Rivas says:

    Hello, i admire your artwork,specially when it is related with Lovecraft’s literature. i really like the map of the Dreamlands and as soon as i can i’ll purchase it, but i wanted to know all the references on the poster, i mean the books where you got the places and the spheres, arab inscriptions etc. if it exists an online blog or page where i could know that information it will be great!

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