There And Back Again

While doing some online reading [1], as I am prone to do from time to time [2], I came across an article that discussed literary cartography, beginning with its context in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien [3].  In its original meaning, adventure meant an arrival somewhere, which makes sense given the fact that advent refers to a coming.  In our own contemporary use, adventure involves a departure, particularly a departure from our humdrum lives.  To be sure, I am the sort of person who dearly loves adventures, and who has often found excitement even in what ought to be somewhat mundane travels, such as the quest to find food and gout medicine at one time or another, neither of which should be that dramatic or adventuresome [4].  Yet sometimes we do find adventure in unexpected ways, and even if our lives are not the sort of which inspires others to write long adventure novels, at least we may find enough adventure in the course of our existence to appreciate the fact that our lives are not boring but provide us with enough entertainment to smile and laugh at the times that we face.

Yet we need not think of the definition of adventure as being an either/or proposition between its ancient conception of arrival or its contemporary conception as a departure.  Many of the most exciting adventures in literature have involved both.  The subtitle of J.R.R. Tolkin’s The Hobbit, for example, is There And Back Again, which happens to be title of the narrative by Bilbo Baggins himself, that eponymous hobbit.  His adventure involved both a departure from his comfortable, even boring, life as a hobbit in the shire in the company of nine dwarfs, looting a great treasure from a dragon horde, swiping the one ring from the greedy clutches of one Gollum, and then returning back again a different and wiser being than he left as.  We see the same sort of narrative in the grand, overarching story of Odysseus the wanderer.  He left home to join up with the Greek effort to sack Troy, and after many dramatic travels he ended up back home again, vanquishing the suitors who had sought to marry his wife Penelope, and helping his son Telemachus become a brave man himself and a suitable Lord of Ithaca.  Again, this adventure involves both a departure and a return.

I have commented elsewhere [5] on the fact that the course of my life has given me a great fondness for stories about hidden princes (and princesses).  If we conceive of an adventure as a departure followed by an arrival of a changed person, it may be seen that there is a connection between this adventure narrative and the larger arc of a hidden prince/princess story, where the discovery of identity often involves a return home as someone different yet also the same.  And that is what our adventures involve in life.  If they are true adventures, they prompt some sort of change in us, in the way we think about ourselves or about our world, and when we return home, we are different than we were before.  This is the lure of short-term missionary or service projects, or travels to exotic people, or the experimenting in various new activities, that it will change us and make us more exciting and more broad-minded than before.  To be sure, some of these events are far more harrowing than we expect them to be at the start, but as we are beings that appreciate a tension between stasis and change, adventure offers us both sides of this perspective, returning us back to familiar places and people, but also providing us with novelty and change and growth along the way.  We end up in the same place, perhaps, but we have grown in the process.

When we look at our own lives, where do we wish for adventures for ourselves?  What do we find as venturesome and exciting?  What may be exciting to one person may be completely dull and boring to someone else.  For example, as a creature of habit, I regularly eat tacos on Tuesday at a particular restaurant.  Now, it should not surprise those who know me that I eat the same things over and over again, with very little if any change from a week to week basis.  Yet there is some change in it, largely because I interact with the wait staff and they ask me what book I am reading this week, and so there is a great deal of intellectual exploration even when the patterns of my life are fairly ordinary and nearly fixed.  Just as I find reading to be a particularly interesting and exciting activity and the subject of many adventures to the library, and tend to prefer rather plain and ordinary experiences when it comes to food, we each have our mix between the familiar and the unusual that we most appreciate.  Some people may find far-ranging reading and travel to be either terrifying or boring, and may prefer to be adventuresome in partying or socializing or in feasting.  Wherever it is we find our adventure, we all depart and return different than we are if we have lived a life worth living at all, even if that change is different for us depending on the adventures that we have along the way.


[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

[4] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to There And Back Again

  1. Pingback: In Search Of…A New Home For Taco Tuesday | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: I’ll See You When We Get There | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Bandersnatch | Edge Induced Cohesion

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