When I was a young writer and reader, I used to get mad at all the characters who would resist the call to adventure.
“What’s wrong with you?” I’d think. “Why all the moping and arguing and fleeing back to your safe, hobbit home? Why can’t you get it together and leap into this adventure?”
I would dream of stories like the old Arthurian sagas, where the knights were all sitting on their swords, itching and waiting for a call to arms, a questing beast, or a chance to prove their worth.
Now that I’m a little older (not much), I realize that’s the difference between children’s fiction, and more adult fiction.
Fiction & age
The child embarks on the adventure because they want to test themselves and their self confidence against the world. They’ve just discovered who they are. And they like it. And a story is a chance to experience something new.
But with age comes dragons. And they crawl into us. And as we get older, we fear adventuring – because they mean something new.
Adults fear change and adventure and risk because it will mean they will have to change. A part of them will have to die, and they will need to grow into something new.
And that’s why children’s fiction usually starts with a resounding ‘yes’ to the call.
And why adult stories start with an emphatic ‘no,’ and a period of arguing.
As Galadriel points out, “The Ringbearer begins to realize that this quest may claim his life.”
And it did. Old Frodo died. Fat homey Bilbo died. A new hobbit was born. It’s the same with adult life.
So next time we look at fairy tales, children’s tales, or some tales of Arthurian epics, we see they play an incredibly important role in our formation.
They show us that we can endure risk and dragons and danger, and emerge again. Perhaps unscathed. Perhaps anew.
These are meant to give us confidence as adults that we can imagine another side to this story. An outcome where we are okay. But adults rarely welcome this, because they know something will die, or change.
Adventure calls you to stand and hold your whole life, and decide what’s worth keeping, and what’s worth letting go. Adventures sift you. If you’re not ready, don’t have the resilience, or the receptivity to new things, adventures hollow you out and cast you aside, perhaps to die, or to try again.
But if you have a measure of wit and effort, you are made stronger by the dragons of adventure. You cross a threshold of growth.
Crossing the Threshold
This is why in the ancient religions they called our initial resistance to change the ‘Guardian of the Threshold.’ Any time a dramatic challenge is shown, the hero must face everything in their lives that tells them they aren’t up to it.
At first they probably agree and roll over.
But then something awakens. An old legend. A memory. And they realize that Guardians exist for a reason – not to hold you back. But to reawaken your awareness of everything small and unread and undone in you.
In facing that mystic mirror, like Luke and Rey do in the Star Wars movies, we see ourselves, and must ask: “Am I prepared to stay like this? Or am I going on an adventure?”
And that’s why we love stories. Because adult fiction usually starts with a no, pushes back against everything with a stronger no, and then realizes that ‘yes’ is the only possible answer, to go through death and live again – or we will die in ourselves with a whimper.
Children don’t see all that. Adults do. That’s why fiction is great fun, and a great responsibility.
Since teen authors are cresting that life change, this might be helpful for your own fiction, and perhaps your own growth.
So perhaps that’s helpful for you. It was an interesting shower thought today for me.