Monday, February 4, 2013

Why Adventure Narratives?

While reading the first half of Herzog’s Annapurna, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was interested in the book. Normally I enjoy the complex characters and riveting plots of traditional fiction. But something about this book is holding my interest, despite the late hour. Although Herzog’s fellow climbers certainly are characters, since they are real people, and people are rarely static, we see no deliberate character development because Herzog isn’t making up a story for us, he’s retelling an experience as he remembers it. Thus his friends are characters in some sense, but we see little of their quirks and style compared to what we’d see from carefully calculated storylines. 

The first third or so of the book was taken up with exploration. It was not until about chapters 9 and 10 that we really saw the beginning of the telling of the reason for the party’s journey in the first place: climbing a big mountain. So why did the book keep my attention throughout the first 8 chapters of try something, fail, try something else, fail. Lose hope, keep trying, tentative success. My cliché answer is somewhere along the lines of “It’s in the journey.” As we discovered with Krakauer’s story about the Devil’s Thumb, once you get to the summit it’s the end of the adventure in terms of uncertainty of success and reaching the top and unknown land to traverse. Thus it would make sense logistically for the story to be mostly of the journey, but again, why does this fascinate us?

This comes back to the point of one of the focal points of the course – why do people write adventure narratives and why are they so wildly popular? I think that the cleansing / sobering experience of an adventure / a climb (see Deandra’s previous post "Why Climb?" for more) is something that everyone longs for, and something that not everyone gets a chance to experience. In fact, I’d say most people don’t get to have such fabulous and challenging adventures as climbing icy Himalayan mountains. Thus we as a comfort-bound audience must content ourselves with experiencing this through another’s eyes. I think this definitely takes away from going through the adventure oneself, and having one’s own adventure instead of someone else's, but at the same time, I also think it’s a satisfactory substitute for the less fortunate/brave/insane. So in some sense, I guess we’re settling by reading adventure narratives. Thoughts?

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