Much of the Australian Curriculum: English can be taught in engaging ways through the vehicle of quality literary texts that focus on narrative. I have shared what constitutes quality texts in prior PETAA publications (see Murray and Beveridge, 2019), based on the views of Ewing, Callow and Rushton (2017), who identify that quality literary texts (page 103):
- Engage both students and adults alike and relate, but are not limited to, students’ interests and experiences.
- Are rich in use of language and imagery (rather than overly contrived with limited vocabulary or ancillary images).
- Merit multiple readings and trigger lots of deep discussion including ‘Why’ and ‘I wonder’ questions.
- Are multi-layered (there are a range of interpretations possible rather than only one dimension).
- Evoke a range of different communities, worlds, cultures, and ways of being.
- Are aesthetically designed.
The escapist fantasy genre with its classic quest narrative, when represented in quality texts, can be a powerful tool in a teacher’s arsenal when expanding student knowledge and encouraging a passion for storytelling.
In this paper, I investigate a particular type of narrative with a twist or two ... Imagine being shipwrecked in a tiny wooden boat, bobbing wildly in stormy, shark infested seas while dragons shoot flames from the heavens. Imagine a group of companions, terror clutching their hearts as they are herded by spine-chilling monsters into a dark and densely vegetated forest, fearing they have reached their final destination. I reveal, dear readers … the jaw-dropping, spine-chilling journey that is a QUEST!
The word quest comes from the Latin word quaere which means to seek. Quests tell the story of a hero’s journey (Campbell, 1958, 2010; Campbell & Moyers, 1988; Booker, 2004). This classic formula is evidenced in most world cultures throughout human history. Quests are related to journeys, yet entail much more: the hero and their companions usually reach their destination, but not before they encounter a series of onerous ordeals (often involving magical, mythical creatures) that impede their progress toward their stated goal.
Quests can be traced back to Greek myths and legends (Clark, 2020; Booker, 2004). Although quests and myths share similarities, they are not quite the same. Quests involve a hero’s journey to find something valuable, whereas myths are traditional stories that explain phenomena, often involving supernatural beings (typical characters in quests). In summary, not all myths are quests (Booker, 2004; Campbell & Moyers, 1988), even though they are both narratives.
Quests were traditionally passed on orally, and later written down (Campbell, 2010). This is reflected in the etymology of the word itself: ‘myth’ originated from the Ancient Greek, muthos meaning discourse, or speech from the mouth, eventually evolving to become mythos (modern Latin), and finally, to the word ‘myth’ as we know it today (Google Dictionary, 2020). While the mythical origins of quest narratives contain language which is sometimes challenging for primary students to understand (Clark, 2020; Booker, 2004), simplified versions of the classic Greek mythology stories are ubiquitous and may elicit exciting class discussions as students relate the relevance of these tales to their own lives.
Through deep discussion about a range of ancient and contemporary quests with students, we can identify the structures of quests that students can draw on to enrich and embellish their own narrative writing. Through sharing quests with students, we are intertwining the three strands of the Australian Curriculum: English (AC:E). Students can learn about the archetypal narrative structure of quests and its language features and conventions, while also learning important messages about personal discovery, values and growth, and overcoming challenges.
A quest usually contains the following features:
- An urgent call to action
- A hero and the hero’s companions
- A staged journey
- Helpers that support the hero/heroes along the way
- Arrival and frustration
- Final ordeals and challenges
- Achievement of the goal.
(Adapted from Clark, 2019; Booker, 2004; Campbell, 1958)