Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.
This week’s topic is QUEST OBJECTS
QUEST OBJECTS can be various, but are quite strictly defined by the Rules. They are:
1. Material Objects. Cups, jewels, orbs, rings, scepters, stones, and swords.
2. Places. Hidden Kingdoms, islands, old ruined cities, stones, temples, valleys and fountains.
3. Persons. Apprentices, hardship, princes.
4. Knowledge. Usually for birthright or magic or both.
Isn’t this the ultimate of fantasy tropes? Hell it may be the ultimate literary trope. Gilgamesh was searching for a magic jewel for god’s sake. GILGAMESH. Arthurian legend has its share; the search for the grail is used time and again. It is obvious why the thought of a quest is so eternal. As long as there is another frontier, or as long as we can travel, there will always be something to search for.
I knew when I set this up it would be the easiest trope to make a list from in the entire Tough Travels series. It would be harder to find a list that didn’t involve some type of quest or journey, even if it was only across the city. But what really got me thinking was how hard it was to separate the various categories Jones laid out for us. Because most quests for places were really to find a hidden wisdom, or a specific object (books seem common), or even to find that one person who can change everything. Likewise often the search for a single object led to a map of a specific hidden place, or even the last person to have seen the object.
As far as tropes go the quest object is amazingly versatile. It can be a crutch of sorts. After all, at its most basic it acts as a completed story on its own. Place characters in one location, give them a magic rock to find, and set them off. Thousands of roleplaying campaigns are told using this set up. It provides the beginning, the middle, and the end. I have often lamented about books that used this particular crutch; the words ‘video game quest’ could probably be found a half dozen times with in my reviews. Confusing a journey for one piece of magical something does not a compelling story make, at least on its own.
But in the hands of the right story teller even simple object quests can blossom. I don’t even have to mention Lord of the Rings but I will. I have raved about a book recently that at its core was nothing but a quest for a specific treasure, yet in reality was so much more. There is always a sense of achievement when that object is found. It is truly heartwarming at times.
But what I really like is when a quest goes all wrong. I want that quest object to be missing, or fail to work, or blow up in everyone’s face. What can I say?
Without further ado, and with a promise never to write such a long intro again (what was I thinking?), a few favorites.
Lessa’s Quest – Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey – Object type: Place – By all rights Pern should be considered old enough that I could spoil the hell out of the books but I will refrain. Which means I can’t even tell you where it was that Lessa needed to get to or what she needed to find. But I promise, the fate of the world was in her hands. Even better though were the unintended consequences of her journey through the next few books. No good deed should go unpunished.
Bayad, Jezel, and Logan’s Quest – Before they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie – Object type: Material – A long, backbreaking trek to the end of the world. The group has to fight flatheads, keep from killing each other, and dine with an ancient power. And when they reach the resting place of the quest object?
Oh that scene is priceless.
Medair’s Quest –The Silence of Medair by A. K. Höst – Object type: Material -The genius of this quest is that Medair retrieved the magical item that would defeat all of her enemies. She just returned to late to save her people. And all of this happens before the book starts. So the quest object has been retrieved, but using it has serious consequences.
I think my pattern is established, I love thinking about the repercussions of characters actions. I am an over thinker, what can I do?
Liv’s Quest – The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman- Object type : Person- The West is still in flux, still being made created around it’s edges, but a war is being fought for it. The Line, a collective headed by sentient engines are fighting The Gun, rouge agents with small daemon problems. There may be a way to stop the war but it rests in the head of a man quite past the point of sanity.
Guess who Liv needs to go find? And where he is in relation to both The Line and The Gun? Someone here is about due a reread…
Join us next week as we check out SAVING THE WORLD
SAVING THE WORLD is something many Tours require you to do. You have to defeat the DARK LORD or WIZARDS who are trying to enslave everyone.
That is right, we are upping the stakes. I don’t want to see any personal journeys, or tight political thrillers. Next week it is all about imminent destruction. If the world isn’t about to end, or at least going to change in horrible ways for EVERYONE in it, save it for another time.
As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at anytime, and please check out my fellow travelers!