You may have heard of Cotopaxi before if you’re a fan of camping and outdoor activities. This backpack and apparel company based in Salt Lake City, Utah creates innovative products that fund health, education, and livelihood initiatives to help alleviate poverty in underdeveloped countries. And for their customers, Cotopaxi hopes to inspire adventure. Take a look at their blog The Llama Chronicles, and you’ll see what I mean. The company shares travelogues, tips on outdoor sports and activities, recipes for campsite meals – even American road-trip routes inspired by adventure novels.
I confess that I’m not an “outdoorsy” person, though I relish walking and spending time outside. But when I recently came across a special blog project by Cotopaxi, I knew I wanted to take part in it. Here was their challenge:
Share in a post on your blog your favorite adventure story, along with what lessons you’ve learned and you continue to carry those lessons with you since.
Now, I thought it wouldn’t be hard to pick an adventure story to write about. But then I reviewed my bookshelf, and realized I’ve read a LOT of adventure stories over the years. (No wonder I’m currently writing one of my own.) This led to me hemming and hawing over the usual novels I talk about here and other choices I love but aren’t highlighted as often… and finally decided, “You know what? I’ll write about ALL of them.” 🙂
Like with my Eleven Heroes and Eleven Heroines posts, I’ve compiled a list of eleven amazing adventure stories. Some are all-time favorites; others are books I’ve recently read. Altogether, they’ll take you across the globe, back in time, or to a whole other world. Most importantly, each story shows the protagonist pursuing a goal, traveling a distance in order to achieve it, and reaching their destination or returning home a changed person.
My Eleven Favorite Adventure Stories
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Fiction)
For shepherd boy Santiago, his adventure begins with recurring dreams of buried treasure. He believes those dreams to be prophetic, and leaves home to find what he’s looking for – or rather, what he thinks he’s looking for. That idea is what makes The Alchemist more than just a journey from the mountains of Spain to the deserts of Egypt. Santiago also learns about true love, the importance of dreaming, and achieving one’s destiny (also known as the Personal Legend) along the way. Perhaps it’s no surprise that what Santiago experiences during and discovers at the end of The Alchemist is more precious than any gold, silver, or gemstones.
The Lesson: Sometimes one has to be adventurous – taking risks instead of playing it safe – in order to become who they aspire to be.
Black Star, Bright Dawn by Scott O’Dell (Children’s Historical Fiction)
Adventure doesn’t get much colder, snowier, and more dangerous than Alaska’s Iditarod Great Sled Dog Race. Eighteen-year-old Bright Dawn knows this from the stories she’s heard. But when her father is injured and must pull out of the Iditarod, she agrees to be his replacement. And so Black Star, Bright Dawn chronicles the obstacles that Bright Dawn and her team of sled dogs, led by half-wolf Black Star, face along the way. Hunger, predatory animals, thin ice – and that’s only the beginning. But at its heart, this book is about a girl who realizes a strength she never knew she had, and the partly wild dog who becomes her closest, most reliable friend.
The Lesson: It’s not about who wins the race, but who has the courage and determination to finish it.
The Golden Compass / Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Children’s Fantasy)
Lyra Belacqua has always been the curious, rebellious type. She climbs rooftops and roams freely around Jordan College with her daemon Pantalaimon and her friend Roger. A twist of fate, however, brings a more desperate kind of adventure to her life. Roger goes missing; and when Lyra learns her new guardian Mrs. Coulter may be responsible for his disappearance as well as the kidnappings of other children, she flees to join the Gypsies and sail north for a rescue mission. Their route takes Lyra into the cold, snowy Arctic, where she encounters sapient “armored bears,” Eskimo-like bounty hunters, and the horrifying truth behind the childrens’ disappearances. All the while, Lyra remains focused on saving Roger, never wavering from her purpose despite setbacks and sidetracks.
The Lesson: Adventure can test us to our limits and bring out the best in us.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Fantasy)
“I’m going on an adventure!” says Bilbo Baggins in the film adaptation. And what an adventure it turns out to be. With the wizard Gandalf and 13 dwarves, including leader Thorin Oakenshield, the titular Hobbit sets off for Erebor to slay the dragon Smaug and reclaim the Dwarves’ homeland. The route is treacherous, as the company is nearly eaten alive by trolls, attacked by giant spiders, and aptured by goblins in the Misty Mountains and Elves in Mirkwood. But it’s after Smaug is killed and the Dwarves re-enter Erebor that the real danger presents itself. Thorin falls into a wealth-induced lust known as “dragon sickness”; and Men, Elves, and other creatures threaten to attack for their share of the treasure. This forces Bilbo to consider the things he values most – home, friends, simplicity – and make a daring decision to avoid all-out war.
The Lesson: Adventure can teach us about what’s most important in life.
Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Children’s Historical Fiction)
Nothing gets more adventurous from an American history perspective than Laura Ingalls Wilders’ beloved series on the country’s pioneer era. Starting with Little House in the Big Woods and ending with The First Four Years, the books follow Laura’s childhood and teenage years in the late 19th century Midwest. Her family travels via covered wagon from the Wisconsin woods to the Kansas prairies, and later Minnesota and South Dakota. There’s a lot more going on, though, than churning butter, raising livestock, and simple living. Everywhere the Ingalls go, they face famine, illness, brutal winters, Native American threats, and numerous other dangers. But through it all, they remain strong, hopeful, and united; and because of Laura’s writings, they’ll forever be remembered as one of the humblest, hardest-working families in literature.
The Lesson: Reading about other people’s adventures can teach you about life in other countries, cultures, or historical periods.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (Science Fiction)
Imagine living on a ever-wintry planet, trying to convince its androgynous humanoid-alien race to join an intergalactic trade coalition. How’s that for an adventure? But it’s Genly Ai’s job, and he quickly finds out that navigating the political waters of Gethen is like falling through thin ice. He puts his trust in the wrong Gethenians – and wrongly distrusts Estraven, who sees the validity in Genly’s mission – and is later drugged and sent to a work camp in the far north. Lucikly, Estraven rescues Genly; and the two embark on an 80-day trek across the Gorbin Glacier to return “home.” It’s a perilous journey on several fronts, but it’s also one where both characters reconcile their differences and learn to better understand each other.
The Lesson: Adventures can bring you closer to your companions and help you see them in a new light.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (Fantasy)
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you must have known this one was coming. 😉 The Lord of the Rings is the ultimate good-versus-evil quest, where a fellowship of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and Men travel across Middle-Earth to destroy The One Ring before its maker, the evil lord Sauron, returns to power. Over three books, our heroes flee from a Balrog in an abandoned mine; cross mountain ranges, plains, and enchanted forests; and fight outnumbered in two of the most brutal battles their world has seen. And even though the fellowship is forced to split up by the end of the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, all of its members remain faithful to their cause and to each other until the end. If anything, this trilogy speaks volumes about friendship, perseverance, and loyalty.
The Lesson: When things don’t go our way, we must adapt, rely on those we trust, and persist in order to succeed, regardless of whether we’re adventuring or trying to achieve something in our everyday lives.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Fantasy)
As meandering as the plot may be, Kvothe’s life is an adventure in itself. He spends most of his childhood as part of his parents’ traveling troupe of entertainers. After the troupe is brutally slaughtered by a dark spirit called the Chandrian, Kvothe is forced to live in the wild and then become a city beggar. His traveling days resume when he saves enough money to apply for the country’s University, and then to visit Trebon to investigate a possible Chandrian attack (and incidentally save a town from a draccus). Despite the trauma and surprises, Kvothe keeps his wits about him and draws on his resourcefulness and “jack-of-all-trades” intelligence to help him survive.
The Lesson: Never discard anything you learn, for that knowledge could mean the difference between life and death.
Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas and Micah Sparks (Memoir)
In January 2003, best-selling author Nicholas Sparks and his older brother Micah embark on a 3-week trip around the world. Their guided tour takes them to Machu Picchu, Easter Island, the Australian outback, and other places in Asia and the Pacific. What they don’t expect is their explorations will summon memories of their childhood misadventures and cause them to revisit the tragedies that have shaped who they’ve become. Embracing all three phases of life (past, present, and future), Three Weeks With My Brother sheds light on into the unique bond between brothers, from the perspectives of two men who are the only surviving members of their family and are each other’s best friends.
The Lesson: Adventure can remind you of the highs and lows you’ve endured so far, and show you much you’ve grown as a person.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (Children’s Fantasy)
In truth, any installment from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series could be considered an adventure story. However, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is unique from the others. Lucy and Edmund Pevensie return to Narnia – and drag their reluctant cousin Eustace along – and join their friend King Caspian for a high-seas expedition to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia. They sail to various islands, confronting slave traders, merfolk, and temptations such as dragon treasure (greed) and magic-enhanced beauty (vanity) that force certain characters to face their greatest flaws. And of course, what would be a trip to Narnia without sighting the noblest creature of them all, the lion Aslan?
The Lesson: Adventure can be the catalyst that helps you overcome your weaknesses or false beliefs.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (Fantasy)
Fact: Harry Potter was not the first fantasy series to include a wizardry school. That title belongs to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea. It is there, at the renowned school on the island of Roke, that a brazen young mage named Ged upsets the magical balance by conjuring a shadow creature from the realm of the dead. Years later, after Ged has graduated, he leaves Roke and is pursued by the shadow, which is believed to be a nameless evil that wishes to possess Ged’sbody. Ged then flees all over the archipelago in order to hide from the shadow. However, it’s only when Ged confronts the shadow – and accepts it as the darker part of his own self – that he frees himself from its grasp. In this way, Wizard isn’t a typical adventure story, but it brings readers to several Earthsea islands while showing how a boy wizard grows up and becomes a better person.
The Lesson: Don’t run from your shadow self. Embrace it.
What are some of your favorite adventure stories? What did you learn from them? Have you ever gone on an adventure – either traveled somewhere or did something daring – because of a book you’d read?