On a quest
In an interview recently, I was asked what kinds of books or authors I like to read.
Since I have an extremely eclectic reading taste, ranging from politics, history, theology, and media in society, to fiction of all kinds from historical to mysteries to fantasy to sci-fi, I was stumped.
What kinds of books or authors Do I like?
Since the question was phrased in the context of my own novel writing (there too, it’s eclectic) I immediately tossed my non-fiction list aside and concentrated what kind of fiction I like.
As I pondered, I listed such authors as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien among my greats. I toyed with adding Jodi Taylor’s time travel series The Chronicles of St Mary’s or Rachel Caine’s alternate universe series called The Great Library. Others flooded into my mind: Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth; Stephen Lawhead’s Byzantium and Patrick. The flood of favourites continued as I considered the many varied takes on the Arthurian legends that I enjoy. I considered my enjoyment of mysteries from Arthur Conan Doyle (no relation) to Agatha Christie and a host of modern-day authors. Then I trolled through the various sci-fi novels I’ve read.
I even considered my own suspense thrillers in the Oak Grove Conspiracies series. I really like them!
As I did all this thinking, I came to a quick realization. Pretty well every one of my ‘likes’ entailed some version of a quest!
I love stories that involve overcoming an insurmountable quest. That’s what The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings entailed. It’s what Lewis was writing about in his Narnia books. Even Homer’s Odyssey, or Hemingway’s Old man and the Sea.
As I thought about that, another fact struck me: My entire non-fiction, reality-based life has actually been that of a quest.
And so has yours.
During that quest we have each met challenges great and small. We have battled giants—financial, employment, relationships—while on our quest. Incredible people and events have changed our course of action. Sometimes for good., Sometimes for evil.
Some of us have a clear idea of what that quest looks like. We see financial goals, retirement, a big house, or travel, as the ultimate end of our quests. Others have more esoteric and fulfilling quests to improve life and situations for our fellow human beings. That encompasses those who aimed for and perhaps created life-changing technologies or medical procedures, or who explored science and space in search of the answers to life’s basic questions. Come to think of it, I’d put the many theologians and impactful preachers into that category as well; people like Lewis (not just his fiction) or Augustine, or the Apostle Paul and the gospel writers.
All were on a quest. To understand their situation and strive toward a goal that would empirically change existing understanding or, more impactfully, change lives for the better.
Even at the simple unspectacular level of life that most of us inhabit, there is still a quest that we are following. It might be for job advancement, education, better parenting, or healthier lifestyles. But it is still a quest. Or, rather, numerous quests. It is what keeps us going day to day, through rain and snow, through ups and downs, through failures and on to success.
Every day we set huge plans for the next day, week or year with zero knowledge of what those tomorrows might bring. Or even if they will happen. But we go on the quest anyway. That is confidence!
I like quests. I like reading about them. They excite me. They invigorate me. They frustrate me. They lift me to new levels. They guide me and challenge me to put the novel down and take on my own quest.
As I read about Frodo and Sam climbing up Mount Doom, I recognize the frustrations, pain, and discouragements of my own quests. But I also see the challenge met and achieved, and it gives me hope and confidence.
In my latest book Musick for the King I write about the great composer George Frederick Handel who was on multiple quests at the same time. He was on a quest for cultural redemption, creative redemption, and financial redemption. His soloist Susannah Cibber was on a quest for career and social redemption. Neither realized it immediately, but they were also on a quest for personal redemption. The libretto for Messiah was the vehicle that would take them along the ups and downs, challenges, failures and success of those quests.
For years I was a reporter and editor and broadcaster. Later I was a professor. Now I am a crisis management consultant.
But always, lurking in the background, was the dream of writing a novel. There were a thousand and one reasons why I should drop the idea. It was daunting. It was a lot of work. It was not fulfilling financially at a time when I still needed to generate income. I had limited time to work on something so iffy. Worse, I had no concept for a plot or characters or situation.
But I absorbed the lessons of my fictional friends and accepted the challenge. I went on a quest. Now, some six years on, I finished my fourth novel and have now embarked on writing a fifth.
What kind of quest lies lurking in your life?
They are there you know. Hiding, waiting for something or someone to ignite them.
Pick up your favourite novel—any novel—and see if there isn’t a quest hidden in the story. Step into the story. See that the protagonist accepts the challenge, strives forward, is battered, disappointed, seemingly fails and then ultimately achieves.
Watch for the spark that ignites a quest. Accept the challenge inherent in pursing your own real-life quest. Embrace it, warts and all, ups and downs, failures and successes.
It makes life worth living.
I know. I followed my quest.