Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quests in Fantasy

Today is the 17th day of the A to Z April Challenge. Participants post on a letter of the alphabet every day except Sundays. If you would like to visit the main web page where the blog hop list is, click HERE.

I chose Fantasy for my theme, and today is about Quests in Fantasy and Mythology. 

In mythology and literature, a quest, a journey towards a goal, serves as a plot device and (frequently) as a symbol. Quests appear in the folklore of every nation and also figure prominently in non-national cultures. In literature, the objects of quests require great exertion on the part of the hero, and the overcoming of many obstacles, typically including much travel. The aspect of travel also allows the storyteller to showcase exotic locations and cultures (an objective of the narrator, not the character).

The hero aims to obtain something or someone by the quest, and with this object to return home. The object can be something new, that fulfills a lack in his life, or something that is stolen away from him or someone with authority to dispatch him.

Sometimes the hero has no desire to return, Sir Galahads quest for the Holy Grail is to find it, not to return with it. A return may, indeed, be impossible: Aeneas quests for a homeland, having lost Troy at the beginning of Virgil's Aeneid, and he does not return to Troy to re-found it, but settles in Italy (to become an ancestor of the Romans).

If the hero does return after the culmination of the quest, he may face false heroes who attempt to pass themselves off as him, or his initial response may be a rejection of that return, as Joseph Campbell describes in his critical analysis of quest literature, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

If someone dispatches the hero on a quest, the overt reason may be false, with the dispatcher actually sending him on the difficult quest in hopes of his death in the attempt, or in order to remove him from the scene for a time, just as if the claim were sincere, except that the tale usually ends with the dispatcher being unmasked and punished.

The quest object may, indeed, function only as a convenient reason for the heroes journey, woven into the plot by the author. Have you created quest objects for your characters to weave them into your plot? How did it work out?


  1. "a quest, a journey towards a goal.... the objects of quests require great exertion on the part of the hero..."

    What a fascinating word "quest". I had never thought of it that way. For some reason, this really resonates with me today. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    1. Retta: We all are on a quest as we journey through life, but it's those smaller goals that we present ourselves with that can hang us up. But the end result is sheer joy.

  2. This was one of my words for the day also. Fantasy novels are often about the quest.