I was reading a question and had a follow-up question with a story idea that I'd like to develop more fully.

The idea is a HUGE maze, thousands (or more) of square miles, that has small clearings created in it with magical happenings within them. It will have multiple biomes, but the main character is a "Cartographer" in that he makes maps for different paths through the maze to various communities that have developed in it.

The maze itself is composed of normal hedges with regenerative growing magic, and cannot be cut down or crossed on top of. The hedge will either grow in height or will continue to grow as it's being cut at a rate never allowing any gap at all to open. The setting is in the mid-1500's in terms of technology, and magic-tech fusion devices exist. There should be enough space in the maze to house at least 5 cities that can house 35000 people each, and numerous smaller cities/towns in smaller clearings. I want to stress that the maze needs to take centuries to fully map.

The gist of the story is that he finds a community, and falls in love with a fellow "cartographer", and loses her for years within the maze. I won't spoil the story and ending just in case, but I came on a bit of a scale question that I'm not sure I have the knowledge to answer.

How big would this maze have to be to not only house actual villages with farms and such, but also that numerous people could feasibly make a living mapping the maze?

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    $\begingroup$ I think the question is ill-conditioned. You have 5 cities with 175,000 people total; given 16th century tech you will need about 1,000,000 farmers to feed them. You have professional mappers; this means that the cities interact and trade, otherwise why bother. That's at most a mid-sized European country, definitely not larger than 200,000 sq.km. How can they lose track of one another? They can always send letters poste-restante to the tavern in the city where they met. They must somehow correspond with the academy or guild which pays them. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 20 '17 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ A more useful plot device would be if the mazes periodically changed, this would require constant remapping and allow for people or whole communities to be lost. $\endgroup$ – Josh King Jun 20 '17 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ Forget the fusion devices, you have literally unlimited and readily available wood from the hedges. $\endgroup$ – Miguel Bartelsman Jun 20 '17 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @LioElbammalf Actually, that's a large plot point in it. The character finds the edge, and it forces him to change his perspective to a different scale in order to see actually how big it is. In order for HIM to do that though, I need to be able to. $\endgroup$ – Anoplexian Jun 21 '17 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JoshKing - If the mazes kept changing, it might discourage the attempt altogether unless the need was very pressing - and the mapping would never be done. Maybe they change periodically or predictably (say, with the seasons, or with the life cycles of certain plants, so that some paths become impassible at certain times and open up at others) so that extra time would be needed to map each cycle of changes, to get that final mapping back in the realm of possible but taking very long. $\endgroup$ – Megha Jun 22 '17 at 10:36
  • Say a normal path through the maze is 3 metres wide. The hedges on each side are 1 metre wide. That means a square kilometre could have 250 kilometres of paths. I'm ignoring the possibility of cutting corners on the way through an interection.
  • If supplies are not an issue, a wanderer might make 50 km a day. Five days to walk the paths of one square kilometre. 73 square kilometres per year, 7,300 square kilometres per century, 36,500 square kilometres for five centuries.

That would be a square roughly 190 km to a side, or a circle with roughly 220 km diameter. However, you should note some assumptions here ...

  • I assumed that the wanderer never has to backtrack and walk the same path twice because it is a dead end.
  • I assumed that the wanderer doesn't have to return to base to gather new supplies.
  • I did not account for the mapping process, which will slow the wanderer.
  • For that matter, he or she is immortal and doesn't take any vacations.
  • On the other hand, the towns will have to be surrounded by fields and forests. This reduces the number of pathways in the maze.
  • There is more than one cartographer.

Follow-up: Combining the work of several cartographers is going to keep them busy for a long time. Just imagine: The first cartographer followed the path south-east from the village gate for 1,000 paces, then turned sharply west for 650 paces until he reached an intersection 100 paces in diameter. The second cartographer followed the path south-west from the village gate for 1,000 paces, then turned sharply east until he reached an intersection 100 paces in diameter. Were they on the same intersection?

  • $\begingroup$ Technically, if you move until the very end of every row, it will be 251km, but there will at least be half a meter at every side, allowing the cartographer to walk comfortably, and hedges on two sides, making it exactly 250498m. $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Jun 20 '17 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, if there are more than one cartographers mapping the place, you might need to scale things up a notch (and there will most likely be several hundred people doing it). $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 20 '17 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s, the need to return to base and to combine the records will seriously slow things down. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jun 21 '17 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. Oh sure, but I'm pretty sure the orders of magnitude here are in favor of the cartographers. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 21 '17 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s, see my edit. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jun 21 '17 at 15:53

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