Adventure fiction


Joyce Saricks writes: “In his classic discussion of genre fiction, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture, John G. Cawelti defines Adventure fiction as the story ‘of the hero – individual or group – overcoming obstacles and dangers and accomplishing some important and moral mission.’ He also alludes to the archetypal nature of this story pattern, which can be traced back to ancient myths and epics. The traditional Adventure hero passes through an array of frightening perils to reach [-p.16] some goal, as in such classics as The Odyssey and Beowulf. Thus, novels in the Adventure genre are action-packed, feature a hero on a mission and are often set in exotic locales during times of war or peace. With the popularity of dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the myriad titles that followed in its wake, the genre gained new energy and popularity. Heroes on missions, whether involving physical or more intellectual pursuits and puzzles, struggle to decipher the codes that lead to treasure and sometimes, to save the world.

Thus, the prototypical Adventure story features a hero on a mission, and he must face a range of obstacles along the way. The reader gets a firsthand look at the exotic locale in which the story is set. The reader participates in suspenseful derring-do, joining the hero as he extricates himself from multiple dangers along the way and overcomes the physical dangers to complete his mission successfully.” (pp.15-16)

“Here, as in all Adrenaline genres, brisk pacing drives the story, and all else is secondary to the sense of forward motion.” (p.17)

“Story lines may be contemporary or historical, involving civilians or military personnel. Although violence seems a fixture in much genre fiction today, especially in the Adrenaline genres, there is a range in Adventure fiction, from the graphic violence and high body count in popular authors like Steve Berry, James Rollins, and Matthew Reilly to cartoon violence of Clive Cussler’s novels and the less descriptive violence and the suggestion of violence in some of the more literary Adventure stories, such as Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth.

Other features of the Adventure story line include survival amid the elements, with physical, human, and animal dangers; excape from perilous situations; and the nature of these wide-ranging missions – from military operations to quests for treasure – covered by the genre. Remember, too, that despite the danger and obstacles, the hero is successful. …Conclusions may not be the typical happy ending of the Romance genre, but they are certainly satisfactory; the mission is carried out, and among the survivors are those we as readers care most about.” (p.18)

“The nature of the hero is another hallmark of the Adventure genre. (Although inroads have been made by women, …this remains a male-dominated genre.) He is a strong, honorable man, committed to his assigned mission.” (p.18)

“It’s no wonder that the tone of Adventure novels is often dark and moody, reflecting the dangers the heroes face. In Cornwell’s popular Saxon Stories, for example, the dark tone reflects the violent times – ninth-century England during the Viking invasions.” (p.21)

“Fans not only read Adventure for the vicarious danger/escape motif, but they also read many of the authors for the details of the times, weaponry, or the additional obscure facts they provide.” (p.26)

Characteristics of Adventure

“1. Pacing is generally brisk, as the hero escapes from one dangerous episode to the next. …

2. The story line focuses on action, usually a mission, and the obstacles and dangers met along the way. Physical adventure and danger are paramount, as the hero is placed in life-and-death situations from which he must rescue himself and others. There is generally a happy ending, with the hero safe and order restored.

3. There is always an identifiable hero, a character whom readers like and to whom they relate. Through ingenuity and skill, he accomplishes his desperate mission.

4. Detailed settings are important. These stories are set ‘elsewhere,’ and this foreignness underlines the sense of danger and obstacles to be overcome. Maps often accompany these novels. …

5. In response to the life-threatening situations, the mood of many Adventure novels is dark, menacing, foreboding. In some, humor lightens the tone.

6. Colorful language and jargon (often military) fill these tales, and this conversational language invites the reader to participate in the hero’s exploits.” (p.16)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago


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