Left-Justified Fantasy Map

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Ever noticed how many fantasy maps will detail the ocean on the left, western side? In many cases there won't even be an eastern or northern shore; however, there may be a southern shore.

There are several possible reasons for this. For European writers, the Atlantic Ocean is on the left, so this may come into play toward influencing the Left-Justified Fantasy Map as well. Also the Mediterranean Sea is on the west side of Israel and the Biblical lands. In the United States, the Pacific Ocean is on the left, but most of the population of the United States is in the east, so why do we hardly ever see Right Justified Fantasy Maps? Because LA is on the west coast, perhaps? Hmm... this might be a good opportunity to invert a common trope...

The real reason for this, of course, is that ninety percent of fantasy settings are Fantasy Counterpart Cultures of Medieval Europe, where the ocean was, naturally, on the left - for the same reason, the North is often a barren tundra full of barbarian tribes and the East a mysterious land whence ride the Hordes From the East. Another explanation is that The Lord of the Rings did it first. (Note: The Frank Baum series of OZ books had maps illustrated with east and west flipped. However, the only ocean, the Nonestic, is in the far east as Oz proper is technically land-locked.)

An interesting historical aside: Throughout most of the middle ages, maps were drawn with East at the top, rather than North. (This is how the word "orient" came to mean "face the correct direction.") A fantasy map that followed this convention would be bottom-justified, instead of left-justified.

See also: Patchwork Map; Standard Fantasy Setting.

Examples of Left-Justified Fantasy Map include:

Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Slayers[context?]
  • Inverted in Naruto, where the ocean is on the East side of the map.
    • Which makes perfect sense because in Asia, the ocean is on the East side.
  • Entirely ignored in Fullmetal Alchemist, despite being set in what is obviously a European analog. Amestris is land locked, and surrounded by lots of much larger countries.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Artesia inverts this, the eastern part of the map where all the action happens is almost a mirror image of Western Europe, with a sea surrounded by land on three sides and opening into an ocean to the east.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Lord of the Rings could have started this phenomenon. JRR Tolkien had set out to create a mythology for Europe (the available myths, such as Camelot and Beowulf, being alien to the modern English culture) and thus, in the context of the fantasy, Middle-earth is supposed to be western Europe as it was in the extremely distant past.
    • That conception became less clear as time went on, so that some believe that by his death Tolkien no longer intended Middle Earth to be in any way related to the real world. Besides that, he had maps that showed the rest of Middle Earth, its just that the events of both The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings take place in the west, at least partly because it was closer to the Blessed Realm and Numenor and because that was where the Kingdoms of the Noldor and of Thingol were.
    • Note that what we're looking at in The Lord of the Rings is the drastically reduced version of it—the cataclysm that ended the First Age at the end of the main text of The Silmarillion destroyed about half of that particular landmass, with the Grey Havens being about the border of what was left from before.
    • Bottom justification happens on Dwarven maps such as the one in The Hobbit, dwarves preferring the east as the chief direction as mentioned above.
  • Eragon[context?]
  • Redwall
    • Although occasionally when we see a full map of Scotland the Northlands, such as in Martin the Warrior, we do see a northern and eastern coast as well. It's just that the bulk of the action takes place in Mossflower, which is on the western coast of the landmass and further south - it's roughly triangular, like Great Britain, on which it's based.
  • The Wheel of Time[context?]
  • The Sword Of Shannara. Justified: It's actually the Pacific Northwest After the End.
  • Bored of the Rings (But mainly because it was aping and satirizing the style of The Lord of the Rings. The map actually has less relation to the story than to the Rule of Funny.)
  • Inverted in C. S. Lewis' Narnia, which is right-justified with the sea on the east; an interesting departure from the Avalon-in-the-West orientation pervading Tolkien and his imitators; and all the more remarkable because CS Lewis was friends with Tolkien. One explanation for this is that the sea is in the west in The Lord of the Rings because the world is fading like the setting sun. The sea is in the east in Narnia because things are always getting brighter and better.
  • Spellsinger[context?]
  • Used in the book Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin.
    • Gifts and its sequels Voices and Powers are now collectively known as "The Annals of the Western Shore", which may or may not be lampshading.
  • Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series—the sea is to the west of Emelan and Winding Circle, which is set, Greece-like, on the shore of a landlocked sea.
    • Actually, Emelan has a coast to the south of the country, and the rest of the land curves down and around the sea, making east and west coastlines in other countries. However there is a piece of land that juts out from Emelan, and Winding Circle (and the capital city) is located on the top corner of this jut, making the western coastline (from their perspective). It is said it is possible to get from Emelan, and the other countries surrounding that sea to other places, so it's not a landlocked sea. To the north of this continent, Namorn has a northern shoreline, IIRC.
    • In the Song of the Lioness et al, the ocean is to the west of Tortall, and seems to be roughly analogous to the Atlantic... except that it has Japan the Yamani Islands in it.
      • Tortall also has a southern coast, and there is a continent to the south which has a northern coastline.
  • In Jennifer Fallon's Wolfblade Trilogy, the kingdom (or princedom or whatever) of Hytria is in the center of the continent, with the Dregian Ocean to the south, Fardonyha on the west, who shares part of the ocean, and Medalon to the North; the west part of the continent is "uncharted".
  • Both The Belgariad and The Elenium provide world maps like this. Interestingly, their respective sequels both take place on the then-charted lands of the far east, complete with maps. It should be noted that Eddings takes world-building very seriously.
  • Avoided in Dragonriders of Pern Pern is an earth-like planet, with oceans surrounding continents and such.
  • The Riddle-Master of Hed and its sequels have a right-justified map with uninhabited Badlands to the West. (The realms of the High One were colonized by humans two thousand years ago from across the ocean, but their original homeland is never mentioned, nor has anyone ever found anything of note beyond the Badlands.)
  • Literally inverted in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. At first glance it looks like an aversion, with the ocean on the right. But turn the book upside down...
  • Subverted in the Earthsea series, where the ocean lies to the west, east, north, and south. In fact, the whole planet is ocean, aside from a dense scattering of islands.
  • The Sea of Knowledge in The Phantom Tollbooth is located to the east; to the west are the Lands Beyond (i.e., our world). This is no doubt linking the Enlightenment of knowledge with the rising sun.
  • Since Dies the Fire and it's squeals mostly take place on pacific coast, it also follows this trope. However, The Scourge of God takes place in the midwest, and thus has no coasts (Unless counting the Great Lakes) and then the Sword of the Lady roams from the Mississippi to the East Coast, thus avoiding the trope. Also, since it takes place on an Altenate History Earth, there do exist several maps that detail the rest of the world, at least in universe.
  • While Terry Pratchett's Discworld is fully-designed, it started out as a left-justified fantasy map because the Hub is analogous to the North and Ankh-Morpork and the Circle Sea are on the Turnwise (I.E., west-analogous) side of The Continent. Despite having created a China-esque continent surrounded by a South Pacific ocean (which is, oddly enough, the first major land mass turnwise from A.M.) and a continent which in no way is intended to resemble Australia, though it may be a bit Australia-like here and there, it remains a Left Justified Fantasy Map because the Widdershins end of The Continent has never been shown past Überwald. The use of this trope is likely intentional.
  • Although the only part of the ocean anyone talks about is to the west, the land inBroken Sky actually averts this, being surrounded on three sides by the ocean. This actually becomes a plot point during the Final Battle: when King Macaan activates a device that summons (and enrages) the very, very large sea monsters inhabiting the western ocean, the device is on the eastern shore, so the monsters will have to trek through (and destroy) the rest of the country on the way. One of the biggest, and craftiest, beasties is smart enough to swim around the country and approach from the opposite direction, showing up right at the high point of the fight.
  • Justified by Hyborian-age Earth in the original Conan stories, as Robert E. Howard's mythos was set in a time after Atlantis sank but before known ancient civilizations had arisen, using Europe, Asia, and Africa as a model.
  • Andrzej Sapkowski never delivered an official map of the Witcherland. The various maps that have been created, however, are left-justified.
  • The Arcia Chronicles is guilty of this trope. The author has averted it, however, in her other series, Reflections of Eterna, which provides a map of the entire continent (and the country central to the plot spans most of it).
  • Andre Norton's early Witch World novels had a map that just showed Estcarp and its hostile neighbors to the north and south, with ocean to the west and mountains to the east. Justified in that the inhabitants of the western lands were all under a spell. The folks living to the east of the mountains didn't want the western lands' problems spilling over to their territory, so every time they westerners wondered what was east of the mountains they immediately forgot that they had. The spell was finally broken by the Tregarth triplets, who ventured east and had adventures there. Later maps showed continents on both sides of the western sea, and another sea far to the east.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, the Great Journey map has the sea to the southwest.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the primary setting of Westeros is the westernmost landmass. Even though the Ironmen live off that west coast and are the dominant sea-farers in that part of the world, sailing West is never even presented as an option.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The Old World in Warhammer Fantasy Battle is a not-very-subtle version of Europe (and beyond), so the layout is much the same as a real-world map. As the primary focus is on the Empire (Germany), Bretonnia (France) and the frozen, inhospitable wastelands only inhabited by desperate, drunk and brutal deformed humans (Scandinavia), that's what most of the maps show. If you look at a map of the whole world, it looks no less familiar (you just get approximations of the other continents as well).
  • Exalted's map works like this. In fact, there's literally nothing beyond the western border these days except the "Elemental Pole of Water" and primordial chaos.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons setting Forgotten Realms. Avoided in almost all other settings: In Greyhawk, Mystara, Kara-Tur, and Maztica, the ocean is on the right (which is only natural in the case of the latter two: Kara-Tur is on the far side of the Realms' supercontinent while Maztica is another continent across the ocean to the west); while in Red Steel (a spinoff of Mystara), the ocean is on the south; and in Dragonlance, Eberron, Al-Qadim, and Birthright, the map shows both coasts (Technically speaking all four in Eberron's case, since Khorvaire is an island continent ala Australia). Ravenloft in its original release features an ocean on its western side, though in a later edition the Mists that surround it expand out to reveal an ocean on the eastern shore. Somewhat justified in that Ravenloft is an artificial demiplane whose geography is subject to change, alteration, or erasure by the Dark Powers at the drop of a hat. Planescape's primary setting has no maps.
    • Faerûn's east coast at the Great Ice Sea does appear on some maps as well, although it generally fulfills the trope. Later maps do show the entire planet, however, so it's more a case that the Faerûnian continent 'traditional map' fulfills the trope, but the actual world and setting does not.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • The Dragon Doctors takes place in an area based off of Northern California, with deserts to the south, rain forests to the north, mountains to the east and ocean to the west. In fact, it is California, but far into the future and after the landscape has changed due to a magical disaster.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Inverted in Might and Magic VI: the ocean is on the east side of the map. Also avoided in Might and Magic VII and VIII, as there are oceans on both sides in the former case, and on the south of the map in the latter case.
  • Fable, Fable 2
    • Although Fable is allegedly set in a fantasy version of Wales isn't it?
      • Based on the name of the region ("Albion"), it would seem to be a fantasy version of Britain. Based on the map from the original game, it's Wales and Cornwall plus a split-in-half Ireland, all shortly after the Ice Age.
    • Fable 3 has it's map with the east at the top, and shows a little of a new continent beyond the western ocean of Albion.
  • Averted in The Elder Scrolls series with the exception of Daggerfall. In all of the other games in the series, the playable world is either surrounded by water on all sides, or almost completely landlocked.
    • The Elder Scrolls has a "correct" orientation for Tamriel, so whether a given game in the series fits the trope depends entirely on where the country is. Skyrim, for reference, is in the north.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has the ocean located on the western side of the map. No relation to Japan, which is an island.
    • Inverted with the original Zelda, where the ocean is to the east and south. Same goes for Zelda 2, which even features another Hylian continent beyond the ocean.
      • Zelda II actually took place to the north of the original game, not across the sea. Death Mountain is in between the two Hylian regions.
    • Oddly averted in Ocarina of Time, there is no coast or ocean. The largest body of water is Lake Hylia, which is land-locked (and to the south).
      • And in Link's Awakening and Wind Waker, where the ocean is everywhere.
    • Both Oracle games have the ocean to the south.
  • Averted or played straight in Mount & Blade, the compass says the sea is to the north, but given the companions lore contradicts the compass (which does nothing anyways) in terms of what is in what direction and that assumes the permanently snowy part of the map is too the east...
    • Warband expansion retconned the geography, now making the game play this trope straight to some extent: the sea covers both the north and the west, and the cold area is still on the east.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics, where Ivalice is surrounded by ocean at the North, South, and West, but the continent (and the neighboring nation of Ordallia) continues eastward indefinitely.
    • Averted in the other Ivalice games. In Final Fantasy XII, Ivalice (this time a region in the same world) resembles a horizontally-flipped Mediterranean, while in Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Jylland is formed from two peninsulas jutting towards each other (despite the presence of Goug city suggesting it's the same area as the original Tactics' kingdom, just in a different time).
  • In the Fire Emblem series, Tellius (Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn) is left-justified. The majority of the maps in the series have ocean on all sides, however.
  • Justified in Fallout and Fallout 2's westcoast-based setting, since the available speed of transportation and danger of long distance travel left out-of-state travel out of reach for most.
  • Inverted in Dragon Age: see the world map here (quite literally inverted: if you rotate and/or flip it, you'll arrive to a map that looks suspiciously like the Middle Ages Europe). Also notable for everything being set in the southern hemisphere, rather than the traditional northern one. Not that it has much impact on the generic Medieval European Fantasy setting, but still.
  • Elona[context?]
  • The map on the Battle for Wesnoth splash screen which is also used for most storytelling segments of the campaigns.
  • Played straight in Myth: The Fallen Lords who's map also looks very similar to that of the Simirillion.
  • Guild Wars: all three continents, even though one of them is an island and really should have eastern and southern borders. However, Tyria's landmass features a gigantic western peninsula (its isthmus contains an entire country) whose furthest edge is cut off the map, suggesting that there may be more land to the west.
  • Inverted in Drakengard where the open ocean is on the north and east - however, this is because the map is literally an upside-down map of Europe.