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Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell in 1949, portrays an extraordinarily bleak vision of the future. The world is divided up between three enormous political powers: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Each one is totalitarian and engaged in perpetual war with one or both of the other two megastates. They battle repeatedly over a swath of Disputed Territory in the middle, with none of the states holding it long enough to establish any lasting control.  Each state is powerful enough that it cannot be defeated, even with the combined strength of the other two states working together. And so the war continues.

The protagonist, Winston Smith, lives in Eurasia, in the territory of Airstrip One (aka the British Isles).  The vast majority of people there have a miserable standard of living, but they are kept in their place through mass government surveillance and propaganda.  Although each megastate espouses a different philosophy, they are all authoritarian and restrictive of individual liberty, so it essentially does not matter where one resides.

Below is a map which was uploaded to Wikipedia, showing the approximate boundaries between the states:

The political map of George Orwell’s 1984

In this version of the world, which was conceived in 1949 during the beginning of the Cold War, the USSR has spread to cover all of continental Europe to form the new megastate of Eurasia.  The United States countered this threat by creating the state of Oceania, bringing under its rule the entire continents of North and South America, the British Isles, Southern Africa, and Australia.  The third state, Eastasia, combines China, Japan, Korea, part of India, and parts of the Middle East, though it is perpetually fighting over the territory to the South and West. The Disputed Territory is basically the Southern third of Asia and the Northern half of Africa, as well as Antarctica. Throughout the book, references are made to conquests back and forth in Africa, but it hardly matters which power is in control, since each one is essentially the same.

Orwell’s vision, thankfully, did not come to pass.  Rather than coalescing into three major megastates, the world instead underwent a period of rapid decolonization.  In addition, federations such as the USSR broke up and yielded several smaller states.  We now have almost 200 independent nations (depending on who’s counting), which is far greater than the 60 or so that existed when Orwell was writing in 1949.  What we do have instead are supranational organizations which encompass regions, such as the EU, or span the globe, such as the UN.  However, they lack the kind of authoritarian power predicted by Orwell.  Some might say that multinational corporations now wield the kind of power (albeit of an economic nature) that used to be wielded by nation-states in the mid-20th century.  But that is a discussion far afield from a blog about maps.

For an aspiring writer and/or cartographer, Orwell’s description of a dystopian future provides a good template for worldbuilding.  He does not begin the book with a lengthy history lesson on all that has happened between 1949 and 1984.  Rather, he weaves the backstory in throughout the plot.  This keeps the reader interested, waiting to find out more behind this twisted version of earth.  I do not believe he included a map with the book, although he does describe the boundaries of the three megastates.

Personally, I would have included a map in the beginning to familiarize the reader with the world they were getting into.  It would not give too much away and could raise a lot of questions in the readers’ minds.  The rest of the book would serve to answer these questions.  When I read it the first time, I often had trouble visualizing which territories were occupied by which states and would have loved to have a map.  Luckily, now we have the internet and communities of devoted fans who create maps to share with the world.

Happy Mapping!

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