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Here There Be Dragons
aka: Here Be Dragons

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Scully: On the old mariner maps, the cartographers would designate unexplored territories by simply writing "Here Be Monsters".
Mulder: I've seen the same thing on maps of New York City.
The X-Files, "Quagmire"

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In old times, mapmaking was a fairly imprecise task, due to the lack of advanced technology for exploration purposes. So, to fill great blank areas on the maps, mapmakers used to include textual and/or graphic warnings of the dangers of going into uncharted territory. Such warnings took the form of sea serpents, dragons, cannibals and many other mythical and, sometimes, even real creatures. The actual line "Here There Be Dragons" has been found only once, on the 16th-century Lenox Globe, but is too cool to give up.

This tendency is explored in fiction with two usual objectives. The first and more obvious is to show that the map is very ancient or simply medieval. Depending on the setting, the map may be contemporary, but displayed in an outdated manner because that's how things still are made.

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The other use of this trope is to avoid showing the viewer a dull and realistic map. This is mostly used in video games, to give the world map a more enjoyable presentation.

In fiction, many maps don't just warn its readers of the great perils on their way, but sometimes also contain other pieces of information, such as the location of cities and landmarks, pointed by stylistically out-of-scale drawings.

Because Everything's Better In Latin, also sometimes seen as its original spelling, Hic sunt dracones. Hyperspace Is a Scary Place is what happens when you put this trope IN SPACE! and mix it with Faster-Than-Light Travel.

Do not mistake this with Here There Were Dragons, which is about the existence of magic (and even dragons) sometime in the past of the setting of a fictional work. Also not to be confused with the fantasy movie review show by Nash of TGWTG, or the steampunk fantasy web novel by Terry Zilla.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk has an interesting variation — they don't get a map showing the bizarre sea monsters seen on medieval maps, they actually see one after Griffith causes the real world and astral planes to merge.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!: The Magic World's map has "here be magical creatures" in chapter 190.
  • One Piece: Skypiea's map had several symbols, including a ziggurat (marking the position of Eldorado) and some devilish creature roaming through the land.

    Films — Animated 
  • Cars 2: The credits did this with submarines, which appear to serve as stand-ins for whales.
  • Disney: One map of the world does this with characters from The Little Mermaid.
  • How to Train Your Dragon has a map with, wouldn't you know it, dragons. This is meant literally, as it signals the dragon's nest.
  • The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! had the Pirate Captain lamenting that they'll never make it where they're headed in time because — as he points out on the map — there's a big sea monster in the way. Charles Darwin (who is traveling with them, because of reasons) asserts that they just put those there for decoration. Sure enough, they make it there without a hitch. Only to have the ship chomped and spat back out by a real sea monster just before the end credits.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica is all about this trope and cartography in general, taking place as it does in a universe where all fictional lands exist. The title of the first book is outright Here, There Be Dragons.
  • Destroyermen: Grik charts tend to mark deep bodies of water with glyphs along these lines.
  • Discworld:
    • Parodied with how tourists' maps of Anhk-Morpork are labelled "Here Be Dragons" to mark the location of the Sunshine Sanctuary For Sick Dragons, a veterinary hospital. The same phrase appears over the actual Sanctuary's entrance as grafitti.
    • Elsewhere, we're told that cartographers sometimes got so carried away with drawing sea monsters that they forgot to put the boring countries and so on in at all.
    • In a meta example, we have this quote from Terry Pratchett explaining why he didn't provide a map of Discworld the way Tolkien did with Middle Earth (before he changed his mind and released one anyway):
      You can't map a sense of humour. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know that There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.
  • Harry Potter: The map showing the location of the world's wizarding schools, styled after early world maps from the age of exploration, embraces this trope as part of the wizarding world's general old-time esthetic: besides the somewhat tentative geography (Antartica is barely outlined and North America's north-western corner is conspicuously missing), it features various creatures such as what appears to be an asian buffalo (somehow in North America), a rhino and long-legged pig-like creatures on the landmasses; a hippocampus, a mermaid and ships and sea serpents in the ocean; and ornate drawings of the actual schools marking their locations. In addition, there are elaborate illustrations of scenes from around the world filling in the empty corners of the paper around the map, similar to how many maps were rendered historically.
  • Here Be Dragons is a science fiction novel whose main character keeps a print of a centuries old map which seems to be a cross between the Lenox globe and the Carta Marina.
  • The High Crusade: At one point, the narrator (a Medieval monk) criticizes a technologically advanced alien map. Sure, it might be accurate, but its lack of dragons, mermaids, sea serpents and such ornamentation shows a poverty of cultural imagination and depth.
  • Hitherby Dragons takes this trope as its main theme (and indeed, its very title): in the same way as map-makers didn't know what the world was like physically, and thus drew dragons to represent the unknown, Hitherby's characters don't know the answers to big philosophical questions, but still try to find them, in their own ways.
  • The Hobbit: Tolkien's map depicts the location of Smaug's Lair with the drawing of a dragon, and shows spiders within Mirkwood. It also has an arrow pointing off the edge of the plotted area, noting that to the north lies a terrible wasteland "whence came the Great Wyrms".
  • Lord Peter Wimsey: Discussed in "The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head". One of the things that arouses Lord Peter's suspicion of the villain is that he claims to have seen "hic dracones" on the maps in a mediaeval book. Lord Peter, being an actual book collector, knows how unlikely this is.
  • The Lost Years of Merlin: The maps seen at the beginning feature this with various creatures depicted in the series, such as kreelixes. The maps of the sequel series, The Great Tree of Avalon, are likewise freely ornamented and annotated to show just what sorts of creatures and landscapes one can find in the various parts of The World Tree.
  • The Others: Marked In Flesh features the embodiment of their analogue of the Atlantic Ocean basically tells humans that she remembers when map-makers would mark the maps of her expanses with "Here there be monsters" and then adds that they should resume labeling the maps as such before laying down the rules by which humanity must abide by if they expect to have any ocean-going vessels survive passage through her domain.
  • Tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées ("Circumnavigation of Forgotten French Lands"), is a non-fiction book about the obscure tiny isolated islands owned by France: Clipperton, Chesterfield, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, etc.). It comes with a map indicating the location of the various lands mentioned in the book, which is decorated with various fantastic creatures — since the bulk of the world's continents and large stretches of the oceans are of no relevance to the book's topic, they're left blank and made home to things like dragons, panthers, chimeric beasts, sea serpents and giant fishes.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: The novelization has two scientists on the Genesis team, with rather warped senses of humor, create hypothetical maps of the proposed Genesis Planet with one region marked "Here There Be Dragons". By way of explanation, they ask what's the point in giving humanity a strange, new world to explore if there isn't some element of danger? No one's ever quite sure if they're joking or not (Genesis could be programed to create life forms, like plant life, but the main team hadn't coded in animals). While staying the Genesis cave later in the book, Saavik's internal monologue mentions her being fairly sure she saw some kind of large, flying reptile in the distance.
  • Star Wars: Throughout the Star Wars Legends novel Crosscurrent, The Hero Jaden Korr uses "There be Dragons...", when thinking about his doubts about himself, the force, and everything.
  • Warhammer 40,000: In the Throne of Lies audiodrama, the Navigator Octavia is guiding the ship through an uncharted region of warpspace with the shields easily deflecting the ample lightweight creatures there. Then they get the attention of a huge predator capable of swallowing the ship whole, the sort of thing that maps would mark with this trope. When Octavia realizes they can't outrun it, she tells the captain to make an emergency translation back into realspace.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The opening of "Last of the Time Lords" reveals that the planet Earth and our entire solar system was declared strictly off-limits by the rest of the universe, after Master seized control of the planet during "the Year That Never Was".
  • Fargo: Discussed by Lorne Malvo in the pilot; while attempting to warn off an inquisitive traffic cop, he suggests that poking into his affairs will not end any better than attempting to chart such seas.
  • Head of the Class: Billy Connolly references this in the context of showing off the new world maps the school bought — he says that the other ones were so old they had "Here dragons be" indicators.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Where Silence Has Lease", while the Enterprise explored an unexplained spatial anomaly, Picard and Riker commented on the superstitions of ancient sailors on Earth during or before the Dark Ages. Picard mentions "Beyond this place, there be dragons."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Hc Svnt Dracones has it in the title. It largely refers to the horrors of post-nuclear armageddon Earth, which the Corporations of Mars, Venus, and Jupiter largely aren't even going to touch.
  • Warhammer: The official maps mark the northlands and southern wastes 'Here There Be Daemons'. They're right.
    • The 8th edition map of Norsca and the Chaos Wastes shows a number of monstrous creatures lurking in Sea of Claws and the Sea of Chaos — the former, between Norsca and civilized lands, is home to a single tentacled beast; the latter, between Norsca and the Chaos Wastes, has a spiked, funnel-mouthed serpent, a red-skinned leviathan and a festering, rotting hulk emerging from holes in the sea ice. The northern end of the map is obscured by a mass of monstrous appendages and marked simply "to the Realm of Chaos".
    • One sourcebook has a Skaven map which uses the Skaven vernacular, in which the Chaos Wastes, populated, if at all, by mutant monstrosities, is labeled "Thing-Things".
  • Warhammer 40,000 has space monsters on its star charts. Again, they're right.

    The Other Wiki 

    Videogames 
  • Age of Empires II includes a Viking mission where you have to get to the New World. To avoid the simple idea of sailing around Greenland, there's some odd water to the South that destroyes your ships. After conquering some of Greenland, the area's revealed by the computer, showing the shape of a dragon on the minimap.
  • The Ancient Art of War: The overworld maps in War at Sea are fancifully decorated with sea serpents, Neptune figures, etc.
  • Arcanum: Fanciful illustrations can be found on the in-game world map, in keeping with the setting. Most of these pictures are of animals not found in that locale, or at all, but at least one provides a little hint of what you'll find there.
  • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey plays it classically straight: unexplored chunks of the ocean on the map are depicted as ancient Greek maps decorated with artwork of soldiers fighting sea beasts.
  • Battlefleet Gothic: Armada: The opening cinematic starts with a shot of a star map featuring illustrations of numerous space monsters between the various star systems and sectors, including a serpent, a kraken-like beast, and a monstrous leviathan. Considering what kind of universe 40k is, these are likely realistic depictions of very real dangers in those areas of space.
  • Civilization: In Civilization VI, dragons, sea serpents and compass roses will appear on unexplored areas of the map. Explored areas under the fog of war are rendered as monochrome line drawings of cities and terrain as found in old-fashioned maps.
  • Colonization: In the intro to the original game, your colony ship sails across one of these, encountering various sea serpents and anthropomorphic storm clouds as it goes.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Topal the Pilot was an ancient Aldmeri Bold Explorer and poet who was the first to discover and explore Tamriel during the Merethic Era. A skilled cartographer, Topal was on an in-universe Cartography Sidequest from the Aldmer to explore and document Tamriel's inland regions, which were very mysterious to them at the time. While he didn't encounter actual dragons (that we know of), he did encounter "cat demons", "human lizards", (believed to be primitive ancestors of the Khajiit and Argonians respectively) "bat lizards" (believed to be related to Morrowind's Cliff Racers), and a race of now-extinct "Bird People".
  • Eternal Darkness had the actual line "Here Be Dragons" on a globe in the observatory.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: An Easter Egg references the trope: swim out to any of the four corner of the game map, and you'll find a sign with old-script telling you that "Here Be Dragons", which is as good a Hand Wave as any for why you can't get away from Liberty City.
  • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge: Played with; the map shows the three main islands as well as a bunch of superfluous symbols in the blank areas. Clicking anywhere near them makes Captain Dread exclaim "We can't go there, mon. That's the forbidden triangle" or any other shape, including the forbidden elliptic hyperboloid.
  • Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom: The world map is illustrated in this style, with a picture of a sea-monster and a mermaid.
  • In Return To Ravenhearst, the schoolroom where Rose's daughters were indoctrinated by Charles Dalimar has a crude outline of England and Wales on its wall map, in which everything else is blank and marked "unknown". No actual monsters are depicted, but the creepiness of the script implies that horrible things lurk beyond the borders.
  • In Risen while there's no mention on the map, if you go out too far into the sea, a giant sea monster bursts out of the water and eats you. Humorously, you'll wake up on the beach a bit later without any harm. Observe here.
  • In Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: Strong Badia the Free, the map has a drawing of Strong Bad's dragon Trogdor on it, labeled "Here Be Trogdors".
  • Tibia: The game's map has several monsters and creatures filling in the sea areas, including a Cthulhumanoid, a whale, a sea turtle, a kraken, a Shark Man, and two sea serpents, sharing space with a ship and a large cloud bank.
  • VGA Miner: If you try to go beyond the limits of the play field, the message "Here be dragons..." is displayed.
  • Wario Land: The Shake Dimension had one of these maps. Note the mermaid, sea serpent and octopus-like creature in various points on the map and the old-fashioned compass (itself something many of these maps also contain).
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. A conspiracy nutter has a map of Area 51 on his Room Full of Crazy, with the lower vault marked only as "Weird Shit".

    Web Original 
  • Freeman's Mind: In one episode Gordon Freeman encounters an utterly useless map and mocks it by using this trope:
    Freeman: Oh sweet a map! Ok so where am I ... which way's North? Maintenance shaft ... that .. could be anything; half this building is a maintenance shaft. What's that big room, is that where the monster is? What about this radiation pit? High voltage ... that has to be where I came from. But what the hell is with these distances then? Why are parts of this map grayed out? Is it haunted? WHY IS THERE NO EXIT ON THIS MAP? Is there a landmark ...? This map is bullshit; I'm gonna find my own way out of here. That map has to be bogus; it only lists one area as being dangerous. It needs to have, like, 30. You could even write "Here be dragons" on it, and it would almost be more accurate than nothing at all.
  • The Onion: ""Midwest" Discovered Between East, West Coasts" has a map of Flyover Country styled this way, complete with "Here there be tractor pulls", a sea serpent and a griffin.
  • Orion's Arm:
    • From the perspective of the Inner Sphere, the Periphery and Outer Volumes are wild and untamed, most especially the Perseus Arm, which is rich with alien empires and the constant threat of the Amalgamation. The Perseus Princes were Archai specifically designed by the Inner Sphere Archai to manage the region more effectively, but became a de-facto empire in their own right.
    • Then you have virches, which from the perspective of ril become more alien than the actual xenosophonts. While plenty of virches are accessible and understandable, there are many more hidden virches, or virches with wildly different physics. The interconnectness of these virches and the a-lifes that live on the Known Net make parts of it like this.
    • There's also the Ginnungagap Theory, which states that the reason there are no empires that span galaxies (which is difficult but possible on astronomical time scales) is because something or someone in the intergalatic medium, sometimes referred to as "the dwellers in the void", destroys empires that branch out; it's even explicitly criticized as essentially being a more refined version of this trope.
  • Political sketches:
    • This map of how Americans see the world. Africa and South America are shown as misshapen purple blobs, labeled "Here Be Dragons" and "no civilization, people eat each other here". Australia is in a similar state, but is just marked "Here Be... Something Else." To the north, there's a white hemisphere stating that "Santa Claus lives here".
    • Another Map of the World Stereotypes is absolutely full of this, with highlights including the Land of Snow Giants in northern Greenland with Jormungandr off the coast, "Here be Two-Headed Dogs" in northern Siberia, "Here be Ghost Ships" north of Antartica, and a label of "Sea Monsters" over the Sea of Japan, of course.
    • By the same artist as above, the Map of Prehistoric Stereotypes has helpful warnings throughout of things like Water Monsters, a Carnivorous Lake, Charcharodon Megalodon, White Walkers, and, of course, "Here be Saber-Toothed Dragons" and "Hic Sunt Leones".
  • Roahm Mythril's website uses this. (Though there's just one dragon in this case.)

    Webcomics 
  • In Endtown maps of the post-apocalyptic surface world are a bit... inadequate. As in, they're literally nothing but a north arrow and "here be dragons".
    Al: Well, at least they know about the dragons.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • While maps like these did exist, they were typically intended for decorative purposes and to serve as a way to take in the whole world at a glance; during the Age of Exploration, depictions of peoples and creatures reported by explorers were also used as a way to show the cartographers were up to date on the latest discoveries and thereby that the map was itself the latest in accuracy. Maps used in actual navigation were largely devoid of artistic license.
    • Olaus Magnus' Carta Marina is one of the most notable historic examples of this trope. The map is lavishly decorated with wondrous scenes and creatures — besides the hordes of sea monsters that made it famous, Olaus Magnus included depictions of various unusual peoples, as well as a few land-bound monsters in northern Scandinavia, and added descriptions and warnings to various illustrations. All in all, there's barely an inch of the map that isn't home to some strange thing.
    • Renaissance maps of the Americas tended to lean rather heavily towards this to make up for the scarcity of available knowledge and as competing mapmakers tried to sell their maps as the most complete, informative and up-to-date. Common themes in maps of South America, for instance, included Brazilian cannibals roasting human limbs on spits, Patagonian giants, Amazons and headless people with their eyes and mouths on their chests. Gutiérrez's map is an especially florid example, depicting a South America home to cannibals and giants and churning seas teeming with sea monsters, fishes, mermaids, ships sailing, sinking and fighting and Poseidon's chariot.
  • The phrase "Here be dragons" was used a a general placeholder for "unknown territory", and is thought to originate with komodo dragons, stories of which were known in East Asia, and the same stories likely migrated West over time. In ancient history, Roman and Medieval cartographers instead used the phrase "Here be Lions".
  • In "The Map" brand map of the New York City subway system, the island of Manhattan is bordered to the west by an abnormally wide Hudson River with the various rail lines that cross the river to New Jersey simply vanishing off the edge. While "Here Be Dragons" is not actually written on The Map that or a similar statement seems to be implied.
  • Among astronomers dedicated to map the structure of our galaxy, the area just behind the galactic center — very difficult to study or even observe — is often nicknamed "Zona Galactica Incognita". "Here Be Dragons" is implied, even if (probably) the spiral arms there would be more or less symmetric with those in our side of the Milky Way.

Alternative Title(s): Here Be Dragons

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