#AtoZchallenge: “Q” is for Quests in Children’s Literature

Hobbit3

Are you on a quest?? Are you reading a book about a quest?

The fact is: quests run rampant throughout children’s and young adult literature!

One classic of children’s literature that treats this notion of the quest both symbolically and physically is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I encountered this famous fantasy as a young reader and the book is one I still love to this day. Bilbo Baggins’ decision to leave Bag End and venture into the unknown is an excursion that changes him in more ways than one.

Bilbo’s experience is one that many of us can relate to—a moment when we are offered a chance to step outside of our comfort zone, whether that is to start something new by putting into action an idea we’ve had for awhile, move somewhere new, or change something that needs to change. For many of us, it is the space between decision and action that is frightening, and like Bilbo, most readers can understand how precarious this points is. Perhaps this aspect of the novel is one reason why The Hobbit is a classic, and yet reaches out to both children and adults.

Bilbo is insecure in the beginning of the novel, uncertain about whether he is capable of the large quest offered to him. Like him, we sometimes feel unworthy of a significant endeavor into which we are placed. The fact is: you are a unique individual, and certain tasks need your background and expertise, though you may not see yourself as an expert.

As a young reader, The Hobbit was an influential book for my own thinking about the idea of having a “quest” or “destiny” in life.

What other texts of children’s literature illuminate a quest that you find beautiful and significant? What quests in children’s literature are you drawn to again and again?

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9 thoughts on “#AtoZchallenge: “Q” is for Quests in Children’s Literature

  1. I love how you tied the quest in children’s/ya lit to how it inspires young readers as they grow up! I definitely agree that we can see our own lives in much the same way – for a nonfiction piece in college, I wrote about my life as a monomyth, The Hero’s Journey.

    I tutored 2nd graders in creative writing and one of our projects was creating a quest. We had a bag of random items: a balloon, a plastic egg, a duck, a robot, etc. The story would become “The Quest for the Magic ____” We helped them create the setting for where the hero/heroine began, how they learned of the magical item, why they wanted it, how they got there, the challenges they faced, what they did with the magical item, and of course, the return home and what changed… It was a great experience and I think the idea of a quest really invigorates the imagination of that age range, especially!

    Michelle @ In Media Res

    • I can imagine your nonfiction piece turned out well–sounds like an awesome assignment!

      I love the idea of creating a quest with the 2nd graders. I can imagine even older people would benefit from doing that–what a wonderful concept! I think this idea of the quest and our own lives is something that people should dialogue about more often. I’m thankful that I can find other readers to talk about it with! 😀

  2. When I was a child – and even now that I am an adult – I was drawn to Susan Cooper’s ‘Over Sea, Under Stone’, where three children go on a quest in Cornwall for the Grail. I was so delighted when I found this was the first book in a series (‘The Dark Is Rising’) and there are different characters who go on different quests. The magic, plus the hinting of Arthurian legend, plus the ancient spirituality – oh, I *loved* it, and would thoroughly recommend the series to anyone. *huge smile*

    Please read these books if you have not already done so.

    • Yes! I read some of Susan Cooper’s books when I was doing my MA in England, and she is such a legend in children’s fantasy! Thanks for mentioning these–it is always wonderful to hear about other readers who have been exposed to Cooper’s work and appreciate it. 🙂

  3. That is so true, and I think that type of literature opens the gateway for a desire to pursue ones quests. Good Q Our niece Julie Egan who works for the State Department (she is in New York) know themwell

  4. That’s a good point. A geis seems like an onorous burden, whereas a quest has a shred of hope and optimism attached to it. It’s a journey with purpose. It is, I suppose, a metaphor for growing older.

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