Deep Plunge is a definitive commentary on key aspects of children’s and adolescent literature. Offered freely by Vernon the Reading Primate for the betterment of all reading primates everywhere, it reveals invaluable insights into how books work and why you should read them.
Few other concepts seems as prevalent in adolescent and young adult literature as quests. A focus on an individual’s quest appeals to young readers because it corresponds with the stage of their life in which they learn to face challenges and achieve their personal goals.
Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother
In Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother (2004) ten-year-old Torak is sent on a dangerous mission to find the World Spirit. The time is 6000 BCE, just after the last Ice Age, and Torak is an outcast from the Wolf Clan. His father is attacked and killed by an enormous bear: a demon from the Otherworld whose strength grows with each subsequent kill. A lone survivor, Torak sets out on a quest to find the Mountain of the World Spirit. With the Spirit’s help, he must destroy the demon before the demon destroys the Forest. Will he make it in time? Will he survive?
Even most abstruse and unpredictable quest stories are formulaic, as they draw on traditional narrative forms. There’s the call to adventure (Torak accepts a mission from his dying father); there’s an unexpected guide (a Wolf cub Torak meets on his way); there’re multiple obstacles (Torak is captured by another clan); there’s a clear yet inherently ambiguous prophecy (when a Shadow attacks the Forest, only the Listener can stand against it. He will crush the Shadow, but will pay for this with his heart’s blood); there’s a journey into far and dangerous lands (a long arduous walk, including crossing the mountains through a glacier); and finally there’s fulfillment but not without loss (read the book to find out!).
The Quest’s Appeal
The tripartite narrative structure of separation, trials, and a triumph as an independent individual is a psychological analog of adolescence. Quest stories empower adolescents to believe they too will be successful this transition.
Facing possibly the most turbulent period in their lives, adolescent readers need quest stories as models to embark on a journey into the great unknown that stretches ahead of them.