The first and last thing that meets the reader’s eye upon opening and closing the book are the maps in the endpapers (Fig. 1).
Together, these maps display parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, mainly India. They blend abstract, topographical, and pictorial elements to show varying landscapes as well as a symbolic representation of the places from an oblique angle—an angle often seen in children’s literature (Goga, 2015). A number of places are indexed, travel routes are traced with dotted lines in different colors, and some places are marked with a red dot. The maps thus fulfill the three basic functions that Sundmark (2019) assigns to maps in children’s literature—namely “to produce an imaginative space for the reader […] reference the main events of the storyline, as well as index the places in which these occur” (p. 123). The place indexing makes it easier for young readers to follow the main character’s travel route. As is typical of maps for children, pictorial representation is granted precedence over topographical accuracy (Sundmark, 2019)—some regions are marked with relatively high detail, while others are very generally labeled, e.g. “Europe” or “Africa”. There is no scale reference and no compass rose. The maps’ scale is disproportional; the whale tail, for instance, is as large as Portugal. Meanwhile, Portugal’s borders are unclear, but it seems disproportionally large compared to Spain. Another typical feature for maps in children’s books is that the novel’s maps are supplemented by images that partly foreshadow the plot and portray the most important means of transport (Goga, 2015)—boat and plane, in this case. The text in the corner boxes explains how the maps should be read and once again establishes the travel route.
A major point in literary geography, as well as in the field of critical cartography, is that maps never represent reality as it is. Building on deconstructionist theory, particularly Jacques Derrida, J. B. Harley urges us to “read between the lines of the map—‘in the margins of the text’—and through its tropes to discover the silences and contradictions that challenge the apparent honesty of the image. We begin to learn that cartographic facts are only facts within a specific cultural perspective” (Harley, 2002/1989, p. 153). A map is always ideological, and it is therefore essential to examine what is visualized in what way, and what is hidden. When we look at the maps in Wegelius’ novel, what we see visualized is colonial space. The maps display a famous route between the Mediterranean and India via the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869 and “figures prominently in the story of colonialism” (Page and Sonnenburg, 2003, p. 662). Several of the marked places on the travel route are central to colonial history. As Goga (2015, p. 134) points out, maps not only represent space, but express ideas and experiences of time. In The Murderer’s Ape the maps’ artistic arrangement lends them historical flair and brings to mind other products for children—particularly board games, which themselves contribute to an Orientalist discourse (Robinson, 2014) and to a “nostalgia for empire” that, as Said (1993, p. 12) stresses, “we must take stock of”. This reference is enhanced by the images, which exoticize the Middle East and India through depictions of a tiger, camels and a person living in a tent. While the maps can thus be said to participate in colonial discourse, they also engage in another discourse: that of a free, global world. The maps do not show borders and thus do not present the biopolitical power structures of the narrative’s time, instead creating a world that is free to travel.
This challenging discourse grows more pronounced when we compare the written narrative’s geography with the maps in the endpapers. The maps in the endpapers focus on the travel part of the narrative, and the geography they depict mostly overlaps with the geography of the “map of action” (Fig. 2) I have created myself:
As this map shows, the narrative references far more place names than the endpaper maps, and the narrative’s level of geographic specification is higher. Furthermore, as we can see when we compare the authorial maps in the book with this reader map, not all of the places marked on the maps in the endpapers are actually part of the action; London, Paris and Marseille are not actual plot settings, but merely markers and projected places. London is given a particularly prominent place in the endpapers, both marked and referred to in the text box. In the narrative itself, London is merely mentioned several times as part of the backstory. It is where Sally Jones and Koskela take on cargo bound for the Azores, a place they never reach because a storm forces them to anchor in Lisbon. The inclusion of London on the map has two effects: it anchors the geography for the reader by providing a well-known place, and it visualizes that although Lisbon is the narrative’s geographical starting point, it is not Sally’s point of departure, making the novel’s classical home—away—home structure ambivalent (Lyngstad & Samoilow, 2022, forthcoming).
From a cultural point of view, the subordinate role Great Britain plays as a geographical place in the novel is striking. As Moretti points out, the literary geographer can reveal two things: “what could be in the novel—and what actually is there” (Moretti, 1998, p. 13). In light of Great Britain’s historical position and its relationship with India, one could expect it to be a central place, even a power center. Instead, Wegelius makes Lisbon and thus Portugal the novel’s geographical center—a nation that lost its economic and colonial power in 1822, with the independence of Brazil (Page and Sonnenburg, 2003, p. 484).
While the plot centers on Lisbon, India and the travel route between these places, the novel’s complete geographical scope is much grander. In total, I have plotted 107 toponyms (including street names), covering every continent on the globe (Fig. 3).
Piatti et al. point out that “the distribution of topographic markers will provide an idea of the geography of an author, a genre of literature, or a certain time period” (2009, p. 186). What the map reveals, then, is that the world of the 1920s and 1930s is imagined as globally connected. At the same time, some places are far more dominant than others. The novel’s geography thus produces both a global and a colonial sense of space.