Hidden Gems: Adventure Literature
Robinson Crusoe and Don Quixote are probably the most famous adventure stories in literature. At least when it comes to the development of the novel. Once we start really thinking about it, other enduring classics may come to mind such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, much of it associated with children’s literature.
Adventure literature has a long and winding history. Mythologies in virtually every culture developed identity narratives, also known as “hero journeys” as famously coined and catalogued by Joseph Campbell.
So, in true meta-adventurer style, and bouncing off the playful ideas put forth in Mac Orlan’s Handbook for the Perfect Adventurer, I continue to plunder the realm. What can we learn from these hidden gems? What do they hold for adventurous innovators?
1. Martin Green’s Seven Types of Adventure Tale: An Etiology of a Major Genre
Seeks more credibility to the adventure story, analyzing the works of Dumas, Scott, Defoe, Cooper, Verne, Buchan, Kipling, Twain, and Chandler.
Green connects the adventures to socio-historic movements. For instance, #1 is the Robinson Crusoe story, which portrays the myth of entrepreneurial capitalism and “modern” or postfeudal politics. This type of adventure story has appeared in one hundred well-known versions, including The Swiss Family Robinson and Lord of the Flies, since Defoe published his version.
The other categories include: Three Musketeers story (mythifying the birth of the French state and, by extension, of other nation-states), the Frontiersman story, the Avenger story, the Wanderer story, the Saga story, and the Hunted Man story (in which an individual hero is pitted against social juggernaut, such as the state, the Mafia, or a giant corporation).
While these designations are nice through a the context of a “real world” lens, and are also reminiscent of Georges Poltis’ The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, it also seems that many adventures are either based in fantasy or episodes, or both–an obvious comparison perhaps.
2. Michael Nerlich’s Ideology of Adventure: Studies in Modern Consciousness, 1100-1750
Offers a handful of useful observations contained in the two volumes. For the most part, though, Nerlich’s volume is more of a case study in Marxist theory. Some of the useful parts (that live up to the title) are in the interesting definition:
Adventure-ideology and adventure-mentality as well as adventure-practice meant and still mean:
(1) Acceptance of economic, social, cultural, and mental changes and revolutions. Disorder is conceived of as a mode of producing a new order; order itself is conceived of as change.
(2) Acceptance of the unknown as a positive value; the deliberate leaving of the known for the unknown; desire for the new.
(3) Acceptance of blindness with regard to the unknown; acceptance of economic, social and cultural risks.
(4) Acceptance of chance. Chance becomes an essential value of adventure-ideology and -mentality. Translated into the philosophical terminology of so-called scholastic philosophy, this means that accidents becomes essential. Here we confront the birth of the individual and the beginning of questioning the divine sense of life.
(5) Recognition of the other (races, languages, manners, societies, necessities, desires, etc.). Integration of the other into one’s own, whether by peaceful means or not; transformation of the other into a business partner, destruction of the other.
(6) Elaboration of “search systems,” calculation of chances, minimizing of risks, elaboration of insurances.
Nerlich also, in the beginning at least, makes useful observations distinguishing the adventures of early myth, where the adventurer does not seek adventure but rather has it thrust upon him, from the later medieval and renaissance adventures where the adventurer actively goes in search of adventure. He also shows the evolution from medieval knightly adventurers to the later merchant adventurers, and the reasons and motivations for them.
3. Paul Zweig’s The Adventurer, the Fate of Adventure in the Western World
A brilliant examination of this once fruitful literature. Lee Siegel calls it one of Zweig’s “brilliant instances of dramatic thinking.” In a masterful series of analyses, Zweig surveys the genre of the “adventure story,” which in his view encompasses a wide range of literary and philosophical texts stretching from the Odyssey and Gilgamesh, through Casanova’s History of My Life and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, to Thus Spake Zarathustra and the work of modern writers such as Norman Mailer; through changes in the concept of “adventure,” Zweig charts fundamental shifts in humankind’s sense of self. This is an intellectually exuberant and profoundly insightful work of scholarship.