Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Ode to the Adventure Novel

For all my bluster about high-literature and the worth of classics, I find I have a strong pulp-fiction streak lying just under the surface. I love a good adventure story. Sometimes I can find a book that fits the Venn diagram of both categories, other times you just have to go with TinTin, Dirk Pitt, Turk Madden and Indiana Jones.

Critic Don D’Ammassa defines an adventure as " event or series of events that happens outside the course of the protagonist's ordinary life, usually accompanied by danger, often by physical action. Adventure stories almost always move quickly, and the pace of the plot is at least as important as characterization, setting and other elements of a creative work."

I think he’s generally right that adventure novels place danger at the core of their stories, but there’s more to it than that, I think. The more I read, the more I realize that the adventure novels I’m drawn to are the ones that share a few other common elements, as well.

Mystery, for one. Whether it’s a long-forgotten secret, an ancient artifact, or a sinister riddle emerging from the shadows, the protagonist is drawn into his adventure by an incurable curiosity or a desperate need to stitch together some context for his existence.

Adding to that mystery are a whole host of exotic locations. Zanzibar, Morrocco, New Delhi, Venice… remote Bhuddist temples, and abandoned mines. The stranger the better, so long as the plot rips the character out of his quotidian beginnings and into a kaleidoscope of bazaars, mountain peaks and ocean storms.

But for me, the last piece of the puzzle is the getting to and from these far-flung settings. If the author raids the museum of obscure modes of transportation in constructing their tale, then  we’re really cooking. Does our main character take passage on an old tramp steamer (preferably as a stowaway)? Do he and his sidekick grab the handlebars of a motorcycle with sidecar (all the better if commandeered mid-chase)? Do they take to the backs of desert-going camels or jungle-blazing elephants? Are there interludes on crampons and skis through impenetrable mountain passes? Transport planes? Zeppelins? Ramshackle tiki rafts? If so, then you’ve got me. I’m sold. My inner twelve-year-old takes the reins and I’m a happy reader.

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