J is for journeys - an everpresent theme in novels

Author: Anne

Date Published: Jan 17th 2018, 10:56pm

I remember once having to write and essay about how all fiction is a journey. I can’t remember now how well I did with my answer but I must admit that as time as gone on I have become more and more aware of the truth of this.

A lot of books contain physical journeys, many of which are quests. Think of “Lord of the Rings”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, and many, many epic fantasy novels. Get a group of people together (or gather a group as you go), head off into a new world or a land unknown to the travellers and you have an instant plot, full of challenges to overcome and unexpected dangers. Each person contributes skills, has an issue and sometimes one will betray them.

Many books contain journeys which are important to the plot to move the characters to a new environment even thought that may not be the most important element of the story – Jane Austen in particular is always taking her characters to different places (Bath, Box Hill, London and Lyme Regis to mention a few) to move her story on in more than one way.

All of this is pretty obvious but it is also true that there are less obvious journeys in books. There may be journeys in time, such as in time travel books (see “Doomsday Book”, “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, “The First 15 Lives of Harry August”, and others) which are literal. Sometimes we get journeys through a life such as “The Diary of an Ordinary Woman”, “Any Human Heart”, and others. Some books like those I just mentioned concern a whole life but others might be about a whole summer or a few years or the period of a war or something similar.

It seems to me, going back to my original premise, that all books are a journey physically, in time, or of development and character. I don’t want to ape TV reality shows but characters on books go through character journeys – Harry Potter at the end of the seven books in the series is not the person he was at the beginning, for example.

I think that there has to be movement like this for a book to engage. I think that we have to see movement and development in some way. A book which doesn’t do this is actually just a description of how things are at one moment and although some authors have done this (“Mrs Dalloway” and “Ulysses” strike me as examples) I want that movement and development. I want change in my books. I want to engage with a character and go on a journey with them even if they don’t move physically and time barely progresses.