The Apocryphal Cartographies of Carroll and Borges

An excerpt from the astounding Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, by Lewis Carroll:

“What a useful thing a pocket-map is!” I remarked.
“That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,” said Mein Herr, “map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?”
“About six inches to the mile.”
“Only six inches!” exclaimed Mein Herr. “we very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!
“Have you used it much?” I enquired.
“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “The farmers object: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well. Now let me as you another question. What is the smallest world you would care to inhabit…?”

It only gets better from there, teaching us about a world where, in typically inarugable Carrollian logic, the worst marksmen are the best soldiers. If the story of the map sounds familiar, you might have read Borges “On Exactitude in Science.”

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

A bit more pessimistic to be sure, but it’s a thrill to see such a clear correlation between the two authors; to realize that Jorge Luis Borges was inspired by the author of Alice in Wonderland.