There are so many great adventure writers. You might be more familiar with their heroes and characters, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Bilbo Baggins, The Three Musketeers: Athos, Porthos and Aramis, Moby Dick, and the tiger Richard Parker.
Here’s a book on the tradition of adventure writing. The novels attached to these characters sound snoozy though, right? Most of them were written a long time ago, and must be padded out with a lot of fuddy-duddy words and jokes? You’ll be surprised to find how much adrenaline courses through these pages!
The best adventure writers are Homer, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, J. R. R. Tolkien and Yann Martel. Let’s see whether you prefer a treasure-seeking pirate wannabe or a boy with a host of hungry animals!
What is Adventure Writing?
I think you already know! It’s a tale that involves an adventure, right?
So what’s an adventure? Don’t all stories have an adventure?
Well, adventure stories often focus on physical adventures. This is the big difference. Domestic dramas often feature a sort of mini domestic adventure, but these don’t fall into the adventure genre.
So, what do you need? A big physical journey! Often with very high stakes. This means something big hangs in the balance. Think Dan Brown! The world will end unless the secret cave in China is accessed and the sacred crystal retrieved!
High stakes also come in the form of danger to life. In adventure stories characters are always just getting out of life threatening situations. Think of Indiana Jones reaching back through the closing door to grab his hat!
Adventure stories offer the reader a chance to travel the whole world, and meet characters from diverse cultures, all without leaving the comfort of their armchair.
What are the Features of Adventure Writing?
Adventure writing often closely follows the plot structure of The Hero’s Journey, as described first by Joseph Campbell and then further developed by Christopher Vogler.
Our hero, who lives an ordinary life, hears of a threat to their values and to their peaceful life. They set out to counter this threat, and to protect their loved ones!
The History of Adventure Writing
Adventure writing is as old as writing itself! Tales like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are about characters who leave the comfort of their home to go traveling the world, in order to save the natural order of things.
Adventure writing doesn’t just feature in fiction-as-novel. You get adventure tales in poetry, in plays, in screenplays, and serialised in newspapers. You see adventure in comics a lot!
So re the history of adventure: well I guess it’s always been around. Lots of tales fall into the adventure genre, but we wouldn’t necessary put them into that genre first and foremost.
If the point of the tale is to raise your adrenaline via an escapade that takes you all over the world (usually racing against a ticking clock) – then you’ve likely got an adventure story on your hands!
Is Adventure Writing Popular?
You’ve been awash in adventure stories from the moment you were born.
You can’t pick up a novel, or turn on the TV without coming into contact with them.
Some of the most beloved characters of all time are adventure heroes.
Think Odysseus. Just kidding. How about Tintin? What about Indiana Jones and Short Round? Lara Croft!
Adventure stories are big bucks in the film market. While novels explore interiority – film captures physicality above all else. And there’s a huge amount of physicality in an adventure tale.
Which Films are Based on Adventure Writing?
Some of the best adventure writers of all time have had their writing adapted for the silver screen!
You might not have read Tarzan by Edward Rice Burroughs, but do you know the film and the story?
You might have seen Around the World in Eighty Days with Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan, an adaptation of the novel by Jules Verne.
The Lord of the Rings films and the adaptation of The Hobbit have done exceptionally well at the box office, directed by Peter Jackson with an all-star cast.
You might not know that The Mark of Zorro, a film starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, began life as a novel called The Curse of Capistrano, written in 1919 by Johnston McCulley.
Why Do People Read Adventure Stories?
Well, reasons vary.
To experience other cultures.
To meet new friends.
For pure escapism: the stakes are so high you become entirely engrossed.
Because they like to follow the same character on multiple adventures.
Because they like to imagine themselves in the hero role – taking on the baddies in the world, and saving the day! We all like to be helpful.
Who Are the Best Adventure Writers?
You might think of Homer and his adventure writing in verse as a bit dusty, or difficult to navigate, but persevere!
If you like seafaring stories about monsters and acts of heroism, Homer’s your guy. He’s been doing this since 800 BCE and most adventure writers since have looked to Homer, borrowing from his swag of tricks, motifs and themes.
These are also the ancient stories that underpin our contemporary world. There are a lot of story patterns and symbols you’ll recognize when reading once you have made yourself more familiar with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
Robert Louis Stevenson
The original rum-smuggling, walk-the-plank variety of terrifying fun! You may have heard of Treasure Island, but the real treat comes when you read the novel and pore over the mysterious treasure map with Jim aboard the Hispaniola.
There’s a real thrill here for anyone who likes pirates, and you’ll see precisely where all the contemporary tropes come from. There’s parrots a-plenty, one-legged buccaneers and you can be sure that ‘X’ marks the spot!
Here are some fantastic tales of treasure and of noble heroism, complete with fencing and swashbuckling sword-flights. You’ll find Edward Dantes extremely likable in The Count of Monte Cristo, and you’ll enjoy Dumas’ rollicking tale of Athos, Porthos and Aramis, narrated by D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers.
These stories aren’t as shallow as they may seem, and they certainly aren’t short reads! The Count of Monte Cristo would make the perfect gift for an adventure lover who enjoys a good page turner, with a healthy page count of 800+ pages. You’re in for an adventure of grand proportions and length. That’s a lot of dog-earred fun!
Here are some of the most well known adventure tales from a pioneering age of undersea discovery and air travel. Want to know what you might find twenty thousand leagues under the sea? Or what it might be like to travel around the world on a hot air balloon, journey complete with an unexpected friend and accomplice you met only a few days prior? Jules Verne will tell you!
These stories blend the spirit of the age when Verne was writing with an excitement that could only come from seeing the previously unseen, and experiencing what people before his time could only dream of.
Hemingway traveled extensively and wrote about every place he visited. He was a journalist and a reporter, and he also saw a lot of the Spanish Civil War first hand. If you enjoy a good adventure novel, or would like to give one a go, but also enjoy non-fiction or memoir, Hemingway might be the perfect fit for you!
Hemingway wrote about the bullfights and about drinking sangria in the bodegas across Andalucia. Not only did he write about these things, but he lived them, and he also writes about the real friends he made along the way. He shares the harsh reality of the time, but also writes with a passion and appreciation of what was great about the period, despite tackling facism head-on!
The first line, ‘Call me Ishmael’, of his most famous novel has been oft repeated, but how many have taken the time to delight in this story of the great whale, Moby Dick, and of Ishmael and Captain Ahab?
This is a story of great breadth, and depth, some would say, as we plumb the depths of the ocean. Ishmael tells us of Captain Ahab and his quest to exact revenge upon Moby Dick, an enormous white sperm whale who upset one of his earlier voyages. Who comes out on top when man pits himself against nature? Find yourself a copy, and find out, because you’ll be along for the ride as soon as Ishmael has introduced himself.
If you like Moby Dick already, and know you’re a fan of the frame narrative (that is, a story within a story, sometimes within another story), then Joseph Conrad may be your new favorite author. He’s written a number of cracking adventure tales with narrators who provide accounts of desperation and horror on explorations to places unknown.
Conrad writes extremely memorable characters and also provides excellent commentary on power. If you enjoy stories of adventure, power and madness, Heart of Darkness may be one for you. There’s also other novels, like Nostromo, which are worth exploring.
Mark Twain is considered by many to be America’s finest novelist and a pioneer of the adventure genre. His characters and their scrapes are well known to most, with Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer two of the best known adventure protagonists of all time. Twain has written many novels about, and featuring each of these characters, set along the Mississippi River.
If you enjoy stories about mischief, and reading likable characters, Twain could be a good fit! You’ll also be absorbing the language of a wordsmith widely regarded as the one of the greatest pioneers of the modern novel.
J. R. R. Tolkien
These have got to be some of the best adventure stories of all time: an alluring ring, a mountain of doom, elves and hobbits, and a dragon named Smaug – what more could you ask for? This is a quest for the ages, and the great thing is that there are multiple novels here with the same cast of characters for you to read and enjoy.
Bonus points: there’s a map to study and entire languages, which Tolkien created, to help you on your adventures in Tolkien’s world! You can actually learn Tolkien’s constructed languages (there’s more than one) and have messages in these languages engraved on a ring of your very own.
Life of Pi did extremely well at the box office, and has also regularly been listed as one of the best-selling novels of all time (and was the highest selling Booker Award Winner last time I checked). It’s an adventure novel for sure, think being stranded on a lifeboat after an all-consuming storm with a number of animals including a tiger, who belong to your family zoo.
This adventure novel takes us on a physical expedition of survival with extremely high stakes, but also asks us deeper more philosophical questions. Is the narrative an allegory the narrator has fabricated? A story of an external adventure developed to help us understand a spiritual journey he has been on? Treat yourself to a copy of this best-seller to find out!
Over time, you’ll figure out who you think the best adventure writers of all time are. This will have a lot to do with the kinds of adventures you enjoy going on, and the kinds of stories that excite you most. You might enjoy tales of the high sea and find that setting matters to you. You could also find that your favorite adventures are those squeezed tightly time-wise between world-ending events. Begin with the novels on this list, and you’ll be sure to discover the best adventure writers according to your own preferences!