‘The Perfect Map’
– A Zoom-Out Fable
Once upon a time there was a king who lived in a beautiful palace filled with treasures. In his early years, he would run around his palace, his heart filled with joy and delight at his surroundings.
His favourite sight was the ceiling of the great hall which was breathtakingly high and painted with beautiful imagery that appeared to constantly morph before his eyes. And at night the ceiling revealed it was encrusted with magnificent shimmering jewels and faintly glowing patches of gold and silver leaf.
But over time the king started to take his palace for granted. He would stride through the great hall and no longer notice its magnificence.
One day he summoned his chief courtier for counsel. The king had decided he wanted to go forth and explore his wider kingdom.
The courtier agreed, “A king should survey his kingdom and the gifts that it bestows my lord”.
The king replied, “I shall prepare to go out at once, bring me the map of my kingdom, the whole of my kingdom!”
“Erm, no such map exists my lord.”, the courtier sheepishly replied.
“Then make me this map at once! The map must be perfect in every detail! Nothing should be omitted and it must be completely accurate!”, insisted the king.
“But my lord…. I mean yes your royal highness”, the courtier thought better of resisting the king’s demand.
The king’s finest cartographers toiled for months much to the impatience of their ruler. The kingdom was surveyed with meticulous precision. The most precious parchment and pigments were used for its construction.
Finally the map was ready and rolled out before the king on his dining table as he ate, such was his eager anticipation. The king was most pleased and didn’t finish his meal. He was so keen to break free of the confines of his palace and reap the rewards of his wider kingdom.
At first the king was thrilled to be setting out. The sense of freedom. The new sights and sounds. The fresh smells and sensations. But before long, things started to deviate from his expected plans.
As he entered a grand forrest he saw that the trees were much more densely populated than depicted on his map. This made for much tougher passage. “Who put all of these extra trees here? To thwart my advances!”, the king deplored. No one was around to hear him and the trees did not respond. The king very soon gave up and back-tracked out of the majestic trees.
At one point on his journey, a short distance off to his left rose an impressive waterfall and at that instant the sun’s rays spawned a stunning rainbow in the engulfing mist. On the map, the river was depicted but the cascade was not evident. The king therefore passed by oblivious, never glancing in its direction.
Another time he came across a river that was much wider than the one on his map. And to add insult to injury the river was flowing in the complete opposite direction. “Why does this water flow in the opposite direction to my travel?, the exasperated king retorted. The water did not respond.
Each day, something about the world would differ from the map and exasperate the king. “What has gone wrong with this world!”, the king demanded. “How can I be expected to enjoy life and fulfil my dreams?”
He often came across fellow travellers. They would invariably suggest he update his map and compare with their own. But the king would not listen. How dare they! Did they not realise he had the one true map? Perfect in every way.
Once, the king got completely lost. He became desperate. His precious map was held closely and firmly. Meanwhile the world it seemed was out to thwart the king’s desires. “Why does the world not conform to my map?”. He grew increasingly disillusioned with his kingdom. He protested at the world and tried to change it, so that it conformed to his map. But to no avail.
One day the king was walking along a coastal cliff top. With an overwhelming sense of frustration and disillusionment, he stopped in his tracks and at the top of his voice declared, “What a dreadful and treacherous kingdom I inhabit, what is the point of being king of such a domain?” With this, the king removed his precious crown and cast it into the sea.
The waves swallowed the crown without judgment, pity or empathy. It sank without trace but still with the flickering prospect of being at some time retrieved.
And the king clung to his map for the rest of his days cursing and kicking back against the world.
Rob Aston, London – 19 Jan 2018