|Map by Tear ©|
With the publication of The Lands of Ice and Fire, us fans have been offered a greater view into the world. As a geographer by training, I quickly snatched it up. Maps are a way that I (and many other readers I know) are able to deeply immerse ourselves in the worlds of fiction, fantasy or otherwise.
As anyone who has taken a cartography class knows, however, maps are never a true representation of the world. Not only can we not include every detail of the world on map, but due to the curvature of the Earth and the flatness of paper/computer screens, no map can accurately display the location of all features. Every map will have either size, distance, direction, and/or shape distorted at least a little bit. (For more information on how this works, check out this ugly but informative page by UC-Boulder.)
This lead me to wonder how the "real" world of A Song of Ice and Fire might be different than they are displayed in the books. This webpage consists of my attempts to explore this question.
I have made the following assumptions regarding the world of ASOIAF in my analysis. I have tried to justify them the best I can, but they are still somewhat arbitrary, and deviation from these assumptions will produce different results.
- Westeros is a continent on a spherical globe. I'm not sure how much evidence there is in the book for different shapes of the world (flat vs. round). For all I know, the world in this series might be flat. However, this would make my analysis pointless so I willfully ignore the possibility.
- The size of the planet on which the series takes place is roughly the same size as Earth. If we are to take the TV show as canon, then we know the planet has at least the same gravity (and therefore mass) as Earth.
- The Wall is positioned at 60° North Latitude. I chose this latitude because it is roughly where the southern extent of permafrost exists in Canada and continental Asia. We know The Gift is arable land, and areas north of the wall have regular snow even in the summer.
- All canon maps have used the Mercator projection. This projection often gets a bad rap because it exaggerates the size of high latitude features, like Greenland and Canada. However, it is fantastic for one thing: navigation. Which, of course, is exactly what it was invented for, and why I would be used in a fantasy book. If Martin says a character is moving east, then we should be able to assume that she is moving right on the provided map. It is also safe to assume that The Wall runs directly east-west, and would only be shown on a map going left to right. These things are only possible in Mercator-like maps.
So lets start with the world as we know and love it, in a Mercator projection.
Note the straight lines of longitude and latitude. This is a characteristic of cylindrical projections like Mercator. We have defined this map's projection, and we know the continents' latitudes. We can can compare the size of this world with our own.
The longitude selected here is arbitrary (in fact these two maps have different longitudes). But from an American perspective, the placement of Westerosi regions is very interesting. The North begins at almost the exact place as the Canadian border. Dorne, which is ethnically and climatically different from the rest of Westeros, sits near the Mexican desert. Kings Landing is at almost the exact same latitude as Washington D.C.
If we know that northern latitudes have exaggerated sizes in Mercator maps, than we should be able to assume that northern Westeros isn't really as big relative to Valyria and Sothoryos as it appears. Generally, mid to high latitude continents are displayed with conical projections. Most maps that show exclusively the US or Europe have this type of projection This would also be the appropriate choice for displaying Westeros and Essos. The following is a map in an Albers Projection, which distorts shape but keeps area the true.
We can see that this is indeed the case. The North once seemed to be about the same size as the rest of the realm, and now it appears to be closer to a quarter of that size. (I have cut off the eastern part of Essos because this projection was only intended for use in North America. Far east becomes too distorted to be useful.)
And again, we can see how these changes between projections are analogous to the same on Earth.
While "Up" on the page is no longer directly north, we get a better idea of how the size of land masses compare.
We can make the same comparison between different projections of Westeros exclusively:
As you may have guessed, the map on the left is Westeros as we are used to it (in Mercator), and on the right is Westeros in a conical projection.
Let's use this as an opportunity to see how big Westeros really is. I used relatively rudimentary techniques, and I'll try to update these numbers more accurately in the future. But here are following approximations:
- The North: 415,000 sq. mi/1,070,000 sq. km
- The Reach: 380,000 sq. mi/984,000 sq. km
- The Realm: 1.6 million sq. mi/4.1 million sq. km
This means that The North is still the biggest region in the Realm, but not by as much as appeared before.
To compare, The North is roughly the same size as Bolivia. The Reach is roughly the same size as Egypt. And the Realm (Westeros south of The Wall) is a tad bigger than India, and just over a third of the size of the continuous United States. That means it is also roughly the same size as Europe minus Russia.
We now know how big Westeros is, and how its size compares relative to its world. However, we still have not seen a "true" representation of the series' lands. Albers Projection distorts the map like Mercator does, just in a different way.
The follow map attempts to display the continents as they might be seen from space.
This gives us an even different look at world. We are able to imagine how the continents might wrap around the globe. Interestingly, if I am correct that the wall is at 60°N, then the cartographers of The Lands of Ice and Fire stopped drawing their map right at the equator.
Finally, if you are curious to see how these continents really look on a globe, below I have embedded this map draped over a Google Earth model. You can zoom and fly around to you heart's desire. Currently there is just the outline of the continents, but I would like to add more details in the future.