Sunday, May 6, 2012

Quests' Quandries

Quests typically relate a character's need to undergo some form of travel, trial, and/or tribulation, searching for an endeared object, potion, chalice, answer, loved one, treasure, etc.  It involves peril, persistence, and the overcoming of formidable obstacles. 

Joesph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces  explains quest in great detail, and may well be worth your look.  According to Campbell, in myth and stories the monomyth or hero's journey follows a basic pattern. Campbell describes 17 stages or steps that can be broken down into three main sections:
  • The "Departure" which deals with the hero's adventure before the quest (and often involves some form of initial denial and the meeting of a mentor or guide); 
  • The "Initiation" dealing with the hero's adventures and journeys while following the quest; and
  • The "Return" where the hero has faced his or her quest and returns with knowledge, wealth, and/or power gained on the journey.
Star Wars: The Magic of Myth
In 1997, Muse Magazine (The Smithsonian Institute's young adult magazine) published an article, "Star Wars: It's Just Another Myth" by Mary Henderson (now a book Star Wars: The Magic of Myth).  In the article, Henderson condensed and delineated Campbell's steps while illustrating how Star Wars, the King Arthur story, the story of Perseus, and Tolkien's Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit all follow Campbell's steps.  The article provides a wonderful template for young readers and writers to follow when evaluating and creating their own quests and adventures.

Here is Henderson's template of heroes' quests as found in the article:
  1. The quest is to...
  2. The hero (discovers) he/she's the son/daughter of...
  3. But he/she was raised by....
  4. The call to adventure comes when...
  5. The wise and helpful guide is...
  6. The magic talisman is...
  7. The hero undergoes ordeals and difficulties when he/she...
  8. The hero performs daring deeds when she/he...
  9. The hero returns home to...
  10. In the end she/he...
The Power of Quests:
Aside from being engrossing and fun to read, watch, or play, quests serve very important roles in children's education.
  • Literature - is full of quests. Knowing the templates or 'essentials' of quests make them easier to recognize, understand and follow.  Understanding a quest's basic 'ingredients' also makes it easier for kids to create and write their own.
  • History - leaders and nations must face quests and obstacles in their growth to maturity and power.  Familiarity with quests and heroes makes studying history more familiar and more interesting, which in turn, adds depth and additional memory associations. 
  • Life's Lessons - fortunately or unfortunately kids face numerous obstacles in their daily lives.  They are often "called to action", often seek mentors or guides, and face challenges and daunting tasks (be they intellectual, social, or physical). As they develop and grow from the world of childhood to that of adulthood - the rules often change and are often not what was expected.  Having heroes(and templates) to learn from and about, can only help them find comfort while meeting and mastering their own personal quests.
 Educational applications:
  • Discuss  the obstacles and quandaries heroes must face - be they Moses, Jesus, Luke Skywalker, Perseus, Harry Potter, Matilda, Bilbo Baggins, etc.
  • Create your own myths from this template - write, act, relate stories of heroes.
  • Brainstorm other possible solutions and paths for famous quests. Discuss the 'paths not taken'.
  • Compare the fate and journeys of religious figures to those of modern, historical figures and of literary figures. Evaluate the similarities and differences in their quests.  Discuss the lessons learned and values exhibited.
Some of my favorite (less well-known) stories of quests:
Dealing with Dragons (ages 6+) by Patricia Wrede - about Cimorene a princess who is tired of learning etiquette and wants to learn about math and the world.
Johnny Tremain (ages 9+) by Esther Forbes - a story of Johnny a silversmith apprentice who suffers a terrible injury and must find his true path.  Along the way the finds himself involved with the Sons of Liberty, Paul Revere, the Adams cousins (Sam and John),  John Hancock, and others.
I Kill Giants (ages 10+) by Joe Kelly - a story about a girl who must kill the giants in her life. The reader, intitially, is unsure whether there are real giants or metaphors.  I won't ruin it for you as this is a MUST READ book for kids grade 5+.
The Book of Three (ages 8+) by Lloyd Alexander (the first of The Chronicles of Prydain series) about a boy, taran, ward of a prophetic pig who reluctantly must guard the pig and fight the evil following the pig in order to save all he holds dear.
The Giver (ages 10+) by Lois Lowry - about Jonas who lives in a dystopian society and must (reluctantly) learn to be the next Giver.
Ender's Game (ages 10+) by Orson Scott Card about eight-year-old gifted Ender who is reluctantly recruited by his government for s special space/defense school.
A Wrinkle in Time (ages 9+) by Madeleine L'Engle about Meg Murry who (reluctantly) is transported through a tesseract (a fifth dimensional wrinkle in time) with her younger brother Charles Wallace and friend Calvin O'Keefe to rescue her (scientist) father from evil forces holding him captive on another planet.
Inkheart (ages 8+) by Cornelia Funke - about Meggie and her father who must (reluctantly) read characters out of books
Pink and Say (ages 5+) by Patricia Polacco about two boys fighting for the Union - one black one white - who must find a way to stay alive and save their families during the Civil War.

In closing, for those seeking quests for 'older' and more 'mature' audiences, one of my favorite quests was Monty Python's Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Here is a brilliant excerpt I hope you enjoy (the quality of the YouTube clip isn't great, but it is good enough and well worth the view):

These are just a few suggestions.  Thank you for your time and visit - I hope to see you here next week.  In the meantime... Please leave your own favorite quests in the comments.
Have a great week.


  1. Hello, thanks for stopping by, and the follow. What a neat Post. Loved the Monty Python even hubby came over to watch. He loves those guys. So tomorrow is Monday's Music Moves Me. Theme is a European song or a song/singer with the first letter of your last name. Hope you rock with us! Have a great day!

  2. The Journey of the Hero is one of the lessons we teach in the 8th grade language arts curriculum.

  3. I am your newest follower from Moms Monday Mingle! I look forward to reading more of your blog! You can find me at I hope you have a good day!

  4. Meryl ~ Love Joseph Campbells books and all that you mention is so near and dear to me ~ Enlightened woman you are! ~ thanks for linking up with Magical Monday Meme ~ so glad to have you there ~ namaste, ^_^

  5. I'm your new follower from the Tuesday Train. I love your blog. It is very interesting and informative. Hope you get a chance to follow me back at

  6. I love the whole take on quests and quandries, esp as it pertains to myth.

    1. Thanks for your interesting post! You are absolutely right by saying :"History - leaders and nations must face quests and obstacles in their growth to maturity and power. Familiarity with quests and heroes makes studying history more familiar and more interesting, which in turn, adds depth and additional memory associations." History is wonderful if there are heroes
      facing quests.
      Have a great week.
      Wil, ABC Team.

  7. Quests and quandaries are great Q words and as always your posts are very informative and interesting.

  8. You (almost) make me want to go back into the classroom! lol I sure wish you could have been my mentor! Your ideas are so great - not so difficult to consider and a wonderful way to teach and learn!

    abcw team

    1. I completely agree with Leslie!

      Come and take my Dementia Quiz
      Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  9. When there is a hero, there has to be a villain. My kids often remind me of that.

  10. Some people prefer the baddie to the hero. Recently I have been getting my students to do pitorial recounts, as ESOl students, they love this especially when Google search Machine have included them in the images.

  11. Loved the post and the Monty Python video clip!

    Happy WW!

  12. Great breakdown, thanks for sharing! I write (just recreationally) but there are times when a writing challenge rolls around that I am just not prepared for. A template like this might help me organize a story when all I have is just a hint of an idea/premise. ;)

    Following you from the Welcome Wednesday hop, hope you have a moment to drop by and say hi!

    Happy Hour Projects

  13. Thank you for visiting my Q-post:) wow, you put a lot of thought in this one! I'm not a fan of Star Wars, but kids (ad adults) do need heroes!

  14. New follower from tomorrows hop! Glad I found you. I am a former teacher so I love childrens books. Stop by and visit when you can!

  15. I never thought of a quest the way Joseph Campbell did - very interesting. Loved the Monty Python clip. Thanks for sharing.

  16. New GFC follower here from the blog hop. Great blog you have here. I am quite intrigued by it. I look forward to reading more from you as time goes.

    Please stop by and visit when you can.


  17. Without quests, there would be NO good stories to read!

  18. *Wondering if Im be allowed to use Star Wars in school to teach Myths* Thanks for visiting my blog earlier this week! I already follow you on GFC.

  19. Thank you for sharing the interesting post about quests! Your mention of A Wrinkle in Time brought back memories of how much my daughter loved that book.

  20. Found you through Friendship Friday. Loved "A Wrinkle in Time" as a child and "Ender's Game" as a pre-teen. (Do you know they're making a movie for "Ender's Game" in 2013?)

  21. 'A Wrinkle in Time' and 'Inkheart' are still some of my favorites. I remember reading 'Johnny Tremain,' but I don't recall if I liked it.