The need for escapism has been a constant throughout all ages of recorded human history. Adventure stories cater to this by serving as vehicles that allow us to make enjoyable mental forays into the mysterious and exciting unknown. Some of the oldest myths and folk tales we are aware of have been passed down over centuries, or in some cases millennia. One can imagine the children of Ancient Egypt listening to elders recount the myth of Osiris, or gazing at the stars while attempting to trace the sun god Ra making his perilous nightly journey through the realm of the dead. Who hasn’t heard of Homer’s epic Greek adventure poem The Odyssey, such a significant piece of storytelling that it can still be found in book stores throughout the world today. There are many more surviving examples from antiquity that have endured in one form or another to the present.
Moving forward through the historical record, if we look at the vast corpus of literature produced over just the last couple of hundred years, we consistently find fantastic tales of escapism and adventure. In many cases reading these remains a pleasure, even if they were penned over a century ago. With the advent of cinema and television such stories found another medium through which to enter our consciousness, this time with added visual elements. More recently, the advancement of computing technology has provided us with the opportunity to become active participants by immersing ourselves in video game worlds as digital protagonists. The introduction of detailed virtual reality simulations now makes some experiences seem almost lifelike and we have reached a point where our options for vicarious escapism seem unbounded.
Certain limitations do exist though, some of which have been brought about by the simple passage of time. Before the globe was as well charted as it is now, storytellers had more options to choose from if they wanted to set their amazing adventures somewhere on our planet. For example, it was much easier for a European to write a tall tale of the search for a lost city or hidden civilization in Africa or South America before parts of those continents had been explored by anyone other than their local inhabitants. One only needs to look at the correlation between the prevalence of such ‘lost world’ fiction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and real world archaeological discoveries made around that time to realise that the contents of adventure stories are greatly affected by the age we live in.
Up until relatively recently there were large swathes of land on our planet that had yet to be explored. Maps of the world still contained blank areas where finding something or somewhere considered unknown to members of their own societies remained a real possibility for adventurers. The general public was fascinated with reports of expeditions and fantastic discoveries such as that of Hiram Bingham at Machu Picchu. These fuelled the imagination and increased appetites for more wondrous stories of the exotic and the exciting. To satisfy this writers composed great fictional adventure stories that mirrored true events. Inevitably though, with advancements in cartography, communication, transportation, and technology the world became better known, and such discoveries gradually diminished. Correspondingly, so did the number of literary works or novels with those themes.
Despite the decline in popularity of lost world literature, the underlying need for adventure stories and hunger for questing into unknown and unexplored places remained as strong as ever. This is evidenced by the rise of science-fiction adventure in line with our advances in space exploration. Once storytellers ran out of mysterious places on Earth in which to set their yarns they started basing them on other celestial bodies in outer space, an area so vast that there will always be infinite opportunities for our imaginations to go forth and explore.
Therein however lies the one true limiting factor of storytelling, regardless of medium or whether a tale is set in the past, present, or future. Stories provide us with only vicarious escape and adventure, which—even when based on real events that other humans have experienced—involves us embarking on journeys armed with nothing more than our imaginations. This is not an attempt to belittle the importance of storytelling—far from it in fact. The art is so crucial to us as a species that its value cannot be overstated. We can however try to reframe how we view stories by harnessing their power as sources of inspiration to fuel our own real-life adventures, instead of merely thinking of them as temporary diversions.
Even if we don’t always act on them humans will always dream—always yearn for something new, and these days that need is as great as ever. Our fast-paced and highly stressful modern consumer-society lifestyles often leave us tired in body, mind, and soul. People become exhausted and bewildered with carrying out the same mundane tasks day after day, pursuing someone else’s motivation of making more money for wealthy entities or organisations. In many cases those people care far less about the goals of their employers than they do for achieving what they really want to with their precious lives.
Frustratingly, it is those same monotonous routines that provide us with shelter, food, and other requisites vital to creating an existence with some semblance of security. Naturally, how much security is needed depends on the individual, but it would likely be unwise for the majority to suddenly quit their jobs and embark on something new and unknown, as doing that invites the risk of losing just as much in peace of mind as may be gained in excitement, time, and freedom. This perceived danger leads to a fear of change, which when combined with responsibility and obligation, results in the status quo of daily life remaining largely unchanged. Yet many are still unable to silence the dissatisfied inner voice and continue to long for more, so they keep on looking to the stars, daydreaming, escaping into books, movies, and video games. The cycle repeats.
There are of course the fortunate few who have always been doing exactly want they wanted with their lives for as long as they can remember. There are also those for whom the situation outlined above is not ideal but satisfactory enough. After weighing up the pros and cons they feel it best to stick to the path they regard as safer and are content with that. Then there are the individuals who have already taken, or are on the precipice of taking, a great leap of faith by acting upon their dreams. They are currently striving to fulfil the potential of their lives by battling to do what they truly love, accepting the risks and danger—that by the very definition of the word—can lie at the heart of an ‘adventure’.
No matter which group you assign yourself to, embarking on an adventure can bring benefits, regardless of whether it involves escaping into a good novel or giving up everything you own to travel the world. Vicarious adventures experienced via someone else’s stories through a book, film, or video game help us take a necessary break from our stressors and worries, and also provide us with opportunities for contemplation and introspection. Real world physical feats of adventure, ranging from climbing a mountain to completely changing the way you live, allow us to blaze a trail to creating our own stories and lead to growth and development.
In his highly influential work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell attributed even greater significance and importance to the adventure. Campbell theorized that the myths and folk tales of many societies throughout history share a similar template, which he referred to as the monomyth or hero’s journey. By embarking on this journey and after having faced and overcome various dangers, tests, and an ultimate ordeal, the successful hero returns with a boon that has the power to restore the world. In more practical terms this could be interpreted as meaning that by sharing whatever wisdom they have discovered or insight they have gained during their adventure the hero has the capability to benefit their societies, and perhaps even humankind as a whole.
It may be proffered that certain people view the whole of their lives as one big adventure, challenging themselves to use their time on Earth to investigate their possibilities to learn and enlighten themselves and others as much as they can. Others equate adventure primarily with travel; every year millions of people visit new places for different reasons. Some go to rest, relax, and gain temporary reprieve from the daily grind. Some go to make voyages of self-discovery or to collect as many novel experiences as they can. Travellers and backpackers are still determined to locate that perfect hidden beach and modern professional explorers are continually finding new ways of being the first person to do something—despite it seeming that the great adventurers of history haven’t left many feats unchecked.
The point is that there are adventures to suit almost everyone. They can be minor short activities, extended journeys, organised expeditions, or longer life goals. Many provide the means to make your own story and all go some way towards satisfying the need for escapism that has always been. If you are so disposed let the myths, folk tales, novels, films, and video games inspire you to greater things. Allow them to guide your imagination and serve as the spark that ignites your sense of wonder. Set goals and take action to achieve them. Try to fulfil your potential and find the happiness, satisfaction, and knowledge that you feel exists out there.
At the same time don’t forget that there are trials, hazards, and dangers along any path, which usually scale proportionately with the size of the undertaking. You are responsible for the decisions you make. Dictionaries tell us that risk is often integral to the concept of adventure and pondering that may dissuade some individuals from embarking on one of the physical variety. However, even for those people, just giving the idea consideration can prove useful by renewing their appreciation for the comparative security of unsatisfying but safe daily routines. After all, they can still escape vicariously through the stories of others. While faced with the current COVID-19 pandemic, which prevents most outdoor adventures, that may be the only responsible choice anyway—at least for the time being.
Post Preview: Sources of Inspiration – Natural and Built Heritage
As with stories, certain places and settings are also conducive to carrying the imagination away on amazing adventures and inspiring us to make our own journeys. They can be places of dramatic natural beauty with awe-inspiring views or ancient ruins belonging to long-vanished civilizations that hint at lost knowledge and wisdom. Unfortunately many of these world wonders are under considerable threat and as a species we need to make an effort to ensure their conservation and protection.
Disclaimer – A Note on Ownership and Copyright:
The photographs featured in this post were either taken by the creator of Escape & Adventure during his continuing wanderings (watermarked) or are images used under a royalty-free or CC0 license. Consent is required from the creator and founder of Escape & Adventure before any of the images for which he owns copyright can be reproduced in any form. All the literary work contained in this post is the intellectual property of the creator of Escape & Adventure. Consent is required before any of the literary work can be reproduced in any form.
Additional Disclaimer – COVID-19 Pandemic:
While the world continues to be impacted by the highly contagious COVID-19 virus travel is not advised. Despite our love of escapism and adventure, health and safety must come first. None of the content in this post is intended to contradict the rules and advice put in place by the relevant authorities to protect citizens from contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 or other diseases. Escape & Adventure accepts no liability for sickness, injury, or death resulting from anyone failing to take necessary precautions to protect themselves and others.