In fantasy, quests are as rampant as conniving Romulans in Star Trek. From Lord of the Rings to Wheel of Time, quests are a timeless standby. Overdone and clichéd now, but that’s another story for another time.
Even if you’ve read about dozens of quests before, there’s something appealing about following characters on a grand romp across an imaginary and mysterious world.
In our fixation on the enjoyable parts of a quest, we overlook the details. Those nasty details that when examined closely tell a different story.
Imagine for a second that a book swallowed you and you had the chance to travel on a fantasy quest. What would that be like?
Quest, Here We Come
On the surface, going on a quest sounds pretty cool. The chance to dump your regular life and set off to see distant lands and exotic cultures. That’s how it works in the books—sure the characters have troubles, but they also end up meeting interesting people and seeing cool places.
Deep down, most of us have a sense of adventure we want fulfilled.
Hold on a minute. The promise of venturing into a daring quest might be alluring, but only as alluring as a layer of chocolate frosting covering a cake burnt beyond recognition.
We tend to focus on the positive things or else view the negative parts from a distance not fully appreciating the lack of small, everyday comforts and the reality of how miserable a quest can be.
Think of the implications beyond the fun stuff:
- Long days of travel with few or no breaks
- Unless you’re lucky enough to find an inn or hospitable farmer’s croft every night, nights spent sleeping on the hard ground
- A lack of proper meals
- No welcoming home to return to every night
- Potential imprisonment for breaking a law you weren’t aware of
- Days spent at the mercy of the elements—if a blizzard blows in, you can’t just bundle indoors and turn on the heater
- Bone-aching weariness as the miles slip past
- The fact that you’re basically responsible for transporting your entire home-away-from-home
- Only occasional chances to take a bath and wash your clothes
- No Starbucks—gasp and groan
- No microwaves, stoves, and ovens to save time and effort when making meals
On top of all that, a typical fantasy quest always involves someone tracking you, so you can expect enemies nipping at your heels—maybe with berserk wolves, enchanted birds with poisoned beaks, bloodthirsty creatures…or all three.
Not a pleasant picture.
Another problem with going on a fantasy quest is that in privileged modern societies, the ease of living has made most of us too soft. Everything is on demand and we avoid discomfort like the plague.
Work outside all day? Why on earth?
Intentionally skip a meal? Heavens no.
Spend even a few hours away from ALL our precious electronic devices? Perish the thought.
Hiking for a few hours, climbing a 14er, even going on a backpacking trip for the more rugged of us—that’s about as far as our questing abilities go.
Stick us in the wilderness for a few days and we would either turn into blubbering maniacs who want nothing more than to go home and never see the outdoors again, or hopeless idiots who wouldn’t know which way is north or how to decontaminate drinking water.
This doesn’t go for everyone, and I personally know people who are more at home trekking across a mountain than strolling through the downtown shopping district. All I’m saying is that the characters in fantasy books are hardier than we give them credit for and that put in their place, we’d be wimps by comparison.
Why don’t you try enduring a quest that lasts for months, fraught with peril, sickness, battles, and a hundred other nasty side effects and see if you come out in one piece.
I would probably fail and have a miserable time to boot.
Now the burning question: would you survive on a fantasy quest? What would be the easiest part? The worst? I would love to hear your thoughts.