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Imaginary Geography

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Literature and cinema, our normal means of escape from everyday life, have created places that fill our imaginations. Authors and fans alike flesh these places out with their own history and geography. The internet allows you share in the magic of creating worlds that don't exist, except in our minds. I'm sure you'll be familiar with at east some of these places, but you might not realize how well-documented they are.

L. Frank Baum wrote fourteen books about the Land of Oz, and constructed the first maps of Oz himself. These grew over time to include more detail (as more books were written) and even to include the surrounding countries.


Allakhazam's Magical Realm has a vast database of geographical knowledge of the Star Wars universe. You can look up planets and space maps, with information on the astronomy and culture of each. The entry on Tattooine features this interactive map, on which you can click for information about an area.

More maps of places that aren't, after the jump.


Maps of Atlantis have been around since ancient times. This one is from Ignatius Donelly's Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, 1882. You'll find more maps of Atlantis at Sacred Texts and at Lost Civilizations.


This interactive map of Mordor (from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is based on a detail of Tolkien's Middle Earth by artist John Howe. Mouseover to see place names, and click on an area to learn about it.


Star Trek Cartography has maps and charts of the Star Trek Universe, spanning the Milky Way and beyond. You can look up political boundaries, scientific data, and the journeys taken in some of the Star Trek movies.


Just last week, rfjason posted this overlay showing the size of the Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) in relation to Seattle. He also has comparisons with Washington, Rome, St. Louis, and New York.


Moviefone has an interactive map of Narnia, as depicted in the movie The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Click on an area to bring up information and scenes from the film. Click on the lion to follow a character's path through the kingdom.


Kymaerica is all about a continent that looks similar to North America, but exists in a parralel universe. You'll find insanely detailed information about the geography, history and culture of this world.


Alternate history doesn't deal with an imaginary place, but is a "what if" game that can include existing but different geography. In NEU-YORK, Melissa Gould created a map of what New York might look like if the Nazis had won World War II. Detailed closeups are available at the site.

Find more at the Dictionary of Imaginary Places.

Take an virtual field trip to imaginary places Mental Floss has featured previously: the Ear Islands and City of the Apes. (Thanks, Ransom!)

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Big Questions
Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?
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Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from “paraskavedekatriaphobia,” a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki. According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.


Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Street addresses sometimes skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. (One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.)

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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25 Bad Luck Superstitions from Around the World
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Spilling pepper, complimenting a baby, and cutting your fingernails after dark are just a few of the things that will earn you bad luck around the world.


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