Journey. I’m talking about a long trip, not the rock band, and specifically talking about long trips in novels.
Those trips, sometimes described as quests, can be in fantasy fiction or more realistic fiction. Journey novels of course have the potential to be quite exciting and compelling — with the characters fleeing something and/or searching for something, seeing new places, encountering great danger, testing their courage, testing their stamina, and successfully completing the journey, or not.
If the journey IS completed, is the result triumphant or at least satisfying? Often. But sometimes there is tragedy, mixed feelings, and/or results that are unexpected.
The last point is one of the interesting things about a book I just read: Tailchaser’s Song, the compelling Tad Williams fantasy novel featuring cats. (Yes, journey fiction can star animals.) Tailchaser the kitty character takes a long, arduous, harrowing trip for a very specific reason, and then…
Another novel about animals on a lengthy trek is Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey. In it, two dogs and a cat travel 300 miles through the Canadian wilderness to try to find their beloved humans.
Getting back to fantasy fiction, perhaps the journey novels that most come to mind are J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The stakes could not be higher in the latter trilogy; the characters leave their homes to literally try to save their world. (Tailchaser’s Song obviously takes some inspiration from The Lord of the Rings in that and several other ways.) There’s also L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its story we all know so well.
Science-fiction writers of course also offer journey motifs, whether the setting is Earth or outer space. Among the many examples are Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days, and H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon and The Time Machine (time travel is obviously an epic journey of sorts, even if many miles are not traversed).
Epic sea voyages that can last for many months or years? Edgar Allan Poe’s only finished novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, White-Jacket, and Redburn; and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi — to name just a few.
Lengthy trips via motor vehicle? John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance are three of many examples.
Other novels that are quite different from each other but share long journeys: Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Voltaire’s Candide, Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles, H. Rider Haggard’s She, H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, to name just a few.
I’ve only mentioned books I’ve read, so I missed plenty of trek-heavy novels. Any you’d like to mention and/or discuss?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which looks at fictitious graduation ceremonies of the past 🙂 — is here.