Classic Adventure Stories
By Megan Powell, Sarah Goosem and Michael Calder
Undoubtedly, humanity has a unique relationship with exploration, one of equal parts fear and intrigue. Regrettably, over the centuries, this dichotomy has manifested into colonialism, as angst and exploitation inevitably infect expeditionist intentions. However, during these same periods, classical literature embraced the captivating nature of exploration, bringing the thrill of adventure to those unable to travel. In this issue, we’re highlighting some classic adventure stories which delivered the exhilaration of exploration to the masses.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
First published in 1719, Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe epitomises the adventure genre, with the titular character narrating his time spent on a tropical desert island in true travelogue form. The narrative spans twenty-eight years, telling of an incredible adventure that has resulted in this classic being considered the first ever English novel due to its realistic qualities and fascinating plot. Undoubtedly, Robinson Crusoe has paved the way for more extraordinary literary works and has been adapted numerous times on stage and in film.
The story follows Crusoe, who defies his parents by going out to sea. There, he is met with a violent storm that destroys his ship. Crusoe finds himself on a desert island, ashamed to return home. He is placed out of his middle-class society and becomes free of the confines of his parents, and therein lie the central themes of the novel: society and identity. Crusoe undergoes a transformation during his isolation on the desert island. He befriends Friday, who he saves from cannibals and who becomes his devoted companion. There are many adventures that Crusoe experiences on the island, including gripping encounters with captives, cannibals and mutineers, which combine to earn the novel its adventure status. Through documenting his survival, Crusoe is able to embark on a reflective journey of self-discovery alongside his expedition. The legacy of Robinson Crusoe is unforgettable, which makes it the perfect recommendation for a classic adventure story.
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Published for English audiences in January 1873, Around the World in Eighty Days is one of Jules Verne’s most renowned works of fiction and continues to enthral modern audiences through its various adaptations. Short on neither adventure nor eccentricities, the novel follows a Victorian gentleman, Phileas Fogg, on an expedition around the world that takes – you guessed it – eighty days. Boasting an abundance of money, time and antisocial behaviours, Fogg, an Aristotelian man of logic, reason and habit, confidently wagers his entire fortune on the possibility of navigating the globe in eighty days. With no intention of losing either social standing or wealth, and elated by the opportunity to prove his country club chums wrong, Verne’s protagonist sets off alongside his newly appointed French valet Passepartout on an adventure that is about more than just meeting the deadline.
Embracing the notion of a classical adventure story, Around the World in Eighty Days delivers the signature quest narrative, time constraint, pursuing antagonist and last-gasp sprint for the finish line that have become staples of the genre. While the novel also encompasses themes pertinent to the era, such as culture, exploration and progression, it is the concept of self-fulfilment that truly etches Verne’s novel into the history of classical literature. During a period of rapid expansion, Around the World in Eighty Days begs the question: what truly makes us happy?
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island is one of the most celebrated and influential adventure stories of all time. It was first serialised in a children’s literary magazine in 1881 and 1882 before being published as a complete novel in 1883. Treasure Island tells the story of young Jim Hawkins, the villainous pirate Long John Silver and an exciting search for buried treasure.
So many of the clichés and stereotypes that we have come to expect from pirate stories can be traced directly back to Stevenson’s novel. Treasure Island introduces the idea of ominous black spots, pirates with talking parrots on their shoulders and using an ‘X’ to mark the location of buried treasure on a map. In particular, the character of Long John Silver has played a significant role in shaping the images and mythologies surrounding pirates in modern popular culture. He is opportunistic and self-serving, is missing one leg, carries a crutch under his left shoulder and often has a parrot named Captain Flint sat upon his shoulder, squawking phrases like, “Pieces of eight!”
The story behind Treasure Island is also one of adventure and imagination. While on holiday in Scotland one summer, Stevenson created a map of an imaginary island to keep his twelve-year-old stepson entertained during a period of bad weather. This map eventually became his inspiration for Treasure Island.