In 1889, Nellie Bly set off from New York on the first leg of her great race: to beat the fictional record of Phileas Fogg, to best the fictional Fogg and journey around the world in under 80 days.
That first night at dinner, she is overcome by very real sea-sickness (to the merry delight of her fellow travelers). She leaves the table repeatedly, dashing away despite her “very strong determination to resist my impulses.” Each time, she comes back to her dining companions, each time she returns to laughter and jeers about whether or not she’s really up to the journey.
The eve before boarding the steamer, she’d wondered the same thing.
“I am off,” I thought sadly, “and shall I ever get back?”
It is a question every adventurer asks prior to embarking on the unknown. Only one thing is certain about an adventure: the person who leaves isn’t the same one who comes back.
Ignoring the omens of a limp sail and a storming, raining day, Mark Twain, too, set off on a voyage across the world. Bound for the Holy Land on a “pleasure excursion,” he’s stuck at the foot of the New York harbor. The steamship has been anchored in place while a “tremendous sea” rollicks outside.
Laying upon his berth, lulled by the surf and rocked by the sea, waiting for his adventure to begin, he passes “tranquilly out of all consciousness of the dreary experiences of the day and damaging premonitions of the future.”
There is no thought to stop. To turn around. To quit. Like Bly, Twain thinks only of the next day and hopes it will be better. This is what unites Bly and Twain: they embrace and crave the unknown, despite premonitions that the future may not bring calm seas or good health. They move forward with an adventurer’s mantra of “Press on.”
And no wonder. The world awaits.
So it is in these nonfictional accounts of adventure. Men and women are eager to set out upon the world. Ready to go and explore, desirous to meet people, and come face to face with the exotic.
But read any fictional adventure novel and there’s something missing. Women.
Bilbo Baggins, Allan Quartermain, Edward Dantès, Robinson Crusoe, Phileas Fogg, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Harry Potter. The list goes on. Off go those men and boys on a grand journey, to be irrevocably changed by their trials, their experiences, what they’ve been asked to do, or want to do.
Adventure novels aren’t the most venerated genre of fiction. Seen more as a brother to romance novels perhaps. In an adventure novel, men have the chance to imagine themselves in feats of daring-do. Be they sword fights, gun duels, or facing off against the likes of the Long John Silvers of the world and coming out the victor.
In a romance novel, women have the chance to imagine how they can use their womanly wiles and charming ways to gain love, acceptance, and belonging by marrying the man of their dreams.
We are all in search of love – in search of that person who loves us for our beauty, our warts, or our narrow-minded impatience and judgment of others (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth Bennett). We are all in search of adventure – to match wits with clever antagonists, to search for treasure and return with a boon, be it gold, experience, or knowledge.
Both leave us panting and exhausted, worried about what will come next (or won’t come next).
Don’t we all dream of faraway lands? Of sleeping under the stars on one of the Seven Seas? Of finding a lost city, and being chased by a band of greedy hordes, only to overcome them with a sabre, with quick thinking, with brave feats? To go deep into the belly of the unknown and come back. Weary, perhaps, transformed, yes.
And to rest sweetly, comfortably next to someone who loves us and whispers in our ear, “Tell me again what you did next.”
Looking for an adventure? Read The Night Is Filled with Wonder, available as an ebook on Amazon.