Elements of an Adventure Tale

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Education/Elements of an Adventure Tale

Ralph Maltese

These are the elements of an adventure tale or a heroic tale.  I usually share these with the students as a rubric for discussing a literary work.

For an adventure tale/heroic tale to be successful, it usually follows these rules;

1)      The protagonist/hero must be the underdog. The enemy outnumbers the protagonist or has great weapons at its disposal.  No one would consider Georgetown University playing Our Lady of Little Flower 8th grade basketball team to be an exciting tale.  Villanova/Georgetown in 1985 is considered one of the greatest upsets.  James Bond against the evil doers, Luke Skywalker against the Empire, etc.

2)      The goal of the protagonist must be worthwhile within the context of the protagonist’s world. James Bond is saving the world from total destruction; in the movie Hoosier’s the game is a championship;  if we are following thieves (Oceans 11, for example) the heist/treasure must be significant.  I include the phrase “within the context of the protagonist’s world,” because, if the author has us identify with the characters, a poor person trying to obtain one meal for the day may be a worthwhile goal.  Rocky plays for the boxing championship, but, of far greater significance, he fights to gain his self-respect.

3)      The obstacles must be formidable. There must be doubt in the mind of the reader that the protagonist will succeed.  Some would argue that is why the first book/movie in a sequel is the most popular.  After the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, there was no doubt that Bond would succeed.  We watched to see how he was going to win.

4)      If the protagonist succeeds, he/she must succeed using human qualities. Bond is given a few high tech weapons to succeed, but, in the end, it is his intelligence and physical dexterity that enables him to win.  Rocky succeeds because of his own determination and courage.  The protagonist may employ material forces (see my notes on Beowulf), but, finally, it must be his personal traits that allow him to win.

Now discuss several adventure tales in light of this rubric.  You will discover that some stories will fail because they do not meet one or more of the criteria above.

 

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