Since late July, I’ve been on a road trip with my family. Me, my wife, two kids and our dog. We drove across the northern tier of States. Fifteen of them. From New York to Seattle, then on to Vancouver for a family visit. As you read this, we are on our way back to New York City. Today we probably are crossing Nebraska.
We have laughed our way through corn country, seen a sunset on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan (thank you again Vaughn Roycroft), been close to live eagles at a raptor rescue center along the upper Mississippi River, been charmed by Sioux City, been awed by the faces on Mount Rushmore. (Even more awesome were the faces from so many lands there to view that uniquely American monument.)
We’ve been rattled by the prairie wind, eaten huckleberry ice cream sandwiches at a two-pump gas station, seen prize hogs at a county fair, driven past a wild fire, walked the Badlands, crossed high rope bridges strung between redwoods, stood atop cliffs, wet our bare feet in two oceans. We’ve eaten well in unlikely places. We’ve walked among giant origami, learned that inside tipis native women circle left and native men circle right, found heart-shaped rocks in riverbeds and on beaches.
The best thing, though, has been the people we’ve met. The Sturgis motorcycle rally was happening around the time that we crossed South Dakota. Our kids were freaked out by the rough-looking bikers, but one chilly morning as several packed up their Harley’s in a hotel parking lot, my daughter asked one of them, “Don’t you get cold?” They said, oh yes! Which started a conversation about motorcycle clubs and charity rides that changed my kids’ views of bikers.
In a Spokane restaurant, our young Korean-American waitress looked at our mixed-race family and blurted out to our kids, “Are you adopted? I’m adopted too!” She cheerfully talked about her mixed-race adoptive parents and her four siblings, all adopted on different continents. Her childhood in Spokane was a great experience, free of racial prejudice. She was just one of the many friends my kids made. People have been nice everywhere. (Well, except for one painfully thin woman having a very bad day in the parking lot of a natural foods market in Beaverton, Oregon, but hey.)
It’s been a journey. Which has put me in mind of journey novels, and what it is that makes them feel like journeys. Even more than the places that characters go, or the things that they do, what makes a journey novel feel like a journey are the people with whom protagonists travel, those who impede or attack them, and the folks they meet along the way.
Journey novels are among my favorites, and I’ll bet they’re among your favorites too. Gulliver’s Travels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Grapes of Wrath, The Lord of the Rings. There are plenty of great contemporary journey novels too. The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, The Alchemist, Imajica, Neverwhere. WU’s own Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. I’m sure you can add to the list.
For our purposes, we can break the casts of journey novels into three categories: 1) The protagonist’s allies and fellow travelers, 2) The protagonist’s enemies, 3) Locals. Allies and fellow travelers both support the protagonist and represent different sides of him or her. Enemies represent what is evil or wrong with the world. Locals reflect different dimensions of humanity, good, bad and in-between. In other words, every character represents something. [Read more…]