I enjoy many different genres, and yet just about any of the books I read have a common theme connecting them together. The books I love appeal to my sense of adventure. Which might seem sort of strange if you knew me in person because I don’t really strike anyone as a LIVE OUT LOUD kind of girl. What is adventure exactly? We know it contains an element of risk, but why risk? Because it’s the exploring of the unknown. We don’t really know what will happen, and it will either take courage or foolishness (depending on the endeavor) to follow through with the adventure.
Today I want to focus on the exploration aspect of adventure. There are many kinds of exploration, not necessarily the kinds that will take a character through the secret passageways of ancient pyramid in Egypt. Are you an explorer? Every human starts out life as an explorer. As babies, we first discover our fingers, then our toes. Once we can focus on objects and distinguish mommy and daddy, we move on to crawling, then walking and getting into all sorts of trouble! As we grow older, some of us lose that childlike sense of wonder and awe of the world. That’s when grown-ups get old and stuffy and why I never wanted to grow up when I was a kid. But I’ve since learned that adulthood doesn’t have to be that way. We can still be mindful to look at God’s world with new eyes every day, and that is the essence of childhood. I love this quote by J . R. Tolkien:
“Children are meant to grow up, and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder, but to proceed on the appointed journey…”
Some of us will admit we still love to read childrens’ stories. The best childrens’ literature speak to adults just as much, if not more so, than to children. They include timeless truths that weedle their way into our hearts better than most non fiction does. Think of some of your favorite childrens’ stories; I’ll bet they include exploration of some sort. The Giver, by Lois Lowry is a dystopian/sci-fi novel about children who explore the world they never knew surrounded them—a world of color and emotion. Edith Nesbits’ stories are about children who explore their own world with the added element of magic. And who doesn’t love exploring the magical world of Narnia with the Pevensies? It all starts with the youngest of the siblings: a little heroine named Lucy who explores a wardrobe and then a new world because she has a childlike heart of faith and adventure. Then there is Susan. Susan is always the kill-joy of the group. It’s understandable. She’s the oldest sister with a mother-hen personality. She experiences human fear, but don’t we all? It takes courage to embark on adventure, coupled with a healthy dose of discernment and wisdom. But in Prince Caspian, Susan worries to the point that it hinders her capacity for doing what needs to be done. She wants to abandon the adventure in lieu of safety back home. It’s easier to be that kind of character. But it is Lucy who is remembered as the series’ heroine.
It doesn’t take magic to explore. Another great children’s novel is the 1957 classic, “Gone-Away Lake,” by Elizabeth Enright. In this book, Portia and her cousin Julian explore the local woods surrounding her aunt and uncle’s house. They observe butterflies, birds, mineral rocks, moss, and other natural specimens. But then they discover their biggest find of all: an abandoned vacation lake town and the elderly couple who lives there. What have you discovered while stepping out your comfort zone? Exploring adds mystery and color to life and keeps us young.
It can also humble us. Sometimes I think some of the hardest people to get along with are the people who “know it all already” and never grow, change, or learn. They stay in the same spiritual, emotional, mental rut that they were in 20 years ago and refuse to consider that someone else’s viewpoint could be valid. I’m sure we all know someone like that, and maybe we act like that a time or two! A heroine who discovers that perhaps she doesn’t hold all the answers to the world’s problems is Margaret Hale from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Her world is turned upside down when her family moves to a place she never wanted to go to and she now has to adjust to new culture and ideas. As she learns from those around her, she realizes that there isn’t just one perfect way to do life. And she grows as a person because she has explored other ways of thinking instead of being comfortable with her own opinions.
“…to search out a matter is the glory of kings,” the Bible says (Provebs. 25:2). It also tells us in Psalm 4:4, “search your hearts and be silent.” A quality of character growth includes exploring our own lives to see if something needs dealt with, confessed, or healed. This might take the biggest courage of all. Some people explore the world and all it has to offer just to avoid this vital kind of exploration. But their personal problems sooner or later catch up with them. Hayley finds this out in The Trophy Wives Club, by Kristin Billerbeck. Divorced at 28, she has to do some deep soul-searching so she can move on with her life and not repeat the same mistakes she made in the past. How did she get to where she was in the present? What was her personal responsibility and what wasn’t? Who is she now? What does she want to be and where does she want to go? These questions aren’t answered at just one time in our lives, but over and over throughout our lifelong journey.
Heroines are capable of exploration and adventure. Let’s not forget real-life heroines, like Sacajawea who played an important part of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Or Mary Kingsley, the 1800’s British explorer of Africa. Amelia Earhart: pioneer of aeronautics. And Marie Curie, physicist, chemist, and researcher of radioactivity. We can read about these inspiring females and the roles they played in history and explore the world from an armchair!
What are some of your favorite heroines who explore, whether famous, fictional, family member or friend?