For thousands of years, tales about distant lands and harrowing journeys have inspired people to experience the world from home. Whether it’s Homer’s ten-year Odyssey, Noah’s Ark, or Hemingway, something in our DNA jolts with excitement at the prospect of the unknown, and thankfully there are endless novels and historical accounts to satisfy our thirst for adventure!
Since we’re all likely to spend more time indoors, get into something comfortable and join us on a journey of our own: as we attempt to list the five best Adventure reads (in no particular order). And if you’ve already read them, why not re-tread your footsteps one more time? Bon voyage!
Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
It’s hard to write about Into the Wild without discussing its ending. Many of us would like to give up everything and disappear on a sabbatical into the wild – or at least we think we would. In 2007, college graduate Christopher McCandless actually did it. And you needn’t read till the end of Into the Wild to learn it ended badly. But Jon Krakauer’s book is not only a cautionary tale, it is one of optimism and spirit. This is man going back to basics, like in Thoreau’s Walden; except the story of McCandless’s survival is fascinating because it’s so utterly unusual. Imagine actually doing this in the twenty-first century! We’re fortunate to be at home, perhaps. Safe with our loved ones. But within us is always a little bit of the McCandless spirit, and this book helps us access it when most needed.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Moby Dick is a story about a whale. OK, that’s a pretty simplified summary, because, as one of the most famous adventure novels of all time (and yes, a whale is involved. A big one) this is a tale about an obsessive hunter called Ahab, who risks everything for the big catch. You see, Moby Dick bit off Ahab’s leg at the knee, and so he has vowed revenge – bringing with him a memorable team of sailors who fill their voyage with humor, wisdom, and insanity. If you’ve persevered through an expedition or difficult trip, you’ll understand the darkness and fear that creeps from within Ahab’s redemption story. The answer to life is out there. It might be a big whale, or it might be a virus. Whatever it is, we just have to endure a little bit longer.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom (or a Revolt in the Desert), by T.E. Lawrence
Was T.E. Lawrence telling the complete truth? After his escapades as the mysterious Lawrence of Arabia – in which he helped the Sharif of Mecca depose Ottoman rule – people were shocked to discover how daring and colorful his Arabian adventures had been. Shoot-outs, prisons, politics, explosives, and tribes – the kind of things people had read about in fiction was being lived by one man. Better yet, Lawrence writes in the manner of a great essayist, strategist, and poet (he always brought a copy of the Arthurian legend with him). And whether you pick the abridged Revolt in the Desert, or his epic six-hundred-word tome, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his journey from everyday office clerk to Arab general, and later disillusioned veteran, will inspire you to spend the afternoon daydreaming about long treks in the simmering Wadi Rum desert, or sleeping beneath the stars by a lush oasis. By scholarly accounts, it’s half-fiction, half-autobiography. Either way, it still makes for a damn majestic read! - and to this day, desert explorers can’t help but feel Lawrence’s shadow hovering over them as they trek through Rum or the Sahara. (You ought to check out David Lean’s sweeping screen adaption, too!)
King Solomon’s Mines, by Sir H. Rider Haggard
At a certain point in the 19th century, the tradition of periodical ‘Boys Books’ became a thing. Full of exotic faraway places, plucky heroes, lusty women, and danger, they served as escapism for young men stuck bored in Victorian England, or elsewhere throughout Europe (sound familiar?). King Solomon’s Mines fit this tradition and then some; being not only exciting - but well-written too! This is the story of the dashing Alan Quatermain (an obvious primer for Indiana Jones) and his team of adventurers journeying to an unexplored corner of Africa, meanwhile searching for one of the men’s brothers. Way before Google Maps, jabs or any other modern traveler luxury, Quatermain’s ragtag team endure and navigate a hostile setting, meanwhile finding ways to add humor to their adventure. If you’re looking to read something that lifts you out of your sofa and
teleports you into the action, guns blazing – here it is.
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
Of course, there are plenty of Hemingway adventures to write about, and on any other day – in any other mood – we might suggest Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms. But it is this short story, about an elderly fisherman in Cuba, that is simultaneously Ernest’s (a Heimat inspiration) most profound and escapist work. You feel as though you are sat beside Santiago sailing through the Tropics, catching sights like a dolphin ‘jumping in the air, true gold in the last of the sun’. Few writers were able to express in such simple sentences the awe of our world’s natural beauty like Ernest did; and the magic is in the little moments, the otherwise insignificant thoughts that you might recognize in yourself when looking over a mountain view, or dipping your toes in the ocean. It only takes one sitting to get through The Old Man and the Sea,
and if you need to get your adventure fix quick,
and full of the good, nutritional stuff; this is it.
So, there it is: five adventure reads to get you in the mood for travel. What did you think? Have you read all of them? Let us know what you would suggest, or if you disagree with the list by leaving a comment below. Thanks!