Adventures Fact and Fiction

Adventure: an exciting or remarkable experience; an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks; an unusual experience, often bold, with an uncertain outcome.

The usual protocol of performing an image search on the topic results in a wide array of terrific photos.  Skydivers silhouetted against the setting sun.  Rock climbers dangling precariously by their fingertips from vertigo-inducing precipices.  Hoar-frosted hikers triumphant on the peaks of tors.  Whitewater rafters.  Off-road truckers.  Scuba divers.

All the sorts of people who consider our spinning blue marble a tableau for adventure.

Sprinkled throughout the selection were a few random representations of what i’d expected to see more of, which i suppose might more aptly be called “high adventure.”  Of these, i conclude their inclusion was due only to the presence of the word “adventure” in their titles.  Here’s an example:

Adventure Time sounds kind of familiar, like i’ve probably read something about it in the past.  Can’t say as i’ve ever seen it though.  From what i understand, the program is “heavily inspired by the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons,” and frankly my expectations were to find a never-ending slew of sword- and spell-wielding heroic types to visually represent the concept of adventure.  Naturally, i understand that term is not wholly rooted in genre-specific material.  On the other hand, i thought my Google+ knew me a little better than that.  Outdoor adventure in the real world?  It’s me, Google+.

Hey – guess what?  “High adventure” isn’t what i thought either.  If i’m honest, after reading the first few words of the site description that showed “…typically is meant to include activities like backpacking, hiking, kayaking or canoeing…” i was expecting to the remainder to read something like “…while under the influence of marijuana.” or something along those lines.  But no!  Turns out what my preconceived notions were about adventure both high and everyday were incorrect.  At this point, the entire premise of this post is taking on water from the giant holes in the hull.

What gives?

Now i am sailing through seas filled with questions.  Is opposing the Big Bad Evil Guy the fantasy equivalent of mountain climbing?  Does anyone pursue extreme sports challenges in the mythical realms of literature populated by monsters?  Why does adventure fiction always incorporate violence, when factual adventure necessitates nothing of the sort?  Is this dissection of adventure going to morph into a discussion of violence in media?  Maybe, more than likely yes, to appeal to baser instincts, and no – although it would not be difficult.

Recently, i put the question to a few others: “You are transported to a fantasy realm (think Middle Earth) via a magical amusement park ride – do you quest to return home or remain in this land of swords, sorcery, and good vs. evil?”  Today, i fully expected this heretofore meandering wall of text to draw primarily from that well.  For the uninitiated or unaware, that is the basic premise behind the 1980s animated Dungeons and Dragons program.  As you may imagine, as an embryonic geek of 6 or 7 who’d only just discovered D&D through his older brother’s classic “Red Box,” this cartoon was a watershed moment in my development.  While other kids dreamt of being fire fighters, astronauts, and cops when they grew up, my vision was being shaped every Saturday morning.  What did i want to be when i grew up?  Why, a shaggy-haired teen pulled through time and space to battle fearsome beasts for treasure, of course.  My only gripe with the show was the recurring plot to find a way back home.  Are you kidding me?  There ain’t no magic loot in suburbia.  On the other hand, no constant threat to your well-being either.  At least not in the overt, rampaging-monsters-coming-to-destroy-you way.  Looking back now, and sifting through that perspective a bit, kind of weirds me out.  Not the most constructive view of escapism.

***Spoiler Alert***

The kids never do complete the quest to return home.  However!  There is a final, unproduced episode wherein the party of young adventurers do win a possible ticket back to their world.  And like any good serial, the ending is inconclusive.  Actually, now that i think about it, a great story doesn’t need an opening for future development.  Even a tale with a definitive closing could be reopened later.  Just sometimes it’s easier than others, i suppose.  Anyway, the script for the final episode, titled “Requiem,” is available to read online if you’re interested.  Here’s a link.

Boy, i can’t tell you how many times i’ve fantasized about discovering a portal that lead to a magical world.  In the interest of full disclosure, i’ll admit that even into my 20’s, the little sliver of childhood hope still lay embedded in my mind.  It would be a lie to say there weren’t moments hiking through majestic forests where i secretly harbored a faint desire to find such a thing.  Way back when my friends and i haphazardly took a one-way trek across the pond, we packed as if prepared for anything – including a possible dungeon delve.  On some level, we reasoned that Europe’s millennia of civilization must mean there’s scattered ruins just standing around waiting to be explored.  Right?  We truly had a mind for high adventure.

Those foolhardy tactics did result in a positive outcome though – our packs lightened significantly as we routinely discarded completely unnecessary doodads along the way.  In our defense, it’s better to have a 50′ rope and not need it, than need one and not have it.  Give me a little credit too – we declined to take a 10′ pole.  If i ever do something like that again, i will definitely have learned from my prior experience.  A couple of changes of clothes, some toiletries, a few sundry items, and slightly more than recommended socks and undies.  Anything else you can get on the road.

Now, what i should have taken from the infatuation of the fantastic was the force behind such conventions – the creators.  Maybe in a roundabout way i did, a little bit at least, and that led me down the path of writing.  And as you can tell it has served me well – i can type and put in medication orders really fast!  Somebody has to put pen to paper for all that stuff right?  But as a wildly unsupervised and undisciplined youth, building a foundation for the rest of my life wasn’t something i or anyone else in my life was too cognizant of reinforcing.

Take someone like Richard Garriott.  Instead of just enjoying the immersion of Ultima, the conceit of which puts you as the player (sort of) in the role of hero in another world, the smart bet would have been to realize that the man behind the franchise is the real adventurer.  i know what you’re thinking – look at that dork.  Here’s a guy who doesn’t just go to the Medieval Faire – he’s part of the show too!  Seriously though, the guy parlayed a penchant for programming into a life as “pioneering game developer, explorer, adventurer, award-winning entrepreneur, and global ambassador for space travel privatization.”  He’s been to space on his own dime, for chrissakes.  And his house has secret passageways and an observatory.  Pretty sweet deal.  i bet when he’s at home he wears a cloak, too.  The real question – how far does the fantasy-esque world he’s built for himself go?  If you were to, let’s say, smash a random vase or box within his domicile, would you find coins inside?

All of that, sprung from this.  That’s some adventure.

For the past eight years, National Geographic observes an Adventurer of the Year listing.  The award recognizes individuals for extraordinary achievements in exploration, conservation, humanitarianism, and adventure sports.  In 2006, Ed Viesturs became the first Adventurer of the Year for his accomplishments as a climber and high-altitude mountaineer.  If there is a climbing related feat to be fought, the man has bested it.

Aside from Mr. Viesturs, the list of past honorees includes mostly what i’m coming to realize encapsulates the idea of adventure – daring athletes.  But to be fair, a smattering a other risk-takers are entrenched alongside their perhaps more physical counterparts.  A filmmaker.  A journalist.  A scientist.

You know, at this point i’m glad my preconceived notions about adventure had been so off course.  The tales of glory and conquest that came to mind previous to this week’s research actually seem flimsy by comparison.  Maybe it’s just the gossamer vestiges of some primal masculinity drifting away, but i am happy to re-discover the idea of adventure not as a test of might between opposing forces, but instead as a self-imposed challenge by humans to overcome the limitations placed on ourselves and thereby achieve something outstanding.

A recently as a few moments ago, i was talking with my mom about, well i guess you could say “the state of things.”  We were discussing basically a paradigm shift in our culture.  Without getting too much into it, essentially it was two adults lamenting the change in the way things were and how they are now.  One of those good ol’ “when i was younger…” conversations.

That sort of thinking was a pinch of seasoning in the adventure stew that really brought it together for me though.  Before hopping back into the computer jockey chair to punch up the rest of this, i had to take a breather and consider the possibilities.

Adventure Stew

On one hand, it’s pretty easy to get discouraged by hardships and obstacles that we encounter everyday of our lives.  Big or small, there’s a lot of them and i’m not embarrassed to admit i’ve fallen victim to these traps probably more often than not.

On the other…on the other hand aren’t these pitfalls and roadblocks the very things that make up the adventure of all our lives?

A friend of mine as of a few weeks ago is a new parent.  First time.  He’s not the most open fellow when it comes to that mushy expressing feelings sort of stuff, so it was not completely unreasonable for his response to be a little less enthusiastic when i asked him if everything in the world felt different once he held the kid for the first time.  i’m not a parent, so i don’t know if that’s what happens or not, but it seems like the general consensus is such.  One caveat there: my outlook is probably colored more by television and movies than real life stuff – i don’t have a very large social circle nor am i close with many people that have children.

Anyway, that really got me thinking about the adventure of life.  And it really is, is it not?  Even the most droll of us could likely summon a story or two about remarkable events we’ve been part of.  Danger and unknown risks?  We’ve all got that in spades from the cradle to the grave.  Simply as organisms on earth, by comparison our individual ability to survive is greatly outpaced by countless other creatures.  One of my two pet cats was found alone in the woods at three or four weeks old.  It is amazing she survived like that, but she did and now she is attached (sometimes uncomfortably so) to the female companion of my own life adventure.  As far as risk goes, hell we do that everyday on the road – or does it really seem all that safe piloting a metal box upwards of 60mph with hundreds of others doing the same?  Hundreds of others who, as i’m sure we all swear under our breaths from time to time, we consider the stupid masses.  Good thing to bear in mind – you are part of someone else’s stupid masses, too.

And finally, a bold undertaking with uncertain outcomes.  i think the secret to the whole thing lies hidden right there.  Uncertain outcomes is a granted.  We really never know for certain what’s going to happen, even though we can make some logical conclusions.

The core of an adventure, whether set within fiction or fact, is the willingness to be BOLD.  Isn’t that the thing all adventurers have in common?  Joseph Campbell’s monomyth aside, boldness is the litmus test for adventure.  If the Fellowship hadn’t been bold, then the Third Age would have come to a close in utter darkness.  If Peter Parker weren’t bold, then Aunt May would have died from the radioactive material in her blood and Spidey would have either been drowned or crushed in “The Final Chapter!”  And if real life humans weren’t so bold, would we have climbed the highest peaks?  Explored the deepest depths?  Walked on the moon?

But all that extraordinary stuff aside, i don’t think we have to all quite reach for those lofty heights to achieve a satisfying adventure.  Being bold equates to being fearless in the face of danger.  And in a lot of ways, the opposite of fear is love – something fraught with danger.  Maybe not as often physical, although who hasn’t dodged a thrown object or two?  But definitely there’s emotional danger.  You put yourself out there all open and exposed, and talk about uncertain outcomes amiright?

So that’s what i’ll leave you with today.  i have to admit, this here post itself sure resulted in an unexpected outcome.  Ideas about fantasy adventures abounded and i was going to travel with you through that hidden portal to a few of my favorite realms to see what we’d find there.

Instead i discovered that much more often than not, adventure doesn’t have anything to do with defeating bad guys, acquiring treasures, or saving the world from the forces of evil.

Adventure is happening all around us, all day every day.  Quest-givers are everywhere, and rewards await anyone willing to put aside their fear and face the world alternatively with love.  And i know, it’s scary to take risks in any situation.  i’m no different in that respect.  Maybe even moreso, as i’ve let apprehension hold sway when i shouldn’t have in a variety of scenarios.

It’s a helluva lot easier in fiction, where the parameters are more clearly laid out.

“Defeat this singular force of evil and this tangible reward is yours,” is the basic premise in adventuresome literature, games, shows and movies.

“Make your way through a world filled with uncertainty, all the while keeping an open heart and a wonder for all the amazing possibilities, with little to no clear objective, and the knowledge that whatever your intentions are at the outset will very likely change completely along the way,” is the briefest summary i can attain for the adventure of real life.

Given those two descriptions, i’d say the latter requires more boldness than the former.  Outline what needs to be done and it sounds a little bit easier to me.  But it’s more empowering too, if less clear.

We can choose whatever adventure we want, and the only opposition is within ourselves.

Thanks for visiting!  Here’s a reward for all your hard work.  It’s only tangentially related to the above ramblings.  But it is a good song from some terrific musicians.  Enjoy.


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